excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies

 

 

Posted here below as a downloadable PDF document are excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies (1914-2012). Mr. Dies was related, on his mother’s side, to Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, Helen (Patges) (Richardson) Dreiser. He was Trustee of the Dreiser Trust.

The full title of the autobiography is “The Kingdom of God and the World’s Final Generation: The Life Story of Harold James Dies” (2010).

Included in the autobiography is anecdotal material related to Theodore Dreiser and his second wife Helen, as well as some information about Dreiser’s niece Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1963) that is not available elsewhere. Topics of interest discussed in the autobiography, and included in the excerpts posted below, include:

Mr. Dies’s relationship with Dreiser’s second wife Helen, whom he knew from his early years, and biographical information about her

his meeting Dreiser and some anecdotal material about Dreiser

mention of his cousin congressman Martin Dies, chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee

his relationship with Gertrude Amelia Hopkins, Dreiser’s favorite niece and the daughter of Dreiser’s sister Emma (“Sister Carrie”)

negotiations over the production of Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”

I wish to thank Joann Crouch, Mr. Dies’s niece, who told me about this unique book and made it available to me for photocopying.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

      February 2017

 

 

 

the-life-story-of-harold-james-dies-excerpts

 

Ted Dreiser?

 

 

email to North Country Public Radio,  Canton, NY

radio@ncpr.org

from Roger W. Smith

February 16,  2017

 

 

re your broadcast on February 15 of a review by  Betsy Kepes of Murder in the Adirondacks: An American Tragedy Revisited by Craig Brandon

the announcer on your program who introduced Ms. Kepes referred to the novel based on the case (An American Tragedy) that was written by Ted Dreiser

Please note: Theodore Dreiser was sometimes referred to by intimates as Teddy

But in public and in the media, he was NEVER referred to as Ted

it was Theodore Dreiser, never Ted, including in his boyhood

photo of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (Theodore Dreiser’s favorite niece)

See commentary below.

Gertrude A. Hopkins (Dreiser's niece)
Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973)

 

 

This photograph of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973), Theodore Dreiser’s favorite niece, is, as far as I know, unique. It is the best photo of Gertrude that I have ever seen.

I am grateful to Mrs. Gloria N. Vevante, Gertrude’s niece, for giving me this photo.

Gertrude Amelia Hopkins was the daughter of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma (Dreiser) Nelson (1863-1936). Emma (Dreiser) Nelson was the real life prototype of the lead character, Carrie Meeber, in Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     December 2016

 

 

***************************************************

 

email to a Dreiserian from Roger W. Smith, Janrary 15, 2017

 

Attached is a gorgeous photo of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973), who was TD’s favorite niece.

The photo was given to me by Mrs. Gloria Vevante.

Mrs. Vevante was born Gloria Nelson. She was Gertrude’s niece. Her (Mrs. Vevante’s) father was George Nelson.

George Kates Nelson (1892-1955) was the son of Emma and Hopkins. He took the name of his stepfather, John Nelson.

George was a hotel manager in Manhattan for most of his professional life. He married a woman, Gunda Ryerson, who had emigrated when young from Norway. For many years, his family lived in Manhattan.

George had nothing to do with TD and did not seem to have been intimate with his mother, Emma, as an adult. He was apparently somewhat of a wild kid who straightened out as he matured. He knew Paul Dresser and as an adolescent would spend time with him.

His first name, George, is possibly significant, since Hurstwood’s first name is George and he has a son named George, Jr.

Gertrude alternatively used the names Gertrude Hopkins and Gertrude Nelson when she was young. She aspired to be singer when young. She was close to Emma. She ended up working for Con Edison in Westchester County. She married a coworker, Emil Dorn, and became Gertrude Hopkins Dorn. But, she found out — much later (I believe it was after Dorn’s death) — that Mr. Dorn was already married (when he married Gertrude) to a wife who had been found mentally incompetent and was confined to a hospital. Gertrude went back to being Gertrude Hopkins.

Gertrude died in Westchester in 1973.

Her letters to TD are touching.

Harold J. Dies (1914-2012), a descendant of Dreiser’s aunt who was Trustee of the Dreiser Estate (he was a cousin of Dreiser’s second wife, Helen Patges Dreiser), knew Gertrude well and played a major role in administering her estate. It is clear that he was fond of her. Tedi Dreiser Goddard and her mother, Dr. Vera Dreiser, knew Gertrude but didn’t seem to give her the time of day or think that much of her. Helen knew Gertrude and liked her. And, at an early age, at least, Gertrude used to correspond with Jug.

photo of Theodore Dreiser?

