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Book Reviews Elsa Nettels. Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells's America. Lexington: U Pof Kentucky, 1988.236 pp. $27. With Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells 's America Elsa Nettels has given us a fully researched, historically based study of Howells "as a writer about language" (ix). This study challenges some of our easy assumptions about Howells. Nettels is especially interesting on Howells's appUcation of his ideas about language to the development of his fictional realism, and because she develops her subject with appropriate consideration of contextual figures, including and especially Henry James, her book is of value to James scholars. Indeed, all who are interested in empirical study of literary production in Howells's era, when most thoughtful people "realized that English was rich in words of multiple meanings and connotative power, but... believed ... words are signs which can convey the same meaning to all who use them" (210), should benefit from Nettels's soUd contribution. In her opening chapters Nettels presents a concise yet highly informative overview of prevailing ideas about the nature of language, language diversity, social implications of "correct English," and related topics in post-Civil War America. Her treatment of relationships between British and American English as weU as implications of differences between these two great branches of the language in the third chapter should be of particular interest to many James scholars. An effective pattern emerges in the first half of the book as Nettels presents a varied body of information about language study for Howells's era, as exemplified in chapters on "Realism and Dialect," "Negro Dialect," "Language, Race, and Nationality," and ' 'Language and Class." Then Nettels focuses on these materials in relation to their significance to Howells's writing. She often describes Howells's friends' and colleagues' reactions to his practice with regard to a particular issue, such as the representation in dialogue of the characters' class and regional differences. Her inclusion of illuminating references to and quotations from Henry James regarding Howells's work gives fresh perspectives on James. In addition, her citation of William James's responses to Howells's handling of language issues, as well as references to reactions of others close to Henry James, should attract the interest of Jamesian colleagues. Nettels presents all of her complex data and its implications for the development of realism in a concise, accessible, and often engaging and penetrating manner. One need only peruse the documentary notes to her chapters, which detail Nettels's command of all relevant primary sources, commentary, manuscript materials, as well as related historical sources, to be reassured that her unfolding argument follows from thorough research. In the second half of her book Nettels demonstrates how Howells's ideas about language are manifest in key texts spanning his long career. She most interestingly shows how Howells's widely admired inclusion of characters of very diverse backgrounds involved the representation of often stigmatizing dialect for the speech of characters of socially subordinate status. For this reviewer, who has always admired Howells for his democratic proclivities, Nettels's astute examples, including mention of how Howells always "renders the speech of upper-class The Henry James Review 14 (1993): 115-24 © 1993 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 116 The Henry James Review Englishmen—even the most detestable... without phonetic rendering of vowels or substitution of w's for r's" (91), and yet often attempts stigmatizing (in effect) phonetic representation of speech of socially subordinate characters, were thought provoking. Irish and black characters are among those most often ' 'stigmatized by the solecisms of eye dialect that disfigure" (92) their speech in Howells's fiction, according to Nettels. That attempts to phonetically represent dialect to suggest ethnic difference were unnecessary, at least to one of Howells's significant readers, is suggested by Henry James's response to Howells's characterization in A Foregone Conclusion (1875) of the Italian priest Don Ippolito, whose English and Italian speech is consistently represented in standard English. I give Nettels's quotation of James's reaction because it is indicative of how James's ideas about ethnicity, language, and related topics often shine through in interesting, fresh contexts in her book: James...


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pp. 115-117
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