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Domestic Biographies

Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home


Elif S. Armbruster

Domestic Biographies: Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home presents comparative domestic biographies of four American Realist writers: Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. Drawing upon extensive primary sources to reconstruct the authors’ private lives, Domestic Biographies illuminates how they lived when no one was looking. In particular this book examines how the authors worked and wrote at home and how their home life in turn made its way into their novels and non-fiction. Domestic Biographies offers an innovative and exciting architectural and domestic lens through which to study the lives and literature of America’s best-known Realists.


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Introduction: From Romance to Realism: New Houses and New Literature 1


INTRODUCTION From Romance to Realism: New Houses and New Literature Readers get to know their favorite authors primarily through their work; we imagine what they might be like based upon our reading of their fiction. Studying Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we cannot help but envision its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, as an uncommonly caring, concerned, and spiritual woman, mother, and wife. But a writer’s fiction is just that: fiction, and not a reliable means of determining who an author actually is. Still, we want to know our beloved writers. We connect with them and wonder about the details of their writing lives: was there a particular type of desk, a specific time of day, a special view that they sought for their creative process? We speculate about their private lives: why did they marry or not; have children or not; prioritize their writing or not? Usually, we never know how right or wrong we are. Today, most Americans are familiar with the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at least by name, but few know anything about the book’s author (sometimes, not even her name). A still fewer number of readers can name the title of any other work Stowe published, though she went on to write nearly one a year for the rest of her long life. 1 That leaves a scant number indeed who know anything about the circumstances of her writing—let alone the domestic environment in which she worked. Where did she do her writing, and what was going...

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