 
Above are two photographs which, after some thought, I believe are of Theodore Dreiser. As far as I know, they are unique and have not been published or posted before.

One Dreiser scholar whom I have already consulted feels certain that it is not Theodore Dreiser who is shown here. The scholar replied as follows in an email to me:

Doesn’t look like him to me. For that age, the photo is too heavy set a person, among many other things. Check out all the photos at Penn in the Dreiser collection; nothing remotely like this.

These two photos were sent me by a descendant of Dreiser’s maternal grandmother. She has a lot of precious family photos, several of which seem to be unique, including photos of Theodore Dreiser; Helen (Richardson) Dreiser and her family; and Paul Dresser.

There were four photos purportedly of Theodore Dreiser which she sent me, along with the others of the Dreiser family and those of Helen Richardson’s ancestors and relatives. Of those four photos, two (not shown above) are definitely of Theodore Dreiser.

Given that the two above photos come from a family collection, one wonders: if it’s not Theodore Dreiser, who could it be? Some consideration should also be given to the fact that the owner of the photo has always understood that it was a photo of Theodore Dreiser.

 
— Roger W. Smith

      December 2016

 


Addendum
: Regarding the “fact” that “Dreiser” doesn’t quite look like himself here, I can’t help thinking of a passport of photo of myself that was taken when I was age 25 and was making my first trip to Europe. The photographer who took my passport photo was offputting and overbearing. He insisted that I take off my glasses. In the photo, I hardly looked like myself, perhaps because I was uncomfortable. I showed the photo to a good friend of mine. He insisted it was not me. When I was traveling, I had trouble at border crossings with customs officials who thought it was someone else’s photo.

 

Addendum: For comparison purposes, I have posted below a collage of photos of Dreiser as a young man.

Roger W. Smith, review of “Theodore Dreiser’s “Dawn — The Formation of a Mind: An Autobiographical Representation,” by Nadja Firner

 

 

Theodore Dreiser’s “Dawn” — The Formation of a Mind: An Autobiographical Representation, by Nadja Firner. Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller Aktiengesellschaft & Co. KG, 2008. 126 pp. Paper, $92.00.

 

 

In my opinion, which I think would be shared by many Dreiserians, the two autobiographical works of Theodore Dreiser, A Book About Myself (1922) and Dawn (1931), should be ranked very high among American autobiographies. In view of this, it is surprising that Dreiser’s two autobiographical books (which he envisioned as part of a four-volume autobiography that was never finished) are not better known.

I think that A Book About Myself (later published as Newspaper Days) is actually the better written of the two books. It seems to have a tighter focus and to exhibit less of Dreiser’s tiresome philosophizing than does the later work, Dawn. But Dawn can stand on its own as a compelling work and as an invaluable narrative of Dreiser’s youth.

Hence my excitement when I saw that this book by Nadja Firner had been published and jumped to the conclusion that it was a study of Dawn (which, as is explained below, it is not, quite) and thus, by implication, of Dreiser’s autobiographical oeuvre. That I did so was not incomprehensible given that the publicity material for the book, found on Amazon.com and on the back cover of the book, states that the book “studies Theodore Dreiser’s autobiography of youth.” This statement would seem to indicate that it is a study of Dawn. While Dawn does receive consideration, it is more exact to say that this is a book about the “dawning” of Dreiser’s consciousness and the development of his worldview over his lifetime. (A Book About Myself, incidentally, does not receive consideration.) But the subject of the book is still not clear to me after struggling to complete Firner’s study, and this indicates that there are serious flaws in the book’s conception and construction. The content – or perhaps I should say the context in which the content is embedded – of this study is often out of focus.

Firner considers the major works of Dreiser and references much Dreiser scholarship (notably by Elias, Lehan, Lingeman, Lundén, Mathiessen, Mukherjee, Swanberg, Warren, Wirth-Nesher, and Zanine), but while at times provocative and compelling points are made, a direct, seemingly inevitable consequence of such broad coverage is that it is superficial.

