By Jason Puskar
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Additional info for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
By piling up accidents just as the novel searches for closure, Howells in fact undermines his own realist pretense to observe chance and makes it all the more clear that he is producing chance instead. After all, these accidents are not really preventing the novel from closing; they are in fact facilitating its closure. The accident, final and conclusive, might even be the event that has to happen before the novel can allow itself to terminate, like a marriage at the end of a comedy or a death at the end of a tragedy.
Nor do they solve a moral problem, as the accidents do at the end of A Modern Instance. In fact, the tantalizing but incomplete structure of these repetitions proves more meaningful than any single interpretation of them. The Insurance of the Real They balance readers between a desire to incorporate an apparent pattern into some meaningful design and a counter-desire to save space for an indeterminacy that could produce unexpected conjunctions even more surprising than these. Pitfalls lie at either extreme.
From Peirce’s theory of scientific error to the progressive case for workers’ compensation, the collectivizing power of chance proved indispensable to a culture that was far more openly enthusiastic about the values of individualism. The most important institution of chance collectivity is the massive Introduction and socially transformative insurance industry, as I indicated earlier, in both its private and public forms. The next chapter on Howells and life insurance will take up this issue in more detail, but for the moment suffice it to say that one of the most important changes in American social life in the nineteenth century involved the implementation of widespread insurance coverage, which accelerated dramatically after the Civil War.