Review of The Rise of Silas Lapham: A Tribute to William Dean Howells

Author: Sherry Helms

The Rise of Silas Lapham” is a masterwork of the realist literature, written by a man of letter who is commonly known as “The Dean of American Letters”. Yes, we are talking about William Dean Howells, one of the widely-acclaimed realist authors and literary critics in the American History. Today is Howell’s 176th birth anniversary, and so, we’ve thought of paying tribute to him by reviewing his best-known work The Rise of Silas Lapham.

A subtle classic of its time, The Rise of Silas Lapham is an elegant tale of Boston society and manners, published in 1885. It follows the story of 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. He loses his money but makes the right moral decision when his partner proposes the unethical selling of the mills to English settlers. But, life has decided something else for him. Silas’s morality does not fail him.

The moral rise of Silas after his tragic downfall and her daughter Irene’s similar realistic maturity after her unsuccessful love are somewhat parallel. While Silas does not save his business by continuing to extort money from unknowing parties, Irene compensates for her lost love by supporting her father at the time of his financial crisis.

The novel focuses on important themes in the American literary tradition–the efficacy of self-help and determination, the ambiguous benefits of social and economic progress, and the continual contradiction between urban and pastoral values. It provides a paradigm of American culture in the Gilded Age.

Being realistic, the novel enlivens characters who boast both the tragic and comic qualities and fates, reflecting personal thoughts and comments of Howells on society and art. Also, the love triangle of Irene Lapham, Tom Corey, and Penelope Lapham highlights Howells’ views of sentimental novels as unrealistic and deceitful. An example of tragicomedy, romanticism, realism, morality, society, and art, plus isolationism and social adaptability, this book investigates all of these aspects in relationship to the plot and characters.

Unambiguously written, this book has complex yet page-turner story. It is a must-read for everyone who thinks they have a grip on the American society.

Do you find this story an interesting one? If yes then what are waiting for, go and grab a copy of “The Rise of Silas Lapham” from

Leave a Reply

Stay Connected