A fair, proportioned study of William Dean Howells and the more than five decades in which he was the dean of American letters. As editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and later on the staff of Harper's publishing firm, he was in a pivotal position and had an immense influence on the American novel, always in the direction of realism. At first it was a revolt against the romanticism of Poe- and Hawthrone, a stress on seeing and understanding life in terms of the normal, if not even the commonplace. During these years Howells seemed the mildest, most decorous of Victorian writers, representing the best of the Boston Brahmins. But there was some fire beneath the marmoreal front. And after the Hay market Anarchist trial in 1887, in which Howells openly championed the hanged men, his social point of view broadened and he embraced a kind of Tolstoyan socialism. Even in his last years, it was he who saw and encouraged the genius of Crane, Dreiser, and other moderns. Who would have credited the author of A Chance Encounter with such audacious taste? However, as it has been said of him, Howells the man was greater than Howells the writer. ... A sound literary history, in the vein of Vernon Parrington, this has its primary interest for students, professors, literateurs, rather than the general reader.