A Modern Instance is regarded as one of the most pivotal works in the career of William Dean Howells; it solidified his reputation as a champion of realism in the United States. The novel is about the deterioration of a once loving marriage under the influence of capitalistic greed. It is the first American novel by a canonical author to seriously consider divorce as a realistic outcome of marriage. The story chronicles the rise and fall of the romance between Bartley Hubbard and Marcia Gaylord, who migrate from Equity, Maine, to Boston, Massachusetts, following their marriage.
William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist author, literary critic, and playwright. Nicknamed “The Dean of American Letters”, he was particularly known for his tenure as editor of the Atlantic Monthly as well as his own prolific writings, including the Christmas story “Christmas Every Day”, and the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Traveler from Altruria. Howells is known to be the father of American realism, and a denouncer of the sentimental novel. He was the first American author to bring a realist aesthetic to the literature of the United States. His stories of Boston upper crust life set in the 1850s are highly regarded among scholars of American fiction.