For citation:

Urakova A.P. “Tribulations of a Cheerful Giver”: Political Economy of William Dean Howells. Studia Litterarum, 2019, vol. 4, no 3, pp. 92–107. (In Russ.)

DOI: 10.22455/2500-4247-2019-4-3-92-107

Author: Alexandra P. Urakova.
Information about the author:

Alexandra P. Urakova, PhD in Philology, Senior Researcher, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 a, 121069 Moscow, Russia.

ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2432-2840

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Received: April 22, 2019
Published: September 25, 2019
Issue: 2019 Vol. 4, №3
Department: World literature
Pages: 92-107

UDK: 821.133.1+ 821.161.1
BBK: 83.3(4Фра)+83
Keywords: philanthropy, gift, William Dean Howells, sentimentalism, realism, American literature at the verge of the 19 th and 20 th centuries, political economy.


The article is a close reading of the autobiographical sketch “Tribulations of a Cheerful Giver” by William Dean Howells in the context of the discourses of benevolence and charity in the 19 th century United States. It argues that Howells was both a successor to the so-called sentimental “benevolence literature” and a contemporary of the anti-sentimental postbellum philanthropic practices. Describing different instances of alms-giving and charitable work from his personal experience, Howells comments on the dramatic situation of a contemporary philanthropist who faces complex ethical dilemma tackling controversies of charity from the perspective of political economy. “Tribulations of a Cheerful Giver” reflects on the century-long discussions about charity — namely how it is possible to do good without multiplying social evil. The title and the final of the sketch disclose it as a secular version of the “apostolic letter,” an ultimate appeal to be charitable even when charitable activities do not bring desirable results. The article is dedicated to the memory of Ekaterina A. Stetsenko, author of the chapter on Howells in the History of American Literature (IWL RAS Publ., 2013).


1 Stetsenko E.A. Uil’iam Din Khouells [William Dean Howells]. Istoriia literatury SShA. Moscow, IWL RAS Publ., 2003. Vol. IV, ed. by P.V. Balditsyn, M.M. Koreneva. (In Russ.)

2 Bergman J., Bernardi D. Introduction. In: Our Sisters’ Keepers: Nineteenth-Century Benevolence Literature by American Women. Eds. J. Bergman, D. Bernardi. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2005, pp. 1–22. (In English)

3 Budd L.J. William Dean Howells’ Debt to Tolstoy. The American Slavic and East European Review, 1950, Vol. 9, No. 4, Dec., pp. 292–301. (In English)

4 Child L.M. Letters from New York. New York, C. S. Francis & Company, 1844. 288 p. (In English)

5 Ginzberg L.D. Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990. 230 p. (In English)

6 Derrida J. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1992. 172 p. (In English)

7 Hoeller H. From Gift to Commodity. Capitalism and Sacrifice in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction. New Hampshire, University of New Hampshire Press, 2012. 279 p. (In English)

8 Howells W.D. Tribulations of a Cheerful Giver. Impressions and Experiences. New York and London, Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1909, pp. 111–139. (In English)

9 Sigourney L. Letters to Young Ladies. New York, Harper and Brothers, 1833. 259 p. (In English)