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A Hazard of New Fortunes

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Wikipedia article

' 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 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, Howells discusses the American Civil War, while also dealing 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. 'A Hazard of New Fortunes' is one of Howells' most important examples of American literary Realism.


* 'Basil March' - Businessman from Boston who moves to New York city to start a new periodical.

* 'Fulkerson' - Hopeful 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.

* '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' - 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 beautiful aspiring artist who contributes drawings to 'Every Other Week'.

* 'Margaret Vance' - a New York society girl who leads a nontraditional life engaging in charity work. Plays banjo.

Plot summary

The book, which takes place in late 19th century New York City, tells the story of the dispute between a self-made millionaire and a social revolutionary, with a third man futilely attempting to mediate the tense situation.

The main character of the novel, Basil March, is a neutral character from whose viewpoint the reader experiences much of the story. He resides in Boston with his wife and children. The March family is persuaded by March's 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 made it rich after discovering natural gas on his farm in the Midwest, and who is now making money on Wall Street. Dryfoos' son, Conrad, becomes the business manager of the magazine. An illustrator 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 a veteran of the American Civil War, becomes the translator. He 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; 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 personalities 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 Hay Market Square 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, who has always used money to separate himself from pain, sells the magazine to Fulkerson and March for an extremely low price and takes his remaining family to Europe.

In 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. It can be inferred from 'A Hazard of New Fortunes' entirely that he 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 an ambassador 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'.

See also

*ISBN 0-14-043923-4

Category:1890 novels

Category:1889 novels

Category:Works by William Dean Howells

Category:19th-century American novels

Category:Novels set in New York City

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