I once took a copyediting course in which the instructor made a point about why attention to detail on the part of editors and copyeditors is essential: Sloppiness in editing and production tends to decrease the reader’s overall confidence in a nonfiction book’s accuracy. Firner’s study appears to have been written by a non-native speaker of English; it may be a translation (and a very awkward one at that) from a manuscript in German. It is written in prose that very often does not conform to standard English usage even by relaxed standards; it is plagued with awkward wording, errors in tense and syntax and typographical errors; and it’s a very tough read. There are also annoying inconsistencies in the treatment, say, of items like young Dreiser’s name (Theo vs. Theodore). It is incredible that this book has been published as is.

The first chapter of this book illustrates what is wrong with the whole work, structurally and focus-wise. Instead of focusing on Dreiser, the chapter provides a broad (very broad, in fact overly general) overview of American society during the Gilded Age. It contains sections entitled “America’s new industrial workers,” “The new managerial class,” “The Labor Movement,” and so on in which statements such as the following are made:

In the 1890s, Coney Island was transformed into the site of some of the largest and most elaborate amusement parks in the country. Its popularity signaled the rise of mass entertainment, making the New York amusement park the unofficial capital of a new mass culture. (pg. 23)

The reader must infer what the relevance to Dreiser (if any) is. It is anyone’s guess.

In her concluding chapter, Firner makes the point that Dreiser’s writing life can be divided into distinct phases: “the yearner and dreamer in a despairingly rough reality” (seen in Dreiser’s portrayals of himself in Dawn and of Carrie Meeber in Sister Carrie); the social Darwinian; a stage in which Dreiser’s outlook became more mystical and “antithetical to the amoral objectivity of a conventionally conceived naturalist”; and a final stage where he managed to reconcile his more romantic or mystical views with a scientific and materialistic outlook. (I am not sure that I have correctly identified the phases here. Firner states that there were three phases, then seems to identify four.) These phases are treated at various points in the exposition, but if they are construed as controlling or organizing themes, then the book can be said to often wander into other territory.

The book is divided into chapters on young Dreiser’s America (already noted), his family and the immigrant experience (in which Dawn gets attention), the importance of the city in Dreiser’s development (in which both Dawn and Sister Carrie are the main focus), Dreiser’s use of symbols (in which several of the novels are scrutinized), major influences on Dreiser from Spencer to Balzac, themes in his work such as the ideal of beauty, and so on. Some of this is quite interesting, or at least potentially so, but it is all too much to cover — the book’s content does not cohere.

Many of Firner’s observations about Dreiser are derivative, which is not in itself a criticism. She clearly acknowledges indebtedness to sources and in fact uses them skillfully. She does make a lot of interesting points of her own, such as that Dreiser suffered from a “poverty complex” not unlike his father’s obsession with religion (38), that “there is hardly anyone to imagine who was more repressive, a sometimes more enthusiastic ‘believer’ and in some respects more fanatic than” Dreiser, whose beliefs about class conflict, for example, were founded, ironically, in opposition to his father’s rigidity and orthodoxy (43); that if Dreiser was in his youth impressed by Horatio Alger-like rags to riches stories, he was not in his later years blinded by them (60); that Dreiser “carried the American business novel into previously unexamined territory by suggesting that the synthesis of commercial success and conventional moral precepts were [sic] possible but by no means necessary” (60); that Dreiser gradually moved away “from the sense of social misery as individual fate to escape from by no matter what means in order to ‘rise’ in society, to the sense of social misery as a collective problem to be solved by political and fair means” (65); that illusion and reality in Dreiser’s view “existed in mutual dependence in that one was unthinkable without the other” (72); that “Dreiser was not merely a documentary social realist, but rather a profound observer of the underlying myths and emotional realities of the American experience” (117); that Dreiser’s philosophy was built more on intuition and faith than on logic and reason (117).

The problem with this study is the way such points are developed, haphazardly and sloppily, which is unfortunate, since the author evinces insightfulness and a clear enthusiasm for her subject. She needed an editor’s help. I would not recommend this book, leaving aide consideration of its exorbitant price.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

Granville Hicks, “Theodore Dreiser”

 

granville-hicks-theodore-dreiser-the-american-mercury-6-1-1946

 

Posted above in downloadable PDF format is a review essay on Theodore Dreiser’s last novel, the posthumously published The Bulwark, by critic Granville Hicks (1901-1982):

Granville Hicks, “Theodore Dreiser,” The American Mercury, vol. 62 (June 1, 1946), pp. 751-756

Hicks’s review-essay goes deeper than the typical review.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     November 2016