Monthly Archives: October 2021

Roger W. Smith, “Some Thoughts About Dreiser” now in Russian (Роджер В. Смит «Некоторые мысли о Драйзере» теперь на русском языке)

 

My article “Some Thoughts About Dreiser: What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals”

posted at

Roger W. Smith, “Some Thoughts About Dreiser; What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals”

 

is now available in Russian translation

Both the original English and the Russian transaction are posted at the link above.

 

— Roger W. Smith

Theodore Dreiser, “Good and Evil”

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘Good and Evil’ – The North American Review, autumn 1938

 

Posted here:

Theodore Dreiser

Good and Evil

The North American Review 246 (Autumn 1938): 67–86

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2021

Theodore Dreiser, “If Man Is Free, So Is All Matter”

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘If Man Is Free, So Is All Matter’ – Forum and Century, December 1937

 

Clifford Barrett, ‘Have We Free Will; A Debate – Forum and Century, Decenber 1937

 

Posted here:

“If Man Is Free, So Is All Matter”

By Theodore Dreiser

Forum and Century 98 (December 1937): 301–304

Also posted here is Clifford Barrett’s article “Have We Free Will?” in the same issue. Barrett’s article, to which Dreiser was responding, preceded Dreiser’s.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2021

an exchange of emails about Dreiser, “Vanity, Vanity, Saith the Preacher,” and Joseph G. Robin

 

biographical sketch of Joseph G. Robin

Helen Dreiser re Joseph G. Robin

Joseph G. Robin obit – NY Times 4-10-1929

Theodore Dreiser, Introducton to Odin Gregory, ‘Caius Gracchus’

‘Bank Owner Began on a Shoe-String’ – NY Times 12-28-1910

‘Cheney Shuts Northern Bank’ – NY Times 12-28-1910

‘Robin Hiding Here in Jerome’s Custody’ – NY Times 12-29-1910

‘Robin Indicted; Looted Bank Shut’ – NY Times 12-30-1910

‘Robin Place to be Sold’ – NY Times 2-21-1911

‘Robin Trial Begins; Insanity Plea Vain’ – NY Times 2-28-1911

‘Robin Is Writing Book on Bank Deals’ – NY Times 4-5-1911

 

I received the following email last week:

Been enjoying your Dreiser site. Have to confess I didn’t even know the name of Chester Gillette before reading it on your site. I would very much like to see the Von Sternberg movie (An American Tragedy, 1931] after your review. I never made it all the way through A Place in the Sun.

Do you know if there are any extant recordings of Dreiser’s voice? I read that he did some radio interviews but I have not any luck finding them.

I’d also be interested in finding some more material on Joseph G. Robin aka Rabinowitz aka Odin Gregory, the subject of “Vanity, Vanity Sayeth the Preacher” and for whom Dreiser provided the introduction to the play Caius Gracchus.

 

*****************************************************

 

The following is my reply.

In the Theodore Dreiser papers at the University of Pennsylvania, there is a 33-1/3 LP recording of a 1939 interview with Dreiser. There must be recordings somewhere of radio broadcasts which Dreiser made, such as those he made over the Mutual Broadcasting System and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1940. I have never heard a recording of Dreiser’s voice.

Regarding the financier called X____ in Dreiser’s sketch ”Vanity, Vanity,” Saith the Preacher” (in Dreiser’s Twelve Men), his name, as you note, was Joseph G. Robin. Dreiser met Robin, a banker and financier, in 1908 when the former was an editor at Butterick Publishing Company.

Information about Robin is provided by Robert Coltrane in his essay “The Crafting of Dreiser’s Twelve Men” (Papers on Language & Literature, Spring 1991), in the textual notes to the edition of Twelve Men edited by Coltrane (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), and in Coltrane’s entry ”Vanity, Vanity,” Saith the Preacher” in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia.

In the conclusion to Vanity, Vanity,” the narrator of the sketch (Dreiser) says that he saw Robin passing on the street in New York in 1918 and that “I have never seen or heard from since.” But. as Coltrane points out, Dreiser “had kept up with Robin’s fortunes” in subsequent years (“J.G. Robin is still around–a failure.” Dreiser to H. L. Mencken, April 8, 1919) and entries in Dreiser’s diary “indicate a continuing relationship [between Dreiser and Robin] at least through 1925.”

Coltrane notes that “Dreiser had to some extent ‘novelized’ Robin in The Financier . … [Dreiser] had already used Robin’s personality some years earlier [prior to writing the sketch for Twelve Men] to create Frank Cowperwood.” Indeed, Robin was very much a Cowperwood-like figure, with his taste for finery and art, among other things.

In My Life with Dreiser, Dreiser’s second wife Helen Dreiser discussed the Robin-Dreiser relationship. See attached PDF.

Dreiser’s introduction to Robin’s play Caius Gracchus: A Tragedy  (Boni & Liveright, 1930), written under the pseudonym Odin Gregory, is posted here.

I have also posted here several New York Times articles about Robin.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 25, 2021

more on Dreiser’s style

 

I often find myself bashing Dreiser as a stylist. This post is a sort of addendum or coda to my recent post: “Some Thoughts About Dreiser; What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals.”

Here is an excerpt from Dreiser’s sketch ”Vanity, Vanity, Saith the Preacher,” from his Twelve Men:

Sometimes a single life will clearly and effectively illustrate a period. Hence, to me, the importance of this one.

I first met X____ at a time when American financial methods and American finances were at their apex of daring and splendor, and when the world was in a more or less tolerant mood toward their grandiose manners and achievements. It was the golden day of Mr. Morgan, Senior, Mr. Belmont, Mr. Harriman, Mr. Sage, Mr. Gates, Mr. Brady, and many, many others who were still extant and ruling distinctly and drastically, as was proved by the panic of 1907. In opposition to them and yet imitating their methods, now an old story to those who have read Frenzied Finance, Lawless Wealth, and other such exposures of the methods which produced our enormous American fortunes, were such younger men as Charles W. Morse (the victim of the 1907 panic), F. Augustus Heinze