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The interest in Mark Twain never seems to flag; the awareness of Howells' significance as the dean of American letters during a half century is newly emphasized, thanks to Van Wyck Brooks' biography, HOWELLS. For this reason the timing of the publication of these letters, the first comprehensive collection of a notable correspondence, is important. Here were two brilliant literary figures, whose friendship lasted some forty years, from the time Mark Twain sought out the identity of a reviewer that he considered sympathetically perceptive, to Hawells' tribute to him on his death as the Lincoln of American letters. There is more of warmth and rounded personalities apparent than often encountered in literary correspondence; there is a reflection of the times in which they lived and shared experiences; there is good humored recognition of the schemes they undertook, the failures they encountered; there is laughter, satire, despair and exultation. Episodic, as friendly encounters are apt to be over forty years, these letters nonetheless build portraits of literary equals, who appreciated each other to the full. Possibly Mark Twain owed more to Howells for his generous criticism than Howells- already established-owed to Mark Twain. A dual portrait-liberally illustrated with photographs, and carefully researched and edited and footnoted by two dedicated scholars, Professor Smith of the University of California, and Professor Gibson of New York University. Their editorial comments help set the letters in the frame of reference that adds to their significance.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1960
Publisher: Harvard-Belknap Press