unassuming disposition?

setting sail on trip to USSR, October 1927

Dreiser setting sail for the USSR, 1927

 

 

“… Dreiser appeals to the reader though the influence of his own unassuming, undogmatic disposition.”

— Edwin Berry Burgum, “Dreiser and His America,” New Masses, January 29 1946

 

 

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While it may be unfair of me to take one sentence out of context, as it were, I disagree with the implications of this statement.

As Thomas Kranidas convincingly explained in his master’s thesis on An American Tragedy,* Dreiser could be an insufferable snob.

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2019

 

 

* Thomas Kranidas, “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953. This thesis was unknown and ignored until Roger W. Smith discovered it, copied the thesis in its entirety, and posted it with Professor Kranidas’s approval.

Thomas Kranidas, ‘The Materials of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’

 

Dreiser’s weaknesses as a writer are also his strengths.

 

 

Theodore Dreiser’s weaknesses as a writer are also his strengths. Simplicity (artlessness) and directness; an almost childlike, “unconscious” sincerity; an unstudied manner of narration.

This observation and these thoughts occurred to me over the past week or so while studying one of Dreiser’s works that is almost never read nowadays. More on this to come.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 12, 2019

“Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free”; a scathing review and commentary

 

 

‘Poor Dreiser’ (re Dorothy Dudley’s Forgotten Frontiers) – The Bookman, Nov 1932

 

 
Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the following article:

 
CHRONICLE AND COMMENT: Poor Dreiser

The Bookman; a Review of Books and Life

Volume 75. Issue 7

November 1932

pp. 682-684

 
This article is cited in Theodore Dreiser: A Primary Bibliography & Reference Guide by Donald Pizer, Richard W. Dowell, and Frederic E. Rusch as follows: “Expresses pity for Dreiser at having been the victim of Dorothy Dudley’s pretentious, philosophically silly biography (Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free), which was still committed to the Greenwich Village causes of the early 1920s and provided little new and useful information. Even Dreiser deserved better.”

I do not feel that the writer of this anonymous article held Dreiser in much esteem. Consider the introductory paragraph:

We should never have believed that there could be a book on Theodore Dreiser written in worse English than the Master’s own. But that startling feat has been accomplished by Dorothy Dudley in Forgotten Frontiers, subtitled Dreiser and the Land of the Free. It is a temptation to say that Dreiser has only received his due; but fairness demands the admission that he deserved a better fate in the first lengthy volume devoted by another to his career and work. After all, with all his incompetence as a writer and with all his muddy, childish ideas, he did succeed in putting a number of veracious records of his time into books. Miss Dudley lacks the veraciousness, shares his ideas–plus a few more even too silly for him–and outdoes him in language. Hers is not the pathetic or laughable blundering of one born lacking a sense for words, but a pretentiousness almost beyond endurance. …

The above document is a complete transcription.

 

 
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A personal note:

I read Dorothy Dudley’s Forgotten Frontiers quite a while ago. I read but don’t remember it well — perhaps because it was poorly written and not well focused.

I agree with the criticisms expressed in this scathing and very well written Bookman piece. Yet I don’t think the book is a total waste. Miss Dudley wrote with conviction. She wrote at a time when Dreiser was considered more important (then) than he is now. She knew Dreiser and was therefore privy to information that others didn’t have.

The book is, overall, weak, not well done or put together, but it is still good to have it. In conclusion, I would say that Dorothy Dudley provided a service to Dreiserians.

 
— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

Sally Kusell, “Dreiser’s Style”

 

 

Sally Kusell, ‘Dreiser’s Style’ – NYTBR 4-8-1951

 

 

Downloadable Word document above.

 

 

 

This April 1951 letter  to The New York Times Book Review from Sally Kusell is self-explantory.

Sally Kusell (1892-1982) was a lover of Theodore Dreiser and one of his many secretarial/editorial assistants. She played a major role as a typist and editor of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

John Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet and scholar.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

Grace Brown and Chester Gillette (photo)

 

 

 

Grace Brown and Chester Gillette - Altanta Const 7-21-1935 pg 6

Grace Brown and Chester Gillette – The Atlanta Constitution, Sunday Magazine, April 21, 1935, pg. 6

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”

 

 

Today, I have been listening to a performance I taped in 2005 of Tobias Picker’s opera An American Tragedy, which is based on the Dreiser novel.

The opera is not available for sale in any format: CD or digital.

I found one or two excerpts on YouTube.

The opera got generally favorable (some very much so, some lukewarm) reviews.

It premiered in 2005 at the Metropolitan Opera. There was a follow up production in 2014 by the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY of a revised version (by Picker) of the opera.

I attended both the 2005 (Met Opera) and the 2014 (Glimmerglass) productions. I did not think the revised version was an improvement — I could not see the logic behind it — and noted that some of the best sections had been eliminated.

I offered to share my taped version with a very few Dreiser scholars. One was very appreciative. Others, English professors, said they had no interest in opera.

I am not an opera connoisseur. The work is uneven, I would say. But there is much beautiful music, some exquisite passages: for example the opening duet between the young Clyde and his mother, the hymn, and the scene where the libretto is based on Roberta Alden’s letters.

