T. R. Smith, memo to Dreiser re “An American Tragedy”




In An American Tragedy, Dreiser used lightly edited and reworded excerpts from seven letters written by Grace M. Brown (1886-1906), who was murdered by Chester Gillette on July 11, 1906 on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County, NY.

The Gillette murder case provided the factual underpinnings of An American Tragedy. The letters of Grace Brown to Gillette created a sensation when they were read at Gillette’s trial.

Posted here is a note from T. R. Smith, an editor at Boni & Liveright, advising Dreiser to excise letters from the novel.

Wisely, Dreiser did not heed this advice.


— Roger W. Smith









T. R. Smith memo to Dreiser, imageedit.jpg






Dear Dreiser,

I have tried and I think succeeded in keeping the Macbethian intensity of this chapter by cutting outall superfluous, redundant, and interfering matter. For God’s sake, don’t change it unless you have too [sic]. Everything is left in that is needed.

The letters spoil it. It is too fine a climax to interfere with now.


T. R. Smith







from the Theodore Dreiser Papers, Kislak Center for Special, Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries









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