When the subject is the relation between capitalism and American literature, few novels come more readily to mind than William Dean Howells's 1885 The Rise of Silas Lapham. “Published at the height of America's industrial expansion,” writes Wayne Westbrook in a typical assessment, it “pictures an era and personifies a type. The Era is the Gilded Age. The type is the American businessman” (59). But for a novel self-consciously focused on business, The Rise of Silas Lapham is surprisingly interested in the gift. Counter to Howells's famous later assertion that “[a]t present business is the only human solidarity,” the gift turns out to be the sole “chain” uniting Howells's characters against whatever interests, tastes, and principles separate them. Hidden in plain sight, the main plot of the novel delineates the awkward yet ultimately binding relations between the Brahmin Coreys and the rising Lapham family, which come about not because the Laphams “buy their way into society” (Michaels 40) but because they give the Coreys a gift so true and so large that it must be recognized and reciprocated. When the women of both families happen to be staying at a Canadian resort, Mrs. Lapham spontaneously comes to Mrs. Corey's rescue and, as a French doctor later makes uncomfortably explicit, saves Mrs. Corey's life. “A certain intimacy inevitably followed,” Howells writes, as the Coreys are “gratefully recognizant” of the gift and their “singular obligation” to the Laphams (24–25). This gift has received no critical attention even though it engenders the main plot of the novel as the initial “helplessly contracted” (172) obligation leads to further contact between the families, from dinner to business dealings to marriage. None of these consequences are comfortable; indeed, each of them is excruciating and poses one of the text's central questions: how does one reciprocate such an impossibly large gift when one shares no interests or tastes with the people to whom one is now bound by gratitude and debt? Mrs. Lapham's gift to Mrs. Corey not only transforms the Coreys' life forever (in a way, they pay with their son for the mother's life), but it also transforms Howells's novel from a novel about business to a narrative about gifts. This is far from incidental. Howells doubles the Corey-Lapham plot as Silas Lapham, in turn, believes that he owes his life to Jim Millon, who, during the Civil War, took a bullet for Lapham and died. The Laphams equally struggle with their own uncomfortable obligation to the working-class Deweys. While neither the Coreys nor the Laphams can figure out how to respond to impossibly large gifts given to them by people with whom they share nothing else, they do know instinctively that they must do so and reciprocate in one way or another. Howells's novel tells the story of these gifts and their confusing, maddening, and binding obligations. Indeed, Howells's supposed business novel can only spin itself out on these gifts, given and recognized as such.