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Travelling for America:
William Dean Howells and John Ruskin

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi

There is one book which so often finds its way into the backpack of 19th century Americans travelling to Europe that one cannot help enquiring over the cause and purpose of such luggage; the more so as the book is neither the Bible, nor the Declaration of Independence, but John Ruskin’s
Modern Painters. Prior to fathering American realism, William Dean Howells was one of the travel writers who would pack their literal and figurative luggage and steer towards Europe – since Art, like all ideals, was not to be found at home. This paper aims at showing that Howells’s search for an American ars poetica in Europe through the agency of Ruskin took place within a semiotic colloquium involving an author-traveller, a double object (travel and account) and a mise-en-scenic guidebook, and resulted in a realist affirmation of art as presence. To this aim, the paper looks at the polemical (inter)textual instances in Howells’s Venetian Life illustrating a transcontinental search for truth as the meaning of art.

Keywords: William Dean Howells, John Ruskin, Venice, polemical intertextuality, ars poetica, semiotic triangle, semiotic colloquium, art as presence



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