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About This Book
No one can complain that in this story Mr. Howells has taken his type from the commonplace. It is a study of life in New York, and the author has brought together such a gallery of odd and strongly differentiated characters as could perhaps be found in no other city on the continent, while the conditions and phases of social life represented are not less distinctive and peculiar. The Marches, it is true, are from Boston, but they serve the purpose of external points of observation, whence to note and sufficiently to emphasize those features of our city life which of necessity strike strangers and outsiders most forcibly and with the greatest freshness of suggestion. A new magazine is founded with the money of old Dryfoos, a "natural gas millionaire, " whose primary object is to give his son Conrad — a youth of saint-like character and dominant altruism — opportunity to become a businessman. The prime mover of the venture is Fulkerson, a true Western Yankee, if the phrase be allowable, whose engaging impudence, fluent slang, indomitable assurance, and substantial loyalty and goodness of heart are sure to make him as great a favorite with the reader as he is with all who know him in the story. The Marches, too, are fantastic, and nowhere has Mr. Howells better presented that peculiar American humor which finds motives for half-sarcastic jest and quip in even the most serious things, less out of lightness of heart than from an almost desperate conscious ness of hopeless incongruities and perplexities inherent in the general scheme. The picture is in itself a condemnation of and protest against that rank growth of naked materialism which is the most depressing feature of our time. The character and the faults of society are shown plainly but temperately — the spirit of levity, the love of spectacle, the repugnance to serious thinking, the absence of jealousy of popular rights, constantly encroached upon, ignored and subordinated to selfish corporate or individual interests. The aspects of the city are also most graphically and admirably described in many a wandering of the Marches, and the book exhibits an amount of local study undertaken by the author which speaks well for his conscientiousness, and adds much to the charm and permanent interest of the story. There is, as we have intimated, an unwonted variety and an unwonted force in " A Hazard of New Fortunes." If it can hardly be said to have a dominant note, it is none the less a faithful and carefully elaborated study of New York life, and it presents some of the most salient characteristics of that life in a very impressive and artistic manner. Most readers will, we think, agree with us that the change in method here shown is a change for the better. Never, certainly, has Mr. Howells written more brilliantly, more clearly, more firmly, or more attractively, than in this instance. The reversion to these strong individualizations seems to have put new vigor into his hands, and he deals with the deeper tragedies, the graver emotions of life, with a power which may perhaps be regarded as a practical demonstration of the ultimate supremacy destined to be attained by Nature over Art; by the true over the false Realism.