Critical Essays Art in The Rise of Silas Lapham


What happens to art when men like Silas Lapham come into power? The result could have been ludicrously illustrated if Lapham had been allowed to build the home of his dreams. Without the guiding hand of Seymour, the Lapham home would have been the epitome of ugliness. Lapham, who can afford to be artistic, has none of the aesthetic inklings that are necessary. The domination of art by a blundering capitalist can be disastrous, Howells points out, especially if our artists are as weak as Bromfield Corey.

Elegant but sterile in his art, Corey can talk about it, but he cannot effectively practice it. He retreats into a world of seclusion and theories, never becoming actively engaged in producing an object of outstanding art. The largeness of Silas' project reflects his activity and drive, but Lapham's conception of it could have been harmful to the artistic world. If artists are not active, art is in great danger, Howells is saying.

Lapham's moral rise from self-concern to concern for society is not accidental, for we must not view The Rise of Silas Lapham as merely a story of one inartistic man or of Bostonian society. Its message is far-reaching with a universality that touches the entirety of American society even today.