Theodore Dreiser, “Tom Mooney”



Theodore Dreiser, ‘Tom Mooney’


Tom Mooney

by Theodore Dreiser

a pamphlet published April 1933

price 10 cents

“Mooney Talks to Dreiser, Says He Needs Champion”




Posted here:

“Mooney Talks to Dreiser, Says He Needs Champion”

The Fresno Bee, Fresno, California

Saturday, May 31, 1930

pg. 9


Thomas Joseph “Tom” Mooney (1882-1942) was an American political activist and labor leader, who was convicted with Warren K. Billings of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing of 1916.

It quickly became apparent that Mooney and Billings had been convicted based on falsified evidence and perjured testimony and the Mooney case and campaigns to free him — in which Dreiser was active — became an international cause cause célèbre for two decades.

Mooney served 22 years in prison before finally being pardoned in 1939.




Theodore Dreiser, A Primary Bibliography and Reference Guide, Second Edition, by Donald Pizer, Richard W. Dowell, and Frederic E. Rusch lists sources about Dreiser and Tom Mooney.

Other sources not listed there include:

“Mooney and America,” Hesperian (San Francisco) 1, winter 1933 (reprinted in Theodore Dreiser: Political Writings, edited by Jude Davies)

“Dreiser Denounces Infamous Rolph Decision on Mooney,” Daily Worker, April 22, 1932

“Famous Writers Protest Method of Mooney Probe,” Daily Worker, November 4, 1932

“Mooney’s Release For Funeral Urged,” September 6, 1934


— posted by Roger W. Smith

    September 2021

Can writing (Dreiser’s) really be this bad?



Please see a new post on my site:


Can writing really be this bad?


Theodore Dreiser, “The Story of Harry Bridges”



Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Story of Harry Bridges’ – Friday


Harry Bridges – Communist Press


Posted here as a Word document is the following:

“The Story of Harry Bridges”

By Theodore Dreiser


October 4, 1940

October 11, 1940

Dreiser’s interview with Bridges was published in two successive issues. Friday (later called Scoop) was a weekly illustrated magazine, published in the early 1940s, that was financed by Communist-front organizations. Its content was consistently pro-labor.

Some news items about Harry Bridges and comments about him in the US Communist press of the time are also posted here as a Word document.




Harry Bridges (1901-1990) was an Australian-born American union leader, first with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). In 1937, he led several chapters in forming a new union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), expanding members to workers in warehouses, and led it for the next 40 years. He was prosecuted for his labor organizing and believed subversive status by the U.S. government during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, with the goal of deportation. This was never achieved.

Bridges became a naturalized citizen in 1945. His conviction by a federal jury for having lied about his Communist Party membership when seeking naturalization was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1953 as having been prosecuted untimely, outside the statute of limitations. His official power was reduced when the ILWU was expelled by the CIO in 1950, but he continued to be reelected by the California membership and was highly influential until his retirement in 1977.

— Wikipedia


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021






re stage adaptations of An American Tragedy


‘Gossip Around Paris’ – Holywood Reporter 7-6-1935


‘Paris Producers Do American Plays’ – Holywood Reporter 7-13-1935


‘Dreiser Opus for Paris!’ – Variety 9-14-1935




In the entry “Adaptions, Stage,” by Keith Newlin, in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia,* there is discussion of Patrick Kearney’s stage adaptation of An American Tragedy , which had a successful run in New York in 1931; of an adaption of the novel performed in Vienna in 1931; and of Erwin Piscator and Lina Goldschmidt’s adaptation, ‘Case of Clyde Griffiths,” which was performed in Pennsylvania and New York City, beginning in 1935.

There is no mention of a French stage adaptation of  An American Tragedy, adapted by Georges Jamin and Jean Servais, which Dreiser mentioned in an article in The New York Times, in 1936.** Dreiser also mentions a Russian adaptation by H. Basilevsky, which was entitled “The Law of Lycurgus”.***

Posted here are PDF files of Dreiser’s Times article and US theater industry publications in which the 1935 French adaptation was mentioned. The French adaptation by Jamin and Servais seems clearly to have been based on Patrick Kearney’s adaptation.


