By Jason Puskar
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Extra info for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
As regularity and order came to be identified with deliberate contrivance, the “real” became linked to the opposite, the irregular and the uncontrolled. Period critics were partly aware that something of this sort was going on. ”20 But reading Howells’s “haphazard” narrative form as a failure of craft, as Matthews implies, is also a way of crediting him with conducting something like a random sample, artless, perhaps, but not skewed by any too pronounced attempt at artistry. The problem, however, is that Hazard is less haphazard than Matthews thinks, and perhaps even less than Howells intended.
On closer inspection, the leveling descriptions of Howells’s world of chance turn out to reveal tantalizing formal similarities between otherwise separate The Insurance of the Real accidents and tightly integrated structural patterns that are antithetical to the nonnecessity of chance. Howells had occasionally disrupted the ends of previous novels with paroxysms of chance that undermined the narrative’s attempt at closure and highlighted the artificiality of that operation. The train derailment, misdelivered newspaper, and chance encounters at the end of A Modern Instance (1882), for example, bring the novel itself to a screeching halt in a way that can only register as outrageously contrived.
Bearing the imprint of Hartford, Connecticut, soon to be the insurance capital of the East, the illustration issued from the firm of Kellogg and Bulkeley, the president of which, William Henry Bulkeley, was the son of the first president of Hartford’s Aetna Life Insurance Company, Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley. Even as the illustration’s caption reminds readers about the practical need for prudence, it also reminds them about the practical need for insurance, given that fires cannot be eliminated entirely.
Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance by Jason Puskar