William Dean Howells

Nineteenth-century American literary culture can be construed in part as a quarrel between admirers of New York and admirers of Boston. Many American writers looked down on New York as a vulgar place that was addicted to commerce. Emerson disliked New York; Thoreau hated it. Lydia Child, a Bostonian who moved to New York in 1841, said that in New York “the loneliness of the soul is deeper, and far more restless, than the solitude of the mighty forest.” Yet Child, who wrote a column about life in New York for a Boston newspaper, was impressed by New York’s “infinite varieties of character.”

Several American...

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