editorial re Theodore Dreiser



‘Theodore Dreiser’ (editorial) – Wash Post 12-31-1945

attached (above) as downloadable PDF file

“Theodore Dreiser,” Washington Post, December 31, 1945, pg. 8

Theodore Dreiser died on December 28, 1945.

The editorial provides a thoughtful appraisal of Dreiser’s career and of his strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

6 thoughts on “editorial re Theodore Dreiser

    1. Roger W. Smith Post author

      Professor Riggio — I respect your opinion, and I take your comments seriously. Perhaps I did not read this editorial, occasioned by Dreiser’s death, carefully enough, and perhaps I was wrong to call it “a thoughtful appraisal,” but, actually, I don’t quite think it is wrong.

      What obviously bothered you the most was the concluding sentence: “Thus [Dreiser] must be counted among the forces which have led the world to its present climate of spiritual anarchy and despair.”

      Also, the writer seems to show anti-Dreiser bias when he writes: “Apart from ethical grounds, the chief compliant against him as a writer was that he could not write.”

      It appears to be the case that the writer was a conservative with a moralistic mindset. It would also seem that the editorial reelects a mindset perhaps similar to what many people were also feeling post 9/11, but in this case, it was post Pearl Harbor with the world at war. Anarchy and despair were the prevailing mood; nihilistic writers such as Dreiser (should it be fair to call him that) helped, in the editorial writer’s view, to foster such a milieu.

      Yes, the editorial writer was hard on Dreiser. But the writer — while attacking Dreiser as a writer (that is, as a stylist), I feel justly — also acknowledges his strengths and his influence on other writers.

      Why Dreiser was still being objected to on “ethical grounds,” according to the editorial writer, is not quite clear. The objection was probably to Dreiser’s lifestyle and his advocacy of “free love.”

      Another post of mine that seems relevant is

      “editorial comment regarding Dreiser, upon his death (“The Times of London,” “The Spectator”)”


      As I noted on that post, most of the obituaries of Theodore Dreiser were “paltry, formulaic, and tepid, and there were few original ones. An exception was an obituary in The Times of London, followed by commentary in The Spectator four days later by an editorial writer who took exception to remarks made in The Times about Dreiser.”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Tom Riggio

    Yes, exactly: “a conservative with a moralistic mindset.” You can add that his attack on Dreiser as a writer/stylist suggests he is not a sensitive — or even good — reader.

    And to respond to your question, “nihilistic” is not a word I remember hearing from even his harshest critics. Perhaps you believe that, but can you name one book of the 27 he published in his lifetime that could be called nihilistic?


    1. Roger W. Smith Post author

      Thanks, Professor Riggio. What you say is on target.

      “Nihilistic” was a poor choice of word by me. But, it is clear that the editorial writer found fault with Dreiser on account not only of his alleged (by the writer) faults as a stylist/prose writer but also on account of his views. I would presume that the writer was reacting to Dreiser’s pessimism/despair about mankind’s prospects for amelieoration of one’s own and the human condition and his hostility to religious doctrine.

      I do feel that it is a good think to post this editorial for documentary reasons, is it not?


  2. Tom Riggio

    I understand most clearly what the editorial writer’s position is, but he must have read little Dreiser or know little of his life to accuse a man who spent a good part of his life fighting for everything from childcare, to the Scottsboro boys to the Harlan County miners to anti-fascism as someone who simply despaired “about mankind’s prospects for amelioration of one’s own and the human condition.” As the old Russian proverb states, a pessimist is an optimist who knows something.

    I assume since you did not name one book of Dreiser’s that can be called nihilistic, that, as you suggest, it is not a proper designation for his work. As to hostility toward organized religion, that would include most important writers from Plato to Tolstoy. Hardly a rarity in the world. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis hardly rank with the likes of Tolstoy, Faulkner, Dreiser, O’Neill, Hemingway, Baudelaire, Toni Morrison, etc., etc. If anything Dreiser, in books like the Stoic and and Bulwark, and in essays like “My Creator”, comes closer to being a “religious ” writer than most of the other acclaimed writers of the 20th century.

    Likewise on the issue of “free love.” The list would be gargantuan if you were to begin listing artists, never mind beloved politicians like Kennedy and Clinton, who were free-lovers. The fact is that except for those with “moralistic mindsets,” most people know enough to separate the great achievements of artists like Picasso, Dreiser, Edna St. Vincent Millay, etc. from their private lives. Certainly Whitman had no problem with “free love”–in fact celebrated it. And of course, he too was banned by many early on for this position. Stupid, don’t you think?


    1. Roger W. Smith Post author

      Professor Riggio — I did say, in my reply to your previous comment, that “nihilistic” was not the right word to use. My mistake.

      Regarding hostility toward organized religion and advocacy of “free love.” I am not criticizing Dreiser for these “sins.” I hope you are not conflating my thoughts with those of the editorial writer. What I was attempting to do was to ascertain what things about Dreiser might been anathema to a moralistic, conservative person such as the editorial writer clearly seems to have been. I would not have attempted to do this without your having prompted me to do so with your initial comment, whereby you got me to read the editorial more carefully and closely.



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