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94 / the compromise of silas lapham skill, and she has illustrations commissioned for the pages of Every Other Week. And unlike Cornelia, Alma decides to focus on her career and to stop paying any attention to the self-absorbed Beaton. When he suggests that they might be able to work together as a married couple, Alma counters with the argument that she would not be able to work with him as an equal: “Second fiddle. Do you suppose I shouldn’t be woman enough to wish my work always less and lower than yours?”61 Alma is not destined to be subsumed by hollyhocks. Alma feels like a revision of Cornelia, but in fact she was Cornelia’s predecessor. Just three years after the publication of Hazard, Howells enables a marriage between Cornelia and Ludlow that suffers from precisely the kind of dysfunction to which Alma refused to subject herself. Is the resolution different because Howells knew he would be publishing Coast in the Journal? There is no documentary evidence that speaks to this question, but it is an intriguing possibility. Hazard was a successful novel in its time, selling twenty-three thousand copies in its first year.62 Howells did not face ravening crowds who resented his inability to successfully pair Alma, as Edith Wharton would after killing off Lily Bart at the end of The House of Mirth. But Howells did have considerable prejudices against the intellectual capacity of audiences like the one he would have expected from the Journal, and it is not at all surprising that he ended Coast more conventionally than Hazard. Bowing to market pressures was of course something that Howells disdained; indeed, just after the publication of Hazard, a frustrated Howells could hardly keep his language in check after encountering the dreck produced for the holiday market. “There seems,” he observes, “a demand for inferior quality in all of the arts,” primarily because there are people who will never be able to appreciate good work: Certain sorts of intelligences, which famish upon excellence, pasture with delight upon what is less than excellent. The appetite of youth, indiscriminating and uncultivated, remains the taste through life of a vast multitude of people who never mature aesthetically . These cannot get the good of what is wholly good; they can only get the good of what is partly good; and no doubt it is their need that accounts for the existence of mediocre artists and mediocre works in every kind.63 Literary hierarchies are inevitable, because there is a natural hierarchy of taste that cannot be corrected—the bovine masses will never “pasture” on things that are “wholly good”; they are constitutionally unable to the compromise of silas lapham / 95 process and benefit from quality art. Though he closes his column with a halfhearted call for “true criticism” to “endeavor patiently to convert [primitive appetites] to a taste for better things,” the prognosis is poor. Was Mabie attempting to convert the appetites of his readers away from romance, away from sentiment, and away from the expectation of a happy ending, as he recommended they read Hazard? We should not forget, of course, that the novel chronicles a relatively stable mature marriage and that while Beaton is never domesticated, and Conrad Dryfoos is murdered before he can reach an understanding with Miss Vance, one of the young couples does successfully wed. The courtship of Fulkerson and Miss Woodburn is hardly compensatory for all the frustrated romances in the novel, though; it begins late, and the reader is given little satisfaction in the abbreviated development of the relationship. But the final nail in the coffin of the marriage plot is Basil March’s unequivocal speech against the conventional notion of a happy ending, in which he blames novel-reading for people’s unrealistic expectations of marriage. “We get to thinking that there is no other happiness or good fortune in life except marriage; and it’s offered in fiction as the highest premium for virtue, courage, beauty, learning, and saving human life. We all know it isn’t.” March goes even further to propose that a novel should be written “from the anti-marriage point of view . . . begin with an engaged couple, and devote [the] novel to disengaging them, and rendering them separately happy ever after in the dénoûment” (HNF, 479). Seekers after matrimonial happy endings need not apply to Hazard, a novel that imagines an author would “make his fortune” from the demolition of a potential...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781439906699
Related ISBN
9781439906682
MARC Record
OCLC
794700744
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
No
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