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Indian Summer (New York Review Books Classics)

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1590171097
ISBN-10: 1590171098
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Editorial Reviews


"…[a] delicious novel of romance in late 19th—century Italy."
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Again and again in Indian Summer, the felicity of the writing makes us pause in admiration….A midlife crisis has rarely been sketched in fiction with better humor, with gentler comedy and more gracious acceptance of life’s irrevocability."
— John Updike

"A lesser—known entry in the Americans—in—Europe genre, the school of novels ruled by Edith Wharton and Henry James, William Dean Howells’ comedy of manners, Indian Summer, is as sublime as they come…Indian Summer is not, however, a tragic novel. Ultimately, it’s one of those rare works…about the deep, unexpected satisfactions to be found in compromise…Indian Summer is what we mean when we invoke irony that does not mean hollow attitude, when we say something is civilized without meaning rarefied, when subtlety does not preclude accessibility, when optimism is earned. It’s exquisite."

About the Author

William Dean Howells (1837–1920), the author of thirty-six novels, twelve books of travel, and many short stories, articles, essays, and poems, grew up in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, the son of a printer with strong antislavery and egalitarian beliefs. Largely self-taught, Howells began his writing career as a reporter and was soon publishing poetry, fiction, and criticism in national magazines. He wrote a campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln and was rewarded with an appointment as the US consul in Venice. In Europe Howells met Eleanor Mead, whom he married in 1862, and for the rest of his life he would rely on what he called her “unerring artistic taste.” In 1866, Howells became the assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, which led to close friendships with other American writers, among them Henry James, Samuel Clemens, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell. He championed the work of Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and was one of the only prominent Americans to protest execution of four Anarchists after the 1886 Haymarket Bombings. In 1881, Howells resigned his editorship to concentrate on writing fiction—among his best-known novels are The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), Indian Summer (1886), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890)—and in 1908 he was elected the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Wendy Lesser is the founding editor of The Threepenny Review and the author of six books of nonfiction. Her reviews and essays have appeared in periodicals around the country, and she has been a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Arts Jouranlism Program, and the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (September 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171098
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171097
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on March 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This excellent novel by Howells is a May-December love story. Middle-aged Theodore Colville falls in love with young and pretty Imogene Graham. The relationship borders on the ridiculous, but it's only when Imogene falls for a younger man that Colville calls it all off. One wonders what took him so long. The dialogue, especially when Colville is involved, crackles with wit. This is Howells's own favorite of his novels. It is extremely entertaining, one of Howells's very best books, and one of the best novels on the American bookshelf, regardless of time period.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl on April 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
An American middle-aged man returns to Florence, Italy - the scene of a heartbreaking romance twenty years earlier. There he meets an old friend from those days, her daughter, and her twenty year old female protege. Slowly a surprising romantic relationship develops; but is it really what both people want? Great dialogue, wonderful character development, and a happy ending.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
When you think of chroniclers of love, life and American society during the Gilded Age, you automatically think of Henry James and Edith Wharton.

But while W.D. Howells never quite reached their levels of prominence, his similar works are full of quiet introspection and evocative, vivid prose reminiscent of Wharton at her best. And "Indian Summer" is one of his better works -- a lush, colorful exploration of 19th-century Florence, and a love triangle of Americans who are taking a prolonged vacation there.

After a disastrous career loss, Theodore Colville is vacationing in Florence, and promptly begins a massive midlife crisis. But he perks up after encountering Lina Bowen, a widowed ex-flame of his who is also staying in Florence with her young daughter Effie. And at a party that evening, Lina introduces him to the young, vivacious Imogene Graham.

Soon Colville is squiring Effie and Imogene around Florence, and even taking all three women out to the carnival. Naturally, Imogene develops a crush on the kind, cynical Colville -- but her innocent liking alarms Lina, who still is carrying a flame for him, and Imogene's well-intentioned errors tie her in society's web. Noow Colville must decide what he wants most, and which woman truly loves him.

At heart, "Indian Summer" is basically an exploration of a love triangle between an older man, a slightly younger woman, and a girl young enough to be his daughter. That's a delicate situation at the best of times, but this was also the Gilded Age -- codes of conduct were strict, and feelings were expressed in a dance of words and gestures rather than outward displays.

But to frame the story, Howells creates an elaborate portrait of how wealthy Americans lived and saw Europe.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dave Deubler on January 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Theodore Colville, a 40-year-old retired newspaperman from Des Vaches, Indiana, disenchanted with American politics, has returned to Florence, the scene of a failed youthful romance. Here he re-encounters Mrs. Lina Bowen, an enchanting American hostess and her beautiful young protégé Miss Imogene Graham. Miss Graham is 20 years old, beautiful, fascinated by literature and the arts, and considered a bit of an intellectual by the mindless young men who pursue her. Colville finds her utterly charming but extremely naïve, and not nearly as bright as she imagines herself to be. For her part, she is fascinated by the older man's knowledge and experience, and is greatly moved by his romantic history. Colville's behavior is scrupulously correct, even refined, but Imogene's fondness for him breaks through his reserve and they reach an understanding, after which things begin to unravel. Having had his heart broken in Italy decades earlier, will Colville allow history to repeat itself?

Howells is very fine writer, perhaps admired more than he is actually appreciated. He has Henry James' knack for intimate character study, without the run-on interior monologues that frustrate some of James' readers. Howells himself even makes the comparison, and wittily points out through one of his characters that if this were a Howells novel, "nothing would have happened". Certainly little enough actually happens considering just how long this novel is, and the dearth of action will not set well with many. Further, any book of the 19th century has an other-worldly quality to it that makes it challenging to relate to on a personal level. Still, Howells' characters are pleasant and engaging people to spend some time with, and the exquisite descriptions of Italy are an added bonus. But if you don't feel you can identify with the plight of a middle-aged man entranced by a much younger woman, this book probably isn't for you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Watters on September 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Howells' Indian Summer is one of the finest works of art ever created about a man's mid-life crisis (right up there with Visconti's film 'The Leopard'), and Howells' book is all the more charming and admirable for approaching its subject with lightness and humour. Theodore Colville, 41 and still unmarried, sells his newspaper business and heads on a whim to Florence, scene of a youthful heartbreak some 17 years earlier. As all men of his age, he finds himself both more relaxed and amusing around women than he was when he was in his 20s, as well as far less interested overall in the entire process of romantic love than he was back then. A funnier, and more reluctant, romantic leading man is therefore not to be found in all of literature. Despite its seemingly simple structure (the classic romantic triangle), Indian Summer is never predictable, and I would even suggest that there's a fourth corner to this triangle in the character of the child Effie, whose unconditional affection for Colville may ultimately be a bigger influence on Colville's middle-aged, comfort-seeking heart than landing a beautiful young bride. Howell's novel is as focused on the finer details of human motivation as the best of Trollope or James, but moves with an unrivalled lightness of touch to a surprisingly surprising conclusion. And the dialogue of Howells rivals that of the finest dramatists. I can't think of any writer of fiction whose characters converse more naturally, with all the branching flows and misfiring jokes of common speech. However, as a comic novel, Indian Summer will never quite be recognised, alas, as what it is: one of the handful of great masterpieces of American literature.
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