A Hazard of New Fortunes
|Author||William Dean Howells|
|Publisher||Harper & Bros|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover|
|Pages||558 (first edition)|
|LC Class||PS2020.F68 vol. 16 PS2025|
A Hazard of New Fortunes is a novel by William Dean Howells. Copyrighted in 1889 and first published in the U.S. by Harper & Bros. in 1890, the book was well-received for its portrayal of social injustice. Considered by many to be his best work, the novel is also considered to be the first novel to portray New York City. Some argue that the novel was the first of three Howells wrote with Socialist and Utopian ideals in mind: The Quality of Mercy in 1892, and An Imperative Duty in 1893. In this novel, although Howells briefly discusses the American Civil War, he primarily deals with issues of post-war "Gilded Age" America, like labor disputes, the rise of the self-made millionaire, the growth of urban America, the influx of immigrants, and other industrial-era problems. Many critics consider A Hazard of New Fortunes to be one of Howells' most important examples of American literary Realism because he portrays a variety of people from different backgrounds.
- Basil March – Businessman from Boston who moves to New York city to start a new periodical.
- Fulkerson – Hopeful and charismatic entrepreneur who claims to originate the idea of Every Other Week.
- Colonel Woodburn – Wealthy Virginia resident who was a colonel for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. He believes slavery could work if they made the system more efficient.
- Berthold Lindau – German-born member of the lower class. He fought for the north in the Civil War and lost his hand. He advocates for workers' rights and socialism.
- Mr. Dryfoos – Rich Midwesterner who made his money on natural gas. He is anti-union and bankrolls Every Other Week as a way to encourage his son to go into business.
- Conrad Dryfoos – The son of Mr. Dryfoos. He works at Every Other Week because of his father, who is trying to persuade him to become a businessman instead of an Episcopalian priest. He enjoys helping those who are less fortunate.
- Angus Beaton – An artist for Every Other Week.
- Alma Leighton – A young aspiring artist who contributes drawings to Every Other Week.
- Margaret Vance – A New York society girl who leads a non-traditional life engaging in charity work and at the end becomes an Episcopalian nun. Plays banjo.
The book, which takes place in late 19th century New York City, tells the story of Basil March, who finds himself in the middle of a dispute between his employer, a self-made millionaire named Dryfoos, and his old German teacher, an advocate for workers' rights named Lindau. The main character of the novel, Basil March, provides the main perspective throughout the novel. He resides in Boston with his wife and children until he is persuaded by his idealistic friend Fulkerson to move to New York to help him start a new magazine, where the writers benefit in a primitive form of profit sharing. After some deliberation, the Marches move to New York and begin a rather extensive search for a perfect apartment. After many exhausting weeks of searching, Basil finally settles on an apartment full of what he and his wife refer to as "gimcrackery"—trinkets and decorations that do not appeal to their upper-middle-class tastes.
Work at the new magazine, entitled Every Other Week begins. The magazine is bankrolled by a millionaire named Dryfoos, who became wealthy after discovering natural gas on his farm in the Midwest, and who is now making money on Wall Street. Dryfoos gives his son, Conrad, the job of business manager for the magazine in order to try to dissuade him from becoming an Episcopalian priest. Artist by the name of Angus Beaton, an old friend of Fulkerson's, is chosen to head the art department. Beaton chooses Alma Leighton, for whom he has feelings, to illustrate the cover of the first issue. Berthold Lindau, an old friend of Basil March's (and his former German teacher) and a veteran of the American Civil War, becomes the translator. Lindau knows many languages, so he selects and translates Russian, French, and German stories to publish in the magazine. Lindau lost his hand in a Civil War battle, fighting for the North because he was a strong abolitionist and an idealistic American immigrant.
Colonel Woodburn, a wealthy Southerner, and his daughter move to New York and become involved with the newspaper when their social circle connects with the magazine's through Alma Leighton; they board with Alma Leighton and her mother. Fulkerson decides that he would like to publish some of Colonel Woodburn's pro-slavery writings in Every Other Week, because he believes it would sell more copies of the new magazine. At a dinner banquet, the political views of Dryfoos the capitalist, Lindau the socialist, and Colonel Woodburn the pro-slavery advocate clash. Lindau fiercely criticizes Dryfoos, expressing his harshest feelings in German to March, because he does not think anyone else at the table speaks German. Later we learn that Dryfoos speaks German, and he was insulted by Lindau's comments.
In the end of the book, the New York City streetcar drivers strike. The strike, similar to the Haymarket Riot, turns into a riot. Conrad Dryfoos, already a humanitarian helping the poor and working class, is charmed by the lovely Margaret Vance, who shares his values of charity. She encourages Conrad to try to end the strike by telling all sides to desist. While attempting to stop a policeman from beating the aged and disabled Lindau, Conrad is fatally shot. March emerges from a streetcar to see the fallen men lying on the street next to each other. Dryfoos grieves the loss of his son. After further amputation of his already disabled arm, Lindau dies with Margaret Vance at his side. Dryfoos sells the magazine to Fulkerson and March for an extremely low price and takes his remaining family to Europe. Fulkerson moves into the apartment above the magazine with his new wife, Colonel Woodburn's daughter. The Marches pass Margaret Vance on the street; she has become an Episcopalian nun.
References to other works
Basil March and his wife are characters who were first introduced in Howells's Their Wedding Journey. Basil's age is never given, nor is his role in the American Civil War. However, it can be inferred from A Hazard of New Fortunes that Basil was old enough to participate in the war, based on his conversation with Lindau in the restaurant.
William Dean Howells did not fight in the Civil War, but rather served as American counsel at Venice for President Lincoln in Italy. He earned his position for writing a campaign biography for Lincoln. His time abroad kept him from experiencing the war first-hand.
Conscription, or the act of finding someone to replace you or paying a fee, was used in the Civil War by rich men who did not want to fight. Dryfoos chose conscription, or substitution, to avoid leaving his family. The Civil War also plays a minor role in Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).
Both The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Hazard of New Fortunes feature self-made millionaires dealing with moral dilemmas. Both novels also contrast class and social differences between these self-made millionaires and upper-class establishment families. The novels both feature romance plots, but in A Hazard of New Fortunes one of the major romance plots (involving Angus Beaton) fails to resolve itself into a marriage.
The title, A Hazard of New Fortunes, is a reference to William Shakespeare's King John. King John portrays the themes of uncertainty, change, and violence, all of which are also important to A Hazard of New Fortunes.
- Lopate, Phillip. "Introduction: William Dean Howells and the Discovery of New York." Introduction. Howells, William Dean. A Hazard of New Fortunes. Penguin, 2001: v. ISBN 0140439234
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