Theodore Dreiser: Wikis

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Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1933
Born August 27, 1871(1871-08-27)
Terre Haute, Indiana
Died December 28, 1945 (aged 74)
Hollywood, California
Occupation Novelist
Spouse(s) Sara White
Parents Sarah and John Paul Dreiser

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945) was an American novelist and journalist. He pioneered the naturalist school and is known for portraying characters whose value lies not in their moral code, but in their persistence against all obstacles, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency.[1]

Contents

Early life

Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, to Sarah and John Paul Dreiser, a strict Catholic family. John Paul Dreiser was a German immigrant and Sarah was from the Mennonite farming community near Dayton, Ohio; she was disowned for marrying John and converting to Roman Catholicism. Theodore was the twelfth of thirteen children (the ninth of the ten surviving). The popular songwriter Paul Dresser (1859–1906) was his older brother.

From 1889 to 1890, Theodore attended Indiana University before flunking out[citation needed]. Within several years, he was writing for the Chicago Globe newspaper and then the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He wrote several articles on writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Israel Zangwill, and John Burroughs, and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field, Thomas Edison and Theodore Thomas[2]. Other interviewees included Lillian Nordica, Emilia E. Barr, Philip Armour and Alfred Stieglitz[3]. After proposing in 1893, he married Sara White on December 28, 1898. They ultimately separated in 1909, partly as a result of Dreiser's infatuation with Thelma Cudlipp, the teenage daughter of a work colleague, but were never formally divorced.[4]

Literary career

His first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), tells the story of a woman who flees her country life for the city (Chicago) and falls into a wayward life. It sold poorly, but it later acquired a considerable reputation. (It was made into a 1952 film by William Wyler, which starred Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones.)

He was a witness to a lynching in 1893, and wrote the short story " Cracker," which appeared in Ainslee's Magazine, in 1901.[5]

His second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, was published in 1911. Many of Dreiser's subsequent novels dealt with social inequality. His first commercial success was An American Tragedy (1925), which was made into a film in 1931 and again in 1951. In 1892, when Dreiser began work as a newspaperman he "began to observe a certain type of crime in the United States that proved very common. It seemed to spring from the fact that almost every young person was possessed of an ingrown ambition to be somebody financially and socially." "Fortune hunting became a disease" with the frequent result of a peculiarly American kind of crime "many forms of murder for money...the young ambitious lover of some poorer girl...(for) a more attractive girl with money or position...it was not always possible to drop the first girl. What usually stood in the way was pregnancy."[6] Dreiser claimed to have collected such stories every year between 1895 and 1935. The murder in 1911 of Avis Linnell by Clarence Richeson particularly caught his attention. By 1919 this murder was the basis of one of two separate novels begun by Dreiser. The 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette eventually became the basis for An American Tragedy.[7]

Though primarily known as a novelist, Dreiser published his first collection of short stories, Free and Other Stories in 1918. The collection contained 11 stories. A particularly interesting story, "My Brother Paul", was a brief biography of his older brother, Paul Dresser, who was a famous songwriter in the 1890s. This story was the basis for the 1942 romantic movie, "My Gal Sal".

Other works include The "Genius" and Trilogy of Desire (a three-parter based on the remarkable life of the Chicago streetcar tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes and composed of The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The Stoic). The latter was published posthumously in 1947.

Because of his depiction of then-unaccepted aspects of life, such as sexual promiscuity, Dreiser was often forced to battle against censorship.

Political commitment

Politically, Dreiser was involved in several campaigns against social injustice. This included the lynching of Frank Little, one of the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the deportation of Emma Goldman, and the conviction of the trade union leader Tom Mooney. In November 1931 Dreiser led the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners to the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky, where they took testimony from coal miners in Pineville and Harlan on the violence against the miners and their unions by the coal operators.[8]

Dreiser was a committed socialist, and wrote several non-fiction books on political issues. These included Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928), the result of his 1927 trip to the Soviet Union, and two books presenting a critical perspective on capitalist America, Tragic America (1931) and America Is Worth Saving (1941). His vision of capitalism and a future world order with a strong American military dictate combined with the harsh criticism of the latter made him unpopular within the official circles. Although less politically radical friends, such as H.L. Mencken, spoke of Dreiser's relationship with communism as an "unimportant detail in his life," Dreiser's biographer Jerome Loving notes that his political activities since the early 1930s had "clearly been in concert with ostensible communist aims with regard to the working class." [9].

The author died on December 28, 1945 in Hollywood, aged 74.

Legacy

Dreiser had an enormous influence on the generation that followed his. In his tribute "Dreiser" from Horses and Men (1923), Sherwood Anderson writes:

Heavy, heavy, the feet of Theodore. How easy to pick some of his books to pieces, to laugh at him for so much of his heavy prose ... [T]he fellows of the ink-pots, the prose writers in America who follow Dreiser, will have much to do that he has never done. Their road is long but, because of him, those who follow will never have to face the road through the wilderness of Puritan denial, the road that Dreiser faced alone.

