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Extra info for Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Her Contemporaries: Literary and Intellectual Contexts (Amer Lit Realism & Naturalism)

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Ironically, Howells successfully recovered from bouts of an acute but obscure malaise that left him unable to work or study by periodically resorting to the type of rest cure imposed on Gilman with such disastrous results. Gilman wrote that “Mr. Howells told me that I was the only optimist reformer he ever met” (Gilman, “Mr. Howells’ Socialism” 2), but for much of his life this evaluation was also true of Howells himself. Brought up in the golden age of American rural egalitarianism, Howells increasingly saw the values of that era sacri¤ced to the rampant acquisitiveness of the industrial Gilded Age.

Reprinted by permission. 1. The Howells biographies I consulted simply do not mention the Gilman connection, probably because the major ones were written before interest in her work was revived in the early 1960s. Hill’s biography of Gilman merely refers to Howells’s enthusiasm for Gilman’s “Similar Cases” and In This Our World and notes his socialist sympathies. Hill goes up only to 1896 in this volume. In her introduction to Gilman’s Herland vii, Ann J. Lane says that Howells “did much to sustain her career,” but she does not go into detail.

But postmodern criticism alerts us to the heuristic value of absence, allowing us to focus on Howells’s cautious ful¤llment of the mentorial role he had initiated with such rhetorical fervor. Sincere but correct, Howells was not suited by temperament or conviction to become the passionate champion that Gilman had hoped for. Gilman’s ¤rst major poem, “Similar Cases,” was published in the April 1890 issue of the socialist periodical the Nationalist, where it attracted the appreciative attention of William Dean Howells.

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