Rise of Silas Lapham

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Novel by Howells, published in 1885.

Colonel Silas Lapham, a typical self-made businessman, has risen from a Vermont farm to wealth and prominence as a paint manufacturer. He establishes his family in Boston, where he begins to build a mansion, and urges his wife, Persis, and their daughters, Penelope and Irene, to enter Brahmin society, for which their wealth would seem to qualify them. Tom Corey and Penelope, the older and more intelligent sister, are in love, but he belongs to the social group to which the Laphams cannot attain, and there is a misunderstanding when Irene, immature and impulsive, believes that Tom returns her love for him. Penelope refuses his proposal, and, at the Coreys' dinner party, which Penelope does not attend, Silas gets drunk and reveals himself as a brash and sturdy nouveau riche. He has meanwhile been speculating unsuccessfully and faces bankruptcy. His only hope is the sale of a milling property to an English syndicate, and his former partner, Rogers, presses him to this action, although both know that this will result in disaster to the syndicate. When Lapham's fair play and integrity cause him to refuse the opportunity, he is ruined and returns to Vermont. Although he has fallen in the social scale, he has risen morally. Tom and Penelope are married and go to Mexico to escape the unhappy background of social distinctions between their families.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Dean Howells (1837—1920)

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