Maine: An Encyclopedia

Howells, William Dean

William Dean Howells House at Kittery Point (2013)

William Dean Howells House, Kittery Point (’13)

William Dean Howells (1837-1920) was a prolific author, editor, and literary critic. While not a legal Maine resident, his connections to the state include his relationship with Maine-based writers, his two decades at the summer place in Maine at Kittery Point, and its status as a historic site accepted by the National Register of Historic Places.

As a young man he managed to publish poems, short stories, and reviews in the Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere. After being well-paid for a campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln, he traveled to New England where he met Maine-linked people such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry David Thoreau, among others.

After serving as assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, he became its editor in 1871, a post he filled until 1881. In that year he moved to New York and, according to Alfred Kazin, had “taken the literary center of the country from Boston to New York.”

In 1891 he became the editor of the Cosmopolitan in New York and felt obliged to write to his friend, still in Cambridge,

I fancy that it must have been with something of a shock you learned of the last step I have taken, in becoming editor of this magazine. . . .  It promised me freedom from the anxiety of placing my stories and chaffering about prices, and relief from the necessity of making quantity.

Howells later wrote for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, promoting the works of many authors, including Sarah Orne Jewett.

Alfred Kazin saw Howells as a bridge from the nineteenth century romantic prose to “new realism” of the twentieth.  According to Donna M. Campbell, “Although he wrote over a hundred books in various genres, including novels, poems, literary criticism, plays, memoirs, and travel narratives, Howells is best known today for his realistic fiction, . . .”

Howells bought a summer house on Kittery Point in Maine, spending almost two decades in residence during the summers through 1919.  During this time he produced more than twenty literary works, some of which are likely to have been written and/or edited at Kittery Point.

Upon his death, ownership of the house passed to his son John, who later donated it to Harvard University. The house, now winterized, is actively maintained and used by the University for Harvard faculty and administrators  to visit, for departmental retreats and other Harvard related groups.

Additional resources

Campbell, Donna M. “The William Dean Howells Society, About W.D. Howells.” Washington State University. (accessed November 18, 2013) [primary source for this article]

Harvard University. Campus Services. “Welcome to Howells House.” (accessed November 18, 2013)

Kazin, Alfred.  On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. Garden City, NY. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1956. c. 1942. p. 1.

The William Dean Howells Society. “William Dean Howells: Brief Chronology of Selected Works and Events.” (accessed November 18, 2013)


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