The four novels collected in this Library of America volume are among the classic works from the immensely productive career of America’s most influential man of letters at the turn of the twentieth century. William Dean Howells was a champion of French and Russian realistic writers and a brilliant advocate of the most controversial American writers of his own time. A close friend of Mark Twain and Henry James, he defended them against the attacks of their more genteel and nationalistic compatriots, and he was also sympathetic to the realistic starkness and radicalism of younger writers like Frank Norris and Stephen Crane. Howells’s own realism elaborates what he called a “merciful distrust of our own judgements.” This distrust, in part a recognition of the degree to which social institutions intrude upon and shape our private lives, informs both the subjects of his novels and the way they are written. Howells is always more deferential than didactic, and the difficulties of human relationships are intentionally left unresolved.