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The Rise of Silas Lapham

4.0 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1613820087
ISBN-10: 1613820089
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews


"Good to have a high quality, affordable paperback edition of this foundational text of the American realist movement."--Phillip Barrish, University of Texas at Austin

"An excellent edition, clearly printed."--Dan Fineman, Occidental College

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) is Howell’s best-known work, and this elegant tale of Boston society and manners is rightly regarded as a subtle classic of its time. Silas Lapham inherits his father’s paint business, from which he makes a great deal of money, and moves his family from rural Vermont to cosmopolitan Boston. Attempting to break into the city’s sophisticated society he becomes bent on the acquisition of both money and social position. Howells contrasts "old" and "new" money, presenting the representatives of both sympathetically and portraying the attempts of the self-made man to break into the world inhabited by those from "established" families with humour and delicacy. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Brown (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613820089
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613820087
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,902,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I've had William Dean Howells' "A Modern Instance" and "The Rise of Silas Lapham," like many, many other books on my bookshelf for a long time. A recent meeting of a reading group of mine finally allowed me to make the time to read Howells' 1885 work, "Silas Lapham". I am extraordinarily glad I did. From the start of the novel, we are drawn into the world of late 19th century Boston, post-Reconstruction America, where newly rich industrialists attempt to enter the society life of old money. Howells crafts an extraordinarily realistic look at the American Dream gone awry.
"The Rise of Silas Lapham" begins with an interview that a local newspaperman is doing of Colonel Silas Lapham, a mineral paint tycoon. Lapham's account of his rise from the backwoods of Vermont to his marriage, to service in the Civil War, to his propagation of a successful mineral paint business is chronicled and gives us a taste of the effort and perseverance necessary for his rise, as well indicating the possibility of some potential failings, especially with regard to his one-time partner, Milton Rogers. We soon learn that Mrs. Persis Lapham aided a society woman in distress the year before, and the return of her son, Tom Corey, from Texas, signals another sort of ambition on the part of the Lapham daughters, Irene and her older sister Penelope. The rest of the novel plays out the ways in which the Laphams try to parley their financial success into social status - and how the Laphams are affected by the gambit.
Howells explores a number of significant cultural issues in "Silas Lapham": isolationism, social adaptability, economic solvency among all classes, personal integrity and familial ties, and the relationship between literature and life.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
William Dean Howells's "The Rise of Silas Lapham" is one of the earliest American novels about a businessman, and that qualification alone makes it a literary curiosity, but what is most remarkable about it is what its title character is not, rather than what he is. Silas Lapham is not a ruthless, villainously greedy tycoon who bullies his employees and relishes destroying the careers of his competitors and enemies, but a conscientious, likeable man to whom misfortune happens because of his gullibility and sense of guilt rather than hubris.
Lapham is a human emblem of the new American industrial economy of the 1870s. A self-made millionaire in the paint business, he is now one of the richest men in Boston and is radiantly proud of the fact that he has earned every dollar. Having grown up poor and undereducated in Vermont, he still speaks in a rustic vernacular and has yet to understand the rationale behind the rules of high society, let alone assimilate them. A simple, practical man with a sense of duty, he even put aside his business to serve in the Civil War, in which he was seriously wounded and achieved the rank of colonel. He can be boastful and garrulous, but he is not arrogant or overbearing.
Lapham is dearly devoted to his wife Persis, who in turn has supported him through thick and thin, and his two daughters. Penelope, the older girl, is relatively plain but witty and sardonic and, at least in the first half of the novel, never seems to take anything seriously; her sister Irene is the more beautiful but vapid and superficial. Irene falls for Tom Corey, the young man who comes to work for her father as a foreign sales representative, but Tom and Penelope have a mutual attraction that, Penelope fears, could break Irene's heart.
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By A Customer on September 26, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
These days Howells is usually overlooked in favor of the more overtly urbane Henry James or the grittier Stephen Crane or Theodore Dreiser. That's a shame, since Howells at his best is a more varied and thought-provoking author than any of them. The Rise of Silas Lapham is Howells at his best. The title is quite ironic, of course, but ultimately spot-on, as Howells' nouveau-riche bumpkin is redeemed only in losing it all. Lapham is keenly drawn, alternately frustrating in his bluster and affected pompousness and endearing in his genuine (if sometimes poorly expressed) love for his family. Other characters are not so fortunate; one of his daughters remains mostly a cipher, and both Mrs. Lapham and Bromfield Corey, the rich scion of society whose favor Lapham so earnestly covets, are dangerously close to stock characters. Howells excels at elaborate descriptive prose focused on intricate detail, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. Some elements of the plot may seem quaint to modern readers, but Howells does not treat them with condescension. The Rise of Silas Lapham is definitely a book of its time. Perhaps it is so rewarding because his time and ours are not necessarily so different as we think.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The photographs of Alfred Stieglitz still look modern and talented today, but it's nearly impossible to imagine how they would have looked to viewers in the 1890s, when they were taken. They were revolutionary, amazing, radically avant-garde. In a similar vein, the first novel about an American industrialist---a novel first printed in 1885---cannot seem so new, so fresh to our 21st century eyes. This theme startles nobody anymore. But in tracing the ups and downs of Silas Lapham, late of a Vermont village, a Civil War veteran, and founder of a fortune in 1870s Boston, Howells produced a highly original novel for his day. Lapham, his plain-spoken wife Persis, and two daughters live in luxury, thanks to the successful paint manufacturing business whose ubiquitous ads disfigured large portions of the New England countryside. Puffed up with success and not averse to considerable bragging, Lapham decides to build a sumptuous mansion on the water side of Beacon Street in the then-new district of Back Bay. At the same time, the Laphams come into contact with a family from the old Boston Brahmin elite, a family whose son falls in love with a Lapham daughter. The reaction of both families to this potential liaison, the love affair itself, and the fate of the Lapham fortune form the subject of this solid novel.
William Dean Howells was and is known as one of the early American "realists", as opposed to the more romantic style that dominated most of 19th century English language literature.
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