The novel follows the life of self made man Silas lapham and his family. Silas is a mineral paint man who constructed a paint industry for himself based on his unique paint type almost single handedly. Silas and his wife Persis and their daughters must maneuver socially during the early nineteenth century, a time where manners and graces are observed very carefully and factor significantly into a persons social statues. Silas has a hard time dealing with socialites as he is a very upfront man who is not used to the rigors of high society. I enjoyed this novel for several reasons. Firstly, I admire Silas for pulling himself up from his boot straps. I tend to like stories about entrepreneurship, and this story delivers in that department. Also, from a factual standpoint there are a lot of interesting historical references relating back to the nineteenth century and the mineral paint business as well. Finally, one may also enjoy the social satire Howells incorporates into the novel as it is done in a humorous vein. Many of the antiquated concepts of high society during his time seem absurd by today's standards and Howells makes light of these standards liberally. All in all, a very good read and worth a try.
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The Rise of Silas Lapham is a novel written by William Dean Howells in 1885 about the materialistic rise of Silas Lapham from rags to riches, and his ensuing moral susceptibility. Silas earns a fortune in the paint business, but he lacks social standards, which he tries to attain through his daughter's marriage to the aristocratic Corey family. Silas's morality does not fail him. He loses his money but makes the right moral decision when his partner proposes the unethical selling of the mills to English settlers.
Howells is known to be the father of American realism, and a denouncer of the sentimental novel. The love triangle of Irene Lapham, Tom Corey, and Penelope Lapham highlights Howells' views of sentimental novels as unrealistic and deceitful. It is believed that Howells's own daughter suffered from anorexia and depression, ending in her death by heart attack in 1889. This was supposedly because of her interest in just such sentimental novels, which glorified unrealistic heroes and heroines.