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William Dean Howells (1837-1920)

The Rise of Silas Lapham

By William Dean Howells, 1885


Serial text considered anti-Jewish

In the magazine text, Howells initially included some references, probably meant ironically, to the subject of property values in the South End of Boston declining, evidently because Jews, and others the WASPs considered objectionable, were moving in. Proper Bostonians did not live in the South End, but rather in the Back Bay, newly filled-in land, or on the south slope of Beacon Hill.

Cyrus L. Sulzberger, editor of American Hebrew, wrote Howells to request the objectionable lines be omitted from the forthcoming book version. As Kermit Vanderbilt in the Penguin Classics edition points out, Howells had already excised these paragraphs from the first British book edition. It is possible that he did it before reader complaints, but, according to Susy Clemens the next year, Howells told her he had received two or three complaints from Jews before Sulzberger's, so the textual point remains unclear. We supply both versions here for our readers.

Chapter 2

[Following is text from Century magazine, v. 29, p. 22 (Nov. 1884):]

One of the things which he partly said, partly looked, and which was altogether casual, she repeated to her mother, and they canvassed it, as they did all things relating to these new acquaintances, and made it part of a novel point of view which they were acquiring.

It was something that Mrs. Lapham especially submitted to her husband when they got home; she asked him if it were true, and if it made any difference.

"It makes a difference in the price of property," replied the Colonel, promptly. "But as long as we don't want to sell, it don't matter."

"Why, Silas Lapham," said his wife, "do you mean to tell me that this house is worth less than we gave for it?"

"It's worth a good deal less. You see, they have got in--and pretty thick, too--it's no use denying it. And when they get in, they send down the price of property. Of course, there ain't any sense in it; I think it's all dumn foolishness. It's cruel, and folks ought to be ashamed. But there it is. You tell folks that the Savior himself was one, and the twelve apostles, and all the prophets,--I don't know but what Adam was--guess he was,--and it don't make a bit of difference. They send down the price of real estate. Prices begin to shade when the first one gets in."

Mrs. Lapham thought the facts over a few moments. "Well, what do we care, so long as we're comfortable in our home? And they're just as nice and as good neighbors as can be."

"Oh, it's all right as far as I'm concerned," said Lapham. "Who did you say those people were that stirred you up about it?"

Mrs. Lapham mentioned their name. Lapham nodded his head.

Chapter 2

[Following is text from Century magazine, v. 29, p. 25 (Nov. 1884):]

Mrs. Lapham stood flapping the check which she held in her right hand against the edge of her left. "A Mr. Liliengarten has bought the Gordon house across the square," she said, thoughtfully.

"Well, I'm agreeable. I suppose he's got the money to pay for it."

"Oh, yes, they've all got money," sighed Mrs. Lapham.

She sighed again--a yielding sigh. . . .

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