Carl Dresser, bellboy

 

 

 

Carl Dresser death certificate

 

 

 

Posted here (above) is the death certificate for Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser.

Carl Dresser was the illegitimate son of Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia).

Carl Dresser … certificate of death #14567 … Department of Health, Chicago … date of birth, unknown … age, 26 years … date of death, March 29, 1915 … occupation, Bellboy … buried Elmwood [Cemetery], March 31, 1915 … evidence obtained at inquest … Cause of death – Asphyxiation by illuminating gas (suicide) … address, 53 W Erie St. …. length of time living in city – 4 years … name of father – unknown … name of mother – unknown. [Elmwood Cemetery is located in River Grove, IL; the village of River Grove is located about 15 miles from Chicago]

Note the cause of death, suicide, and Carl’s occupation, bellboy.

Carl Dresser gets scant mention by Dreiser biographers. In an entry for Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, her illegitimate son Carl is said to have been born on October 16, 1886. This is accurate. In a letter to Theodore Dreiser dated October 16, 1908, Carl stated, “I am twenty two years old to day.” This would mean that the age of death shown on the death certificate is not accurate. It should have been 28 years.

Carl was raised by various Dreiser family members and had contact with his uncle Theodore over the years, as is indicated by the correspondence posted as a PDF file below. He lived for a period of time with Dreiser’s’ sister Mame (Carl’s aunt) and his maternal grandfather Johann Paul Dreiser in upstate New York.

Here’s a question which intrigues me. Book One of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy is all about Clyde Griffith’s life prior to his moving to Lycurgus to work in his uncle’s collar factory. This part of the novel is all invented; it does not correspond to the life of the actual murderer Chester Gillette, who was the prototype of Clyde Griffiths. Has anyone noticed that when Clyde meets his uncle Samuel Griffiths he is BELLHOP working in a HOTEL in CHICAGO? Could Dreiser have had his nephew Carl in mind when he was writing parts of this part of the novel?

Carl Dresser – correspondence with Theodore Drieser

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

 

Burton Rascoe on Dreiser (Dreiser as autobiographer)

 

 

I have always felt that Theodore Dreiser’s A Book About Myself (1922) is not only clearly superior to his other autobiographical work, Dawn (1931), but that the former work is underrated and has been neglected (which it should not be) when it comes to the question of ascertaining what American autobiographies are most deserving of being regarded as classics.

A Book About Myself was republished by Horace Liveright in 1931 under Dreiser’s original title, Newspaper Days. In 1991, the University of Pennsylvania Press published an unexpurgated edition edited by T. D. Nostwich which restored passages considered too explicit for publication when the book was first published. This unbowdlerizing increased the size of length of the work considerably.

The following is an excerpt from a review of the original work in the New York Tribune by Burton Rascoe. The entire review is posted here as a downloadable PDF document. It is a stimulating, lively review which shows a fundamental understanding and appreciation of Dreiser. Arthur Burton Rascoe (1892-1957) was a literary critic for the Tribune. He knew Dreiser personally and was the author of a book about him.

It must be a cause for pain and chagrin to Mr. Dreiser’s detractors as a novelist, who urge against him the single score of immortality, to read this book. On the face of it this self-revelation is frank and sincere. Mr. Dreiser has the conspicuous virtue of all great confessors: he does not hide the truth even when it makes him look ridiculous. For certainly he is in turn pathetic and lovable, sublime and ludicrous. He is, like the George Moore of “Hail and Farewell,” much and often a booby; he is, like the St. Augustine of “The Confessions,” much and often a noddle; he is, like Rousseau, much and often an ass; he is, like Casanova, much and often a vain and comical boaster; he is, like Bunyan and Dickens, in frequent bad taste; but he is forever and always frank, honest, and sincere.

 

 

Burton Rascoe review of ‘A Book About Myself’ – NY Herald Trib 12-31-1922

 

 

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I agree with Rascoe’s assessment. One of the chief things to admire about the book and Dreiser as revealed therein, by Dreiser himself, is Dreiser’s candor. He was never afraid to portray himself both as a budding journalist and idealistic young man to be esteemed, when appropriate; and also as someone often inept and jejune who could be found to have acted rashly and behaved foolishly and to have failed to acquit himself well on many occasions, besides giving heed to both “good” and “bad” impulses.

The book is, above all (as Rascoe notes), an honest and therefore authentic coming of age story. And, a compelling one. It should have more readers, but rarely — in fact, hardly ever — does it get noticed or mentioned as a prime example of American autobiography. It seems to have few readers nowadays.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

Clifton Fadiman on ” Native Son” (and Dreiser)

 

 

Richard Wright’s Native Son is the most powerful American novel to appear since The Grapes of Wrath. It has numerous defects as a work of art, but it is only in retrospect that they emerge, so overwhelming is its central drive, so gripping its mounting intensity. No one, I think, except the most unconvertible Bourbons, the completely callous, or the mentally deficient, can read it without an enlarged and painful sense of what it means to be a Negro in the United States of America seventy-seven years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Native Son does for the Negro what Theodore Dreiser in An American Tragedy did a decade and a half ago for the bewildered, inarticulate American white. The two books are similar in theme, in technique, in their almost paralyzing effect on the reader, and in the large, brooding humanity, quite remote from special pleading, that informs them both.

 

 

— Clifton Fadiman, review of Native Son by Richard Wright, The New Yorker, March 2, 1940