The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XI. The Later Novel: Howells
§ 9. E. P. Roe
Adaptable to literary as to other circumstances, Mrs. Stowe had actually in Oldtown Folks fallen in with the imperious current proceeding from the example of Bret Harte, whose Luck of Roaring Camp stands at the very headwaters of American “local colour” fiction and largely gave it its direction. Elsewhere in this history that movement, so far as it concerns the short story, its chief form, has been traced; in the novel a similar fondness for local manners and types appeared, but not so prompt a revolution in method, for the good reason that most writers who followed Bret Harte followed him in the dimensions of their work as well as in its subjects, and left the novel standing for a few years a little out of the central channel of imaginative production. Domestic sentimentalism, of course, did not noticeably abate, carried on with large popular success by Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–81) of Massachusetts and Edward Payson Roe (1838–88) of New York until nearly the end of the century, when others took up the useful burden. Both Holland and Roe were clergymen, a sign that the old suspicion of the novel was nearly dead, even among those petty sects and sectarians that so long feared the effects of it. Holland, whose first novel had appeared in 1857, was popular moralist and poet as well as novelist and first editor of Scribner’s Magazine (founded 1870); but Roe contented himself with fiction. Chaplain of cavalry and of one of the Federal hospitals during the Civil War, he later gave up the ministry in the firm conviction that he could reach thousands with novels and only hundreds with his voice. His simple formula included: first, some topical material, historical event, or current issue; second, characters and incidents selected directly from his personal observation or from newspapers; third, an abundance of “nature” descriptions with much praise of the rural virtues; and fourth, plots concerned almost invariably, and not very deviously, with the simultaneous pursuit of wives, fortunes, and salvation. Barriers Burned Away (1872), The Opening of a Chestnut Burr (1874), and Without a Home (1881) are said to have been his most widely read books.