*A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, edited by Keith Newlin (Westport, Connecticut; Greenwood Press, 2003). pp. 3-6

**”Four Cases of Clyde Griffiths,” by Theodore Dreiser, The New York Times, March 8, 1936

*** Закон Ликурга : американская трагедия : пьеса в 4 действиях и 12 картинах : по мотивам “Американской трагедии” Теодора Драйзера (Zakon Likurga : amerikanskai︠a︡ tragedii︠a︡ : pʹesa v 4 deĭstvii︠a︡kh i 12 kartinakh: po motivam “Amerikanskoĭ tragedii” Teodora Draĭzera; The Law of Lycurgus; An American Tragedy: A Play in 4 Acts and 12 Scenes: Based on Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy


– posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021

“150 years since the birth of Theodore Dreiser, the great American novelist”



re the following post

“150 years since the birth of Theodore Dreiser, the great American novelist”

By David Walsh

World Socialist Web Site

August 26, 2021


This is a useful and informative synopsis. I learned some things about Dreiser, such as his views on the Moscow show trials and Stalinism.

I do have some comments to make about inaccuracies. (The author, David Walsh’s, comments are in italics.)

* * *

Dreiser, a figure of intense integrity, candor and sensitivity, could burst into tears, it is said, at the sight of some of the pain-stricken or careworn faces he observed on the street.”

Immense sensitivity? Maybe in the abstract, by Dreiser for his characters. In Clintonesque fashion, he teared up at the sufferings of his fellow man. But not in his (Dreiser’s) actual daily experiences — with lovers, friends (of whom there were very few, and rarely did his friendships last), and relatives.

* * *

Numerous events and publications have been devoted to the anniversary of Dreiser’s birth. However, by and large, the writer’s dedication to representing social life in unsparing, objective-realistic terms, as an exponent of the “naturalist” school, does not meet with contemporary academic or literary critical approval. Moreover, despite Dreiser’s obviously strong and angry determination to expose the plight of his female characters, to the extent of titling two of his major and most moving works, Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt, after such protagonists, feminist critics have expressed “concern” about “his investment in gender stereotypes,” as one commentary notes, and these same critics’ examinations “of Dreiser’s treatment of female sexuality often reach negative and even censorious conclusions.”

I earnestly wish we could be spared such tedious, tendentious, and irrelevant (to Dreiser’s times and his actual works) criticism.

* * *

At a certain point Dreiser decided to make his way to New York City where his brother Paul was the toast of Broadway. He worked his way east, writing for newspapers in Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, before settling in New York in 1894.

Dreiser briefly stopped in Buffalo in his peripatetic career as a journeyman newspaper reporter and inquired about the availability of work as a reporter there. He was not hired and moved on without writing for any Buffalo paper.

* * *

Dreiser began writing his masterpiece, An American Tragedy, in the summer of 1920 in Los Angeles. The factual inspiration for the book was the Gillette-Brown murder case of 1906, newspaper clippings of which he had saved at the time. Chester Gillette, the son of a Salvation Army officer, met a factory girl, Grace (Billy) Brown, in the shirt factory owned by his uncle, where he worked in Cortland, New York. When Billy became pregnant, Gillette apparently took her out on a boat on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, struck her with a tennis racket and pushed her overboard.

Apparently? Gillette did take Grace Brown out in a boat on the lake. I personally have visited the scene of the drowning. A group of us was taken to the spot in the lake where the drowning occurred. It did occur — it is not a matter of conjecture. Anyone with even a remote knowledge of the actual American Tragedy case should know this.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021

Dreiser’s style is not spare.



spare: economical in style; using simple language and a minimum of words; restrained




I was amused by William Kent Krueger’s description in his By the Book interview (Aug. 22) of a Midwest voice in literature that is “spare but eloquent,” given the hardly spare style that he uses in his own fiction of the Midwest.

For example, in his novel “Ordinary Grace,” Krueger’s narrator describes his sister’s organ playing at a funeral as “fingers shaping the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of butterflies.”

When the narrator’s mother sings at the same service, “her voice reached out to wipe away my tears and enfold my heart. … And when she finished the sound of the breeze through the doorway was like the sigh of angels well pleased.” This descriptive flora is anything but “spare.”
One of our great voices of the Midwest was the early-20th-century novelist Theodore Dreiser. His writing was so spare that some critics have complained that it was excessively so.

