A Sleep and a Forgetting

Part of The Art of the Novella

Nowhere in the prodigious output of William Dean Howells is there an example more poignant of his heartfelt dedication to the realist movement than this achingly suspenseful novella.

The story centers on a young “alienist”—a psychologist—at an Italian resort, where he meets a young woman who, at subsequent encounters, has no recollection of him. Asked by her frightened father to help her overcome her incapacitating memory problems, the doctor launches a psychological investigation that appears to be based upon the most painful memories of the author himself_Howells had recently experienced the loss of a beloved adult daughter (from what appears to have been anorexia) and the institutionalization of another for “emotional collapse.”

The story’s surprising ending reveals not only the author’s deft sense of craftsmanship, but speaks movingly to his enduring faith in the sublime power of literature.

WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS (March 1, 1837 – May 11, 1920) was an American realist author and literary critic. Nicknamed “The Dean of American Letters”, he was particularly known for his tenure as editor of the Atlantic Monthly.