Knowledge of how they relate to each other is also important. In the William Dean Howells novel, a business story dominates a secondary love triangle. Silas Lapham earns a fortune in the paint business through opportunism, greed, and driving ambition. He wants his daughter to marry into the aristocratic Corey family to gain the social prominence the backwoods Laphams have never attained.

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As we first encounter him, Lapham proudly estimates his own wealth at the talismanic figure of a million dollars. He judges everything and everyone in relation to his paint. He commences work on a lavish house in the new Back Bay. Social ambition leads Lapham into a series of mistakes and disasters, at first comical, then less so. He speculates. He neglects the insurance of the house he is building. He invests too much faith in a business associate he knew to be crooked. Business reverses strike and accumulate.

Lapham faces ruin. Underneath his gathering pretensions, Lapham is a man of character. He risked his reputation in a censorious city by supporting the very dubious widow of the man who had saved his life in combat. His over-investment in his crooked business associate originates in a conscientious wish to make amends to a man who has convinced Lapham that Lapham has wronged him.

Offered a chance to escape financial disaster by a corrupt business deal, Lapham refuses. Yet the title of the book is not meant ironically. The Rise of Silas Lapham is often described as one of the rare American novels to present a positive view of an American businessman. I am not sure this accolade is quite deserved. As the story unfolds, Lapham ceases to act in any way recognizable as businesslike.

His culminating act of noble self-denial would I think seem excessively fastidious to most practicing businesspeople.

As the novel closes, Lapham has achieved moral fulfillment by surrendering worldly success. Incidentally — or not so incidentally — the inherited class structure of Boston has been reaffirmed. The younger Laphams will join the social elite to which the father aspired, but in two generational jumps rather than one. From the point of view of the modern reader — ok, this modern reader — the most interesting personality in the novel is the collective personality of the mercantile elite of the late 19th century Boston.

This is an inward and unwelcoming city, whose elite is an assemblage of. He finds himself hemmed in and left out at every turn by ramifications that forbid him all hope of safe personality in his comments on people; he is never less secure than when he hears some given Bostonian denouncing or ridiculing another.

If he will be advised, he will guard himself from concurring in these criticisms, however just they appear, for the probability is that their object is a cousin of not more than one remove from the censor.

When the alien hears a group of Boston ladies calling one another, and speaking of all their gentlemen friends, by the familiar abbreviations of their Christian names, he must feel keenly the exile to which he was born; but he is then, at least, in comparatively little danger; while these latent and tacit cousinships open pitfalls at every step around him, in a society where Middlesexes have married Essexes and produced Suffolks for two hundred and fifty years.

These conditions, however, so perilous to the foreigner, are a source of strength and security to those native to them. An uncertain acquaintance may be so effectually involved in the meshes of such a cousinship, as never to be heard of outside of it and tremendous stories are told of people who have spent a whole winter in Boston, in a whirl of gaiety, and who, the original guests of the Suffolks, discover upon reflection that they have met no one but Essexes and Middlesexes.

The Rise of Silas Lapham was published in , a moment when Boston itself had unmistakably begun to lag behind New York and upstart Chicago. The Coreys live in a house built by Mrs.

He himself had permanently moved to New York City in This is an inward and unwelcoming city, whose elite is an assemblage of those cousinships which form the admiration and terror of the adventurer in Boston society.


The Rise of Silas Lapham

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The story follows 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 into the aristocratic Corey family. Silas' 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.


WHEN Bartley Hubbard went to interview Silas Lapham for the "Solid Men of Boston" series, which he undertook to finish up in The Events, after he replaced their original projector on that newspaper, Lapham received him in his private office by previous appointment. He did not rise from the desk at which he was writing, but he gave Bartley his left hand for welcome, and he rolled his large head in the direction of a vacant chair. I'll be with you in just half a minute. Well, sir," he continued, wheeling round in his leather-cushioned swivel-chair, and facing Bartley, seated so near that their knees almost touched, "so you want my life, death, and Christian sufferings, do you, young man? But you're just one million times more interesting to the public than if you hadn't a dollar; and you know that as well as I do, Mr. There's no use beating about the bush.


The novel recounts the moral dilemma of Colonel Silas Lapham , a newly wealthy, self-made businessman who has climbed over his former partner on the ladder to success. After Lapham moves from Vermont to Boston, his family befriends the Coreys, a Brahmin family in financial difficulties. Meanwhile, business reversals cause him to entertain an offer to sell a worthless property to an English syndicate. The resulting money would enable him to continue to rise in society, but, after struggling with his conscience , Silas at last refuses to sell, and bankruptcy results. Having fallen socially, he has risen morally. The Rise of Silas Lapham. Info Print Cite.

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