— Robert Farrell, letter to editor, The New York Times Book Review, September 5, 2021




Dreiser’s style is not excessively spare. Hemingway’s is. Dreiser, on the contrary, is often verbose.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021

John Berryman review of “Theodore Dreiser” by Mathiessen


John Berryman, review of ‘Theodre Dresier’ by Mathiessen – NYBR 3-4-1951


The following review (PDF above) is well worth reading:

“Through Dreiser’s Imagination the Tides of Real Life Billowed”

By John Berryman

The New York Times Book Review

March 4, 1951

review of Theodore Dreiser, by F. O. Matthiessen (1951)


The book was published posthumously. Matthiessen,  a Harvard University professor, committed suicide in 1950.


posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2021













; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Tmes (1851 -2004) pg. 191

Dreiser under the microscope


A bulletin announcing Dreiser sessions at the American Literature Association (ALA) conference held in San Francisco, May 2017:

Papers are invited on theoretical approaches to Dreiser’s canon and life. Some suggested approaches include Poststructuralism, Feminist Gender Theory, Material Culture, Psychoanalysis, and Philosophy (such as Foucault’s Technology of Self). Topics may include Dreiser’s philosophical writings, fiction, plays, essays, autobiographies, and journalism.

Yes, but only if they were viewed through the prism of one of the opaque, recondite, and virtually incomprehensible lines of inquiry dear to academia specified in the second sentence above, almost all of them having nothing to do with Dreiser.

The living, breathing Dreiser and most of his works (unless they can be used to support an academically fashionable theory) are of scant interest to them.


— Roger W. Smith




an email to me from Professor Emeritus Arun P. Mukherjee

August 18, 2019

I admire you for sustaining your research and a passion for reading and writing outside the university. This morning, before I read your attached letter, I looked at your Dreiser blog and your responses to Alfred Kazin’s “Introductions.” I loved reading them. I fully agree with you that Studies in American Naturalism is no replacement for Dreiser studies.

I find the way literature is taught in the university under the rubrics of romanticism, naturalism, modernism, postmodernism etc. so deadly. To give you an example from my personal experience, the writers I teach are labeled postcolonial by the academic categorizers. So. I would be often asked by my students as to tell them the “postcolonial aspects of the book.” So, they are not reading the book for the portrayal of the human life in the book, but for an “ism.” It defeats the whole purpose of reading literature.

The majority of academic papers are unreadable and I am thankful that I no longer have to bother reading them.

Theodore Dreiser and the Titanic


“Theodore Dreiser, Nearly a Passenger, on the Sinking of the Titanic”

By Nina Martyris


April 13, 2012


Money was Theodore Dreiser’s muse—the dazzling, deforming pivot on which his novels about fallen women and venal businessmen turned. It seems almost karmic, then, that a lack of money saved him from boarding the Titanic.

The great novelist was among a handful of prominent persons—including Guglielmo Marconi, Milton Hershey, J. P. Morgan, and Alfred Vanderbilt—who almost sailed on the allegedly sink-proof ship. As with the 9/11 attacks nearly nine decades later, there has been a persistent public fascination with those who just missed becoming a casualty of that massive catastrophe. What distinguishes Dreiser, who was crossing the ocean on another boat when news about the Titanic spread, is that he wrote about it, capturing the mood in the days immediately following among travelers who avoided the fate of those aboard that famous ship.

Homesick and nearly broke, Dreiser had just spent four months rambling through Europe to write travel pieces. research his novel The Financier, and collect material for his memoir, 1913’s A Traveler at Forty. One of the most gripping chapters in the memoir as it was originally published—the bits about his trysts with Rubenesque prostitutes were not then included—is “The Voyage Home,” an account of being out at sea and receiving the news that the “smart boat” had gone down.

Dreiser was born poor, and chafed all his life against the “Indiana peasant” label H. L. Mencken cruelly but astutely pinned on him. Ever the outsider looking in, he was anxious to book a berth on the big, new boat filled with all kinds of perfumed pond-crossers. But his English publisher pressed him to take the cheaper Kroonland, and Dreiser sailed from Dover 100 years ago today, on April 13, two days before the Titanic sank.