Alfred Kazin characterized Dreiser as "stronger than all the others of his time, and at the same time more poignant; greater than the world he has described, but as significant as the people in it," while Larzer Ziff (UC Berkeley) remarked that Dreiser "succeeded beyond any of his predecessors or successors in producing a great American business novel." Arguably, Dreiser succeeded beyond any of his predecessors or successors in producing the great American novel.

Renowned mid-century literary critic Irving Howe spoke of Dreiser as "among the American giants, one of the very few American giants we have had."[10] A British view of Dreiser came from the publisher Rupert Hart-Davis: "Theodore Dreiser's books are enough to stop me in my tracks, never mind his letters — that slovenly turgid style describing endless business deals, with a seduction every hundred pages as light relief. If he's the great American novelist, give me the Marx Brothers every time."[11]

One of Dreiser's strongest champions during his lifetime, H.L. Mencken, declared "that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped."[12]

Dreiser's great theme was the tremendous tensions that can arise among ambition, desire, and social mores.

In 2008, The Library of America selected Dreiser’s article “Dreiser Sees Error in Edwards Defense” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.

Selected bibliography

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Fiction

Nonfiction

  • A Traveler at Forty (1913)
  • A Hoosier Holiday (1916)
  • Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub: A Book of the Mystery and Wonder and Terror of Life (1920)
  • A Book About Myself (1922); republished (unexpurgated) as Newspaper Days (1931)
  • The Color of a Great City (1923)
  • Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928)
  • My City (1929)
  • Tragic America (1931)
  • Dawn (1931)
  • America Is Worth Saving (1941)

Published as

  • Sister Carrie, Jennie Gerhardt, Twelve Men (Richard Lehan, ed.) (Library of America, 1987) ISBN 978-0-94045041-7.
  • An American Tragedy (Thomas P. Riggio, ed.) (Library of America, 2003) ISBN 978-1-93108231-0.

References

  1. ^ Van Doren, Carl (1925). American and British Literature since 1890. Century Company. 
  2. ^ Yoshinobu Hakutani, 'Preface', in Theodore Dreiser, Selected Magazine Articles: v.1: Life and Art in the American 1890's: Vol 1, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,U.S., 1985, p. 10
  3. ^ Donald Pizer Pizer, Theodore Dreiser: Interviews, University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. xiii [1]
  4. ^ Newlin, Keith (2003). A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 78. ISBN 0-313-31680-5. http://books.google.ie/books?id=Qqsc3zwrDtIC&dq=A+Theodore+Dreiser+Encyclopedia&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=uyN3fMo3N1&sig=mfaK_1oT1_AltaqhQNplD6SNYBo&hl=en&ei=d2NvStv7PKLUjAf0k92eBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1. 
  5. ^ Anne P. Rice (2003). Witnessing lynching: American writers respond. Rutgers University Press. p. 151–170. ISBN 9780813533308. http://books.google.com/books?id=xfSdgkSjsHUC&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=Writers'+League+Against+Lynching&source=bl&ots=Up4RE_DXI0&sig=wPGsAi4T9P-qidxxZWYHD1gsngM&hl=en&ei=4nAxSvu8KJDMMarYudsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10#PPA151,M1. 
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ Fishkin, Shelley Fisher (1988). From Fact to Fiction. Oxford University Press. 
  8. ^ Theodore Dreiser et al., Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1932; rpt. Da Capo Press, 1970).
  9. ^ Jerome Loving, The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. ISBN 0520234812, ISBN 9780520234819. P. 398.
  10. ^ Rodden, John (2005). Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks. Nebraska U.P.. 
  11. ^ Hart-Davis (ed). Lyttelton/Hart-Davis Letters, Vol 4 (1959 letters), John Murray, London, 1982. ISBN 0719539411, Letter dated 30 August 1959
  12. ^ Riggio, Thomas P., "Biography of Theodore Dreiser," http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/rbm/dreiser/tdbio.html, Accessed March 22, 2008
  • Cassuto, Leonard and Clare Virginia Eby, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Theodore Dreiser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Loving, Jerome. The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (1871-08-271945-12-28) was an American naturalist author known for dealing with the gritty reality of life.

