American Literature Association Conference, 2015

I presented a paper, “A Woman’s ‘Brand’ of Success,” on William Dean Howells’s The Rise of Silas Lapham at the 2015 ALA conference. In the paper, I argue that the novel’s direct correlation of Lapham’s professional missteps and his emphatic rejections of his wife’s input illustrates the curse of Gilded Age prosperity to be the exclusion of women—more specifically, the traditionally feminine traits of restraint and good character—from the masculine public sphere. After Lapham’s extravagant house has burned down and he faces financial ruin, Lapham and his wife have similar epiphanies, regretting “how much [Persis] had left herself out of his business life. That was another ‘curse’ of their prosperity.” By presenting the Persis “brand” as a potential solution to the contradictory impulses of both achieving success in the Gilded Age corporate economy and maintaining one’s integrity, this paper reveals the ways Lapham demonstrates the damaging results of excluding women from the public sphere, while simultaneously reinforcing traditional notions of the feminine qualities of virtue and honor that are central to ideas such as “true womanhood” and the doctrine of separate spheres.