Picker’s opera seems to have been overlooked. I am sure that the fact of there being no available recording has to do with the Dreiser Trust.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

a parody of The Financier

 

 

Donald Ogden Stewart parody – Vanity Fair, April 1921

 

 

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the following:

 

“Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups: Mr. Thornton Burgess Rewritten by Three Eminent American Novelists”

By Donald Ogden Stewart

Vanity Fair. April 1921, pp. 57. 90

 

I have transcribed Stewart’s parody, which does not seem to have been reprinted.

The books of the children’s author Thornton W. Burgess provide a pretext for the parody, which begins with him. Then, successively, Stewart parodies James Branch Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, and Dreiser. The novels parodied are Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, Lewis’s Main Street, * and Dreiser’s The Financier.

Something about Dreiser caught by Stewart in this parody — his writing of the financier’s prowess and wealth, his social standing and that of his wife and friends as if he (Dreiser) himself were an awestruck bystander — in the vein of reverence for these things — seems very on target. Note the following observations made by Thomas Kranidas in his master’s thesis on Dreiser:

Dreiser wanted to write about the rich; he had a pitiful need to appear familiar with the “great world.” But he was not familiar with it. And when he wrote about it, he wrote about the surface qualities of it, never once touching the refinement, the sense of superior knowledge and awareness through ease. Dreiser was a snob on one level, a man with exorbitant class yearnings, a man who resented his origins and was scornful of the lower classes. … Dreiser’s vision was clouded many times by this snobbery. It led to certain cruelties and flippancies and certain absurd superficialities. … Whenever class consciousness touches his writing, the effect is false. Whenever he attempts to identity with knowingness or annihilate with scorn, he is unrealistic.

— Thomas Kranidas, The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953

Another thing about Dreiser’s writing that Stewart catches is the use, for example, of clichés (“all that glitters is not gold”) and weak words such as trig; of adjectives such as sumptuous — in short, his weakness at description.

 

 

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Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) was an American author and screenwriter and a member of the Algonquin Round Table. His literary friends included Ernest Hemingway, who in The Sun Also Rises modeled a character in the book (Bill Gorton) on Stewart. Stewart was known for his parodies of writers and middle-class mores.

 

[After graduating from Yale, Stewart] tried diligently to climb the corporate ladder in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minneapolis. In 1921, back in New York and temporarily out of a job, he was sent by F. Scott Fitzgerald (whom he had met in Minneapolis) to apply for work the advertising department of Vanity Fair, where Fitzgerald’s classmates Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop were assistant editors. …

There was no work available, but Wilson liked a brief parody of Dreiser that Stewart had cobbled up. … Vanity Fair printed it. … within a matter of weeks, Stewart was a full-time humorist.

— Calvin Tomkins, review of By a Stroke of Luck! An Autobiography, by Donald Ogden Stewart, The New York Times Book Review , December 14, 1975

 

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 30, 1894, Mr. Stewart was schooled at Exeter and Yale. …

”I was in the bond business in Dayton, Ohio, but I was no good at money. I was, though, a good friend of Scott Fitzgerald, who sent me to Vanity Fair, where Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop were the editors.

”For them, I wrote a parody of Scott and Theodore Dreiser, and took it to Wilson, and to my great surprise Bunny said he’d publish it. It was the first time it occurred to me that I could write, and I was scared to death.”

— “Donald O. Stewart, Screenwriter Dies.” The New York Times , August 3, 1980, pg. A32

 

 

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COMMUNISM

 

“As World War II approached, [Stewart] became a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and admitted to being a member of the Communist Party USA at one of its public meetings. During the Second Red Scare, Stewart was blacklisted in 1950 and the following year he and his wife, activist and writer Ella Winter …. emigrated to England.” (Wikipedia).

An article in The New York Times (“Hammett Elected By Writers League: Resolutions by Group Generally Follow Communist Party Line,” The New York Times, June 9, 1941. pg. 17) noted that Dashiell Hammett was elected unanimously as president of the League of American Writers on June 8, 1941. “The League of American Writers was an association of American novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, and literary critics launched by the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in 1935. The group included Communist Party members, and so-called ‘fellow travelers’ who closely followed the Communist Party’s political line.” (Wikipedia)

Hammett’s predecessor as president of the League of American Writers was Donald Ogden Stewart.

Theodore Dreiser was named honorary president of the League at the same meeting.

 

 

* I wonder if Lewis’s references to “Grub Street” were intended to recall George Gissing’s novel New Grub Street by means of humorous association with the title of Main Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2019

 

 

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addendum:

 

Donald Ogden Stuart was the author of A Parody Outline of History (New York: George F. Doran Company, 1921).  The book is not a parody of the H. G. Wells book, but a parody of living American authors supposedly writing about great events in American history — many of the chapters are reprints of individual pieces by Stewart that had first appeared in The Bookman. Among the authors parodied are James Branch Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, Thornton W. Burgess, Edith Wharton, and Eugene O’Neill. There is no Dreiser parody.