Contents

Sourced

  • Oh, the moon is fair tonight along the Wabash,
    From the fields there comes the breath of new-mown hay;
    Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming
    On the banks of the Wabash, far away.
    • On the Banks of the Wabash (1896), chorus
    • This song was written by Dreiser's brother Paul (known as Paul Dresser); but Dreiser later claimed that "I wrote the first verse and chorus" [A Hoosier Holiday (1916) ch. XLIII: "The Mystery of Coincidence"]
  • Our civilization is still in a middle stage — scarcely beast in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.
    • Sister Carrie (1900), ch. VIII

The Financier (1912)

  • "The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions — none more so than the most capable."
  • "A man, a real man, must never be an agent, a tool, or a gambler – acting for himself or for others – he must employ such. A real man – a financier – is never a tool. He uses tools. He creates. He leads."
  • "Innate sensuousness rarely has any desire for accuracy, no desire for precise information. It basks in sunshine, bathes in color, dwells in a sense of the impressive and the gorgeous, and rests there. Accuracy is not necessary except in the case of aggressive, acquisitive natures, when it manifests itself in a desire to seize. True controlling sensuousness cannot be manifested in the most active dispositions, nor again in the most accurate."
  • "Literature, outside of the masters, has given us but one idea of the mistress, the subtle, calculating siren who delights to prey on the souls of men. The journalism and the moral pamphleteering of the time seem to foster it with almost partisan zeal. It would seem that a censorship of life had been established by divinity, and the care of its execution given into the hands of the utterly conservative. Yet there is that other form of liaison which has nothing to do with conscious calculation. In the vast majority of cases it is without design or guile. The average woman, controlled by her affections and deeply in love, is no more capable than a child of anything save sacrificial thought – the desire to give; and so long as this state endures, she can only do this. She may change – Hell hath no fury, etc. – but the sacrificial, yielding, solicitous attitude is more often the outstanding characteristic of the mistress; and it is this very attitude in contradistinction to the grasping legality of established matrimony that has caused so many wounds in the defenses of the latter. The temperament of man, either male or female, cannot help falling down before and worshiping this non-seeking, sacrificial note. It approaches vast distinction in life. It appears to be related to that last word in art, that largeness of spirit which is the first characteristic of the great picture, the great building, the great sculpture, the great decoration – namely, a giving, freely and without stint, of itself, of beauty."
  • "Few people have the sense of financial individuality strongly developed. They do not know what it means to be a controller of wealth, to have that which releases the sources of social action – its medium of exchange. They want money, but not for money’s sake. They want it for what it will buy in the way of simple comforts, whereas the financier wants it for what it will control for what it will represent in the way of dignity, force, power."
  • "The Irish are a philosophic as well as a practical race. Their first and strongest impulse is to make the best of a bad situation – to put a better face on evil than it normally wears."
  • "Parents are frequently inclined, because of a time-flattered sense of security, to take their children for granted. Nothing ever has happened, so nothing ever will happen. They see their children every day, and through the eyes of affection; and despite their natural charm and their own strong parental love, the children are apt to become not only commonplaces, but ineffably secure against evil. The astonishment of most parents at the sudden accidental revelation of evil in connection with any of their children is almost invariably pathetic. But it is possible. Very possible. Decidedly likely. Some, through lack of experience or understanding, or both, grow hard and bitter on the instant. They feel themselves astonishingly abased in the face of notable tenderness and sacrifice. Others collapse before the grave manifestation of the insecurity and uncertainty of life – the mystic chemistry of our being. Still others, taught roughly by life, or endowed with understanding or intuition, or both, see in this the latest manifestation of that incomprehensible chemistry which we call life and personality, and, knowing that it is quite vain to hope to gainsay it, save by greater subtlety, put the best face they can upon the matter and call a truce until they can think. We all know that life is unsolvable – we who think. The remainder, imagine a vain thing and are full of sound and fury signifying nothing."
  • "The conventional mind is at best a petty piece of machinery. It is oyster-like in its functioning, or, perhaps better, clam-like. It has its little siphon of thought-processes forced up or down into the mighty ocean of fact and circumstance; but it uses so little, pumps so faintly, that the immediate contiguity of the vast mass is not disturbed. Nothing of the subtlety of life is perceived. Not least inkling of its storms or terrors is ever discovered except through accident."

Other

  • I acknowledge the Furies. I believe in them. I have heard the disastrous beating of their wings.
    • "The First Voyage Over," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (August 1913); later published in A Traveler at Forty (1913), ch. I: "Barfleur Takes Me in Hand"
  • If I were personally to define religion, I would say that it is a bandage that man has invented to protect a soul made bloody by circumstance.
    • The Genius (1915) The University of Illinois Press, 2004, ISBN 0-252-03100-8, p. 734
  • Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail.
    • "Life, Art and America," The Seven Arts (February 1917)
  • Shakespeare, I come!
    • Intended last words, as told to H. L. Mencken. "When Dreiser wrote that he had already framed his last words — 'Shakespeare, I come!' — and asked Mencken what his would be, Mencken replied acidly, 'I regret that I have but one rectum to leave to my country.'" - William Manchester, Disturber of the Peace: H. L. Mencken (1951) University of Michigan Press, digitized 2007-01-28, pp. 109-110

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