By William Dean Howells
Centering on a clash among a self-made millionaire and an idealistic reformer in turn-of-the-twentieth-century big apple, A threat of recent Fortunes insightfully renders the complexities of the yank event at a time of serious social and financial upheaval and transformation. In its depiction of wealth, poverty, and long island urban lifestyles, it continues to be a strikingly modern work.
Reproduced here's the authoritative Indiana college Press variation edited and annotated through David J. Nordloh, with complete scholarly statement and huge textual equipment.
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As we have seen, the relationship between subscription publishing and the ways in which this book was received were significant in a number of ways. Many critics have noted with glee the irony of a book that criticized greed was itself a moneymaking potboiler designed to take advantage of political hot topics and to capitalize on the success of Twain’s other subscription best-sellers. This certainly is true, but it occludes the fact that people understood The Gilded Age within the discourse and terms already set up for them by the material text itself, its complicated authorship status, and its distribution method.
The neglect has also been for a reason that I believe to be essentially illegitimate: that there does not seem to be an adequate critical vocabulary to deal with the dilemmas of collaboration, such as the dilemma of pretense expressed by Twain. Writers can be influenced, juxtaposed, and led astray. They can participate in a composite, a melange, and a hodge-podge. If they actually merge, they elude our critical vocabulary. The pronouns won’t fit. Verbs won’t agree. Theoreticians and critics have not yet become easy with freeing themselves from the isolationist paradigm.
And of course, like most subscription books, it was produced with a lavish amount of gilding. The premise or justification for subscription publishing was, as John Tebbel describes it, to “make possible publication of books that might otherwise not be issued because they are too expensive for a publisher to risk his investment on over-the-counter sales” (511). Subscription publishing relied upon thick volumes that promised good value for their price in bulk and appearance, if not in literary quality.