One night when the Kroonland’s fog horn was “mooing like a vast Brobdingnagian sea-cow,” as Dreiser put it, word came over the wireless that the Titanic had hit an iceberg off Newfoundland, and gone down “with nearly all on board.” Terrified of how those on board would react to the news, the captain ordered that the disaster be kept secret until the ship reached New York. But one Herr Salz, “busy about everything and everybody,” wormed it out of the wireless man by bribing him with cigars. Dreiser and a debonair party were happily engaged in the card room when the German burst in, full of self-importance, and asked the men to step out. One of them joked that perhaps “Taft had been killed or the Standard Oil Company has failed.” Pale and trembling, Salz shared his horrible secret. Don’t tell the ladies, he made them solemnly promise, with the arch concern of a good sensationalist.

“And with one accord we went to the rail and looked out into the blackness ahead,” Dreiser writes grimly.

The terror of the sea had come swiftly and directly home to all. I am satisfied that there was not a man of all the company who heard but felt a strange sinking sensation as he thought of the endless wastes of the sea outside—its depths, the terror of drowning in the dark and cold. To think of a ship as immense as the Titanic, new and bright, sinking in endless fathoms of water. And the two thousand passengers routed like rats from their berths only to float helplessly in miles of water, praying and crying!

For a romantic determinist like Dreiser, the Titanic’s mortality offered a spectacular philosophical vindication—while nonetheless filling him with despair and loathing. That night, as the Kroonland was lashed by waves and “trembled like a spent animal,” Dreiser lay on his berth and felt “a great rage in my heart against the fortuity of life—the dullness or greed of man that prevents him from coping with it.”

The Kroonland still had a week to go before reaching New York, and in that week, the oppressive ghost of the Titanic gradually loosened its hold. The passengers “fell to gambling again, to flirting, to playing shuffle board.” As the ship sailed into the harbor, the warm fellowship kindled by the iceberg melted away. An amused Dreiser noted how a judge who had unbent to play cards with a mere commercial merchant began “to congeal again into his native judicial dignity,” and several young women who had been quite friendly “suddenly became remote.”

The perils of the sea behind them, the passengers were now preoccupied with skirting a new set of icebergs—sharp-eyed customs officers—leading Dreiser to lament, “They were all as honest as they had to be—as dishonest as they dared to be. No more. Poor pretending humanity! We all lie so.”

Dreiser’s standing is not what it once was. Seventy years ago he was ranked alongside Edith Wharton and Willa Cather by critics as one of America’s greatest novelists; while they have become firmly lodged in the literary canon, Dreiser’s reputation and popularity seems to be slipping. Which is unfortunate: Few writers analyzed the power of money in America as keenly as he did. (The last time Ian McEwan spoke with his friend Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens talked about whether Dreiser’s novels were “a guide to the current crisis.”) Spared by fate a berth on the Titanic, Dreiser published his greatest novel, An American Tragedy,  13 years later, in 1925. We are lucky he was around to write it—and foolish if we ignore that good fortune.




‘A Traveler at Forty’ – excerpts


I have posted here (Word document above) excerpts from Chapters CI, CII, and CIII of the unexpurgated edition of A Traveler at Forty:

Theodore Dreiser

A Traveler at Forty

edited By Renate von Bardeleben

University of Illinois Press, 2004




Note that Nina Martyris writes:

“Dreiser was born poor, and chafed all his life against the ‘Indiana peasant’ label H. L. Mencken cruelly but astutely pinned on him. Ever the outsider looking in, he was anxious to book a berth on the big, new boat filled with all kinds of perfumed pond-crossers. But his English publisher pressed him to take the cheaper Kroonland. …

I wonder if this is entirely accurate. In A Traveler at Forty, Dreiser wrote:

“[The Titanic) had sailed only three days before, and Grant Richards had assured me that he had intended booking me on that as a novelty, it being the maiden trip of that ship, only we could not make it in time. He wanted me to stay longer.”

An editorial note: The passages in which Dreiser describes the sea as perceived by passengers aboard ship are very powerful, and show his considerable skills (often maligned, but evident here) as a writer.

I wish to thank Isaac Chase for calling my attention to Nina Martyris’s fascinating article.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2021