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UNEASINESS AT NIAGARA: HOWELLS' THEIR WEDDING JOURNEY Kenneth Seib* Published in 1871, William Dean HoweUs' Their Wedding Journey was one of the author's first attempts at an extended fictional form.1 Having launched a successful literary career with two Italian travel books, Venetian Life (1866) and Italian Journeys (1867), Howells was thinking in the late 1860s of mining the American counterpart of the same rich vein. In 1867 he began a series of impressions of American life and people, later published as Suburban Sketches (1871), and contemplated a book based on his travels in America and Canada. "At last," Howells wrote to his father on December 11, 1870, "I have fairly launched upon the story of our last summer's travels, which I am giving the form of fiction so far as the characters are concerned. If I succeed in this—and I believe I shaU—I see clear before me a path in literature which no one else has tried, and which I believe I can make most distinctly and entirely my own."2 In a resdess and itinerant age, Howells sought to combine American travel experiences with fiction, blending the two into what he believed would be a distinct new form. But the blending was difficult. Howells later admitted that he had "mounted somewhat timidly to the threshold of fiction," for he had been "a traveller" before he was "a noveler."3 When the travel book, TheirWeddingJourney, was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, and when it appeared later that same year in book form, HoweUs had sufficient reason to believe that he was on a successful path. By the end of 1872thebookhad gonethroughsixprintingsandhad sold over six thousand copies.4 Moreover, reviewers found much in it to admire. Henry Adams, editor of the North American Review in 1872, praised the book for its faithful and pleasing picture of American life, and stated that "no writer is likely to rival Mr. Howells in the idealization of the commonplace."5 In addition, Adams found Their Wedding Journey "a lovers' book," deserving to be "among the first of the gifts which follow or precede the marriage offer."6 'Kenneth Seib is a Professor of English at California State University, Fresno. His publications include James Agee: Promise and Fulfillment (1968) as well as articles in such journals as Critique, Essays in Literature, the Mark Twain Journal, and Emerson Society Quarterly. 16Kenneth Seib Adams' review emphasizes two qualities of TheirWeddingJourney which critics ever since have maintained as thebook's primaryvirtues: it gives a realistic portrait of American life—a portrait that is presumably an autobiographical account of HoweUs' own travels with his wife and father—and it gives, as George N. Bennett has said, a "delicately ironic treatment of the war between the sexes."7 Everett Carter, in Howells and the Age of Realism, finds the book "almost pure autobiography—the description of the travels of HoweUs and his wife, who were given the names of Basil and Isabel March,"8 while Oscar W. Firkins sees it as a rather formless autobiography, a book that "barely evades thereproach of planlessness."9 Less tolerant critics have even said that "the whole book is irrelevant; it is a dead end. A critic observing Howells after Their Wedding Journey might well have wondered if Howells really had anything to say."10 Howells himself, it must be admitted, gives support to these critical judgments. "Iwrote'Their WeddingJourney'without intending to make it a piece of fiction . . ." he once stated in an interview. "It was simply a book of American travel, which I hoped to make attractive by a sugarcoating of romance."11 Butlike most of his commentators, HoweUs is too quick to dismiss this early fictional attempt. Although the novel clearly does not have the stature of later novels such as The Rise of SilasLapham or A Hazard of New Fortunes, perhaps the reason for HoweUs' own abrupt dismissal of it, it is nonetheless a work of fiction that demands close attention. Among the novelists that HoweUs certainly took as his literary models in the 1860s was John William De Forest. As assistant editor of the Arianrtc Monthly, Howells wrote areview in 1867 ofDeForest's Miss Ravenels...


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