An Imperative Duty

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2012-08-02 02:12Z by Steven

An Imperative Duty

Broadview Press
March 2010 (Originally Published in 1891)
200 pages
ISBN: 9781551119144 / 1551119145

W. D. Howells (William Dean Howells) (1837-1920)

Edited by:

Paul R. Petrie, Professor of English
Southern Connecticut State University

An Imperative Duty tells the story of Rhoda Aldgate, a young woman on the verge of marriage who has been raised by her aunt to assume that she is white, but who is in fact the descendant of an African-American grandmother. The novel traces the struggles of Rhoda, her family, and her suitor to come to terms with the implications of Rhoda’s heritage. Howells employs this stock situation to explore the newly urgent questions of identity, morality, and social policy raised by “miscegenation” in the post-Reconstruction United States. The novel imagines interracial marriage sympathetically at a time when racist sentiment was on the rise, and does this in one of Howells’s most aesthetically economical performances in the short novel form.

Appendices to this Broadview Edition include material on the “tragic mulatta” in literature, interracial marriage, the “science” of race in the nineteenth century, and Howells’s literary realism.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • W.D. Howells: A Brief Chronology
  • A Note on the Text
  • An Imperative Duty
  • Appendix A: Contemporary Reviews and Responses
  • Appendix B: The “Tragic Mulatta” in Literature
    1. From Grace King, “The Little Convent Girl” (1893)
    2. From Matt Crim, “Was It An Exceptional Case?” (1891)
    3. W.D. Howells, “The Pilot’s Story” (1860)
  • Appendix C: Interracial Marriage & the “Science” of Race
    1. From Joseph-Arthur, Comte de Gobineau, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (1853)
    2. From J.C. Nott, Types of Mankind (1854)
    3. From Frederick L. Hoffman, The Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro (1896)
    4. Pace v. State of Alabama, 1883
    5. From Henry W. Grady, “In Plain Black and White” (1885)
    6. From Charles W. Chesnutt, “The Future American” (1900)
    7. From W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Conservation of Races” (1897)
  • Appendix D: W.D. Howells’s Theory of Realism—The “Editor’s Study” Columns
    1. May 1886 [Realism and Romance]
    2. November 1886 [Aesthetics and Ethics]
    3. April 1887 [Art, Truth, and Morality]
    4. September 1887 [Realism and Democracy]
    5. Dec 1887 [The Real and the Ideal Grasshopper]
    6. March 1888 [Can Fiction Help the People It Depicts?]
    7. December 1888 [Christmas Literature]
  • Select Bibliography

Read the entire novel here.

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