These two nouvelles mark Howells' plunge into psychological realism. Their themes-a triangle of tragic agonies with psychological insights intriguingly proto-Freudian, and a drama of miscegenation-are anything but the 'smiling', lightweight topics to which Howells has been supposed to have been confined. The maturity both of their art and of their moral insight lends them an impact much deeper and more permanent than that of the shriller, more merely commercial shocking fiction of our day.
William Dean Howells (1837-1920) was an American novelist, critic, and editor. Both in his own novels and in his critical writing, Howells was a champion of realism in American literature. Howells' critical essays on the works of such realistic European writers as Tolstoy, Zola, and Ibsen helped to mold American taste, and he was a literary mentor of Mark Twain, Hamlin Garland, Thorstein Veblen, and Stephen Crane.