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In his novel Indian Summer, William Dean Howells presents a mellow but realistic story that has the complete feel of that delightful time of the year, although the plot actually spans several seasons. The Indian summer aspect applies to a sophisticated gentleman, Theodore Colville, who has just entered his middle years as he returns to a scene, Florence, Italy, that played an important part in his early manhood. It was here twenty years earlier that he first fell in love, seemingly successfully until a sudden and harsh rejection. Now, after a once profitable career as a newspaper editor has ended, he is barely ensconced in the Italian city when he meets a lady from his past, a close friend of his lost love. Lina Bowen, now a widow with a young daughter, is an attractive and charming socialite among the American and English residents of Florence. Also living with her at this time as a temporary ward is a beautiful young girl just blossoming into womanhood, Imogene Graham.Colville, although he still hides a shy nature, has become an exceedingly witty and entertaining conversationalist. He quickly becomes a favorite with young Effie Bowen and Imogene Graham. Miss Graham indicates a disdain for the shallow young men that she has met and is highly attracted to the urbane, intelligent Mr. Colville. Mrs. Bowen invites Colville to become a regular guest in her home, and for a time the little coterie is delightfully congenial, but then an emotional triangle begins to develop. Imogene seems to be too devoted to this older gentleman, and Colville does not discourage her. Mrs. Bowen, who apparently is captivated by his charm as well, begins to feel overshadowed by her lovely young ward. This is the core of the intriguing plot.Howells’ characters are totally believable in their thoughts, their motivations, their words, and their actions. The dialogue is delightful, both in the lighter conversations and in the more passionate speeches. Aided by the social milieu of expatriates in a historic city of art and culture, the story moves at first slowly and pleasantly, but begins to build inexorably toward an emotional crisis. As the whole plot unwinds before us, we can eventually see that there is really no other way that the events could realistically move. This novel is a very engrossing and satisfying tale of people that we become truly interested in. (
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