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A Sleep and a Forgetting Paperback – Aug 25 2009
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About the Author
William Dean Howells was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio in 1837. The son of an itinerant newspaper editor, he began printing and typesetting work at an early age. In 1866 he started as an assistant editor for The Atlantic Monthly, becoming editor by 1871, a position he held until 1881. His own literary reputation took off a year later with the 1882 publication of the realist novel A Modern Instance. The Rise of Silas Lapham, Annie Kilburn, and A Hazard of New Fortunes followed. A close friend of Mark Twain and Henry James, he also wrote criticism and essays supporting such authors as Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He was one of seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1904, and later became its president. He died in 1920.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
William Dean Howells, would according to the bio on the back flap begin as political ally to the soon to be President Lincoln and continue on to be an editor of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's. Both noted for there literary influence. Howells would champion realism and promote of the important writers of the late 19the Century. In the end he would be an important writer in the school of Realism give his name to Howellsian school of realism (thank you Google ).
Howellsian realism is well demonstrated in this selection, A Sleep and A Forgetting. Three Americans find themselves together in fairly simple circumstances. Young Dr. Matthew Lanfefar has an interest in the then new field of psychotherapy. Mr. Gerald and his daughter are in San Remo "between Nice and Genoa" intentionally placing them maybe in Italy and maybe in France. The Father and daughter are in San Remo because father is hoping to cure his daughter of hysterical amnesia. Sometime before the story begins, she had witnessed the terrible accident that had killed her mother. Mr. Gerald appeals to the decency of the young doctor to take his daughter as his only patient and perhaps guide her out of her amnesia.
What is unspoken between the doctor and the father is the never explicitly stated central problem of the novella. The young patient lives in an almost childlike state, unconscious of the pain of her loss but also unable to fully function as an adult. To restore her memory is to force her to suffer bereavement and mourning. Leaving her in her self-imposed condition prevents her from forming the normal attachments of an otherwise marriageable woman and otherwise functioning as a full person. The doctor has additional issues as it is not certain that he should promote a resolution, or should he trust the woman to cure herself. Meantime,can he maintain his professional detachment even has he falls in love with his patient?
None of these issues are directly considered. All are acted out within the narrative. We are aware that both the doctor and parent are working through moral issues, but nowhere are we made to read about the implied moralizing.
Once again the Series: the Art of the Novella has given me the chance to sample a writer without having to commit to a full novel. The 80 pages of this story pass with a certain stately pacing but can be read in a single sitting. It is a period piece but it crosses time quite well.
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