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Extra resources for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
Almost alone among American writers, Howells noticed the growing cultural importance of insurance and its increasingly intimate relationship with literature, particularly during his political phase during the late 1880s and in his most ambitious novel, A Hazard of New Fortunes. By 1890, even the word “hazard” was a recognizable insurance term, used more often in that context than any other. The central character in Hazard, Basil March, had made a living in insurance for the previous eighteen years, and he was already working for an insurance company in Howells’s first book, Their Wedding Journey (1871).
10 To be fair, many of Howells’s early novels do use convenient accidents to reinject the plot with genteel middle-class values, but that by no means adequately explains the more violent and obscure accidents in his later novels, where the easy morals that Berthoff despises are difficult to adduce. What kind of “moral rigging” kills off James Nevil at the end of The Shadow of a Dream? What lesson attaches to the accidental literary successes in A World of Chance (1893)? There are possible answers to these questions, but no simple ones, and as a result, it makes more sense to see these later accidents as part of a serious critique of indeterminacy, complex causation, and blame.
C ha p ter 1 The Insurance of the Real william dean howells Just fifteen years after its destruction by fire, Chicago erupted in violence again, but this time the violence was hardly represented as accidental. During a small rally of workers, socialists, and anarchists near Chicago’s Haymarket Square in May 1886, someone threw a small homemade bomb into a group of police, killing one and injuring dozens more. In the end, seven police officers were killed, some shot by other officers in the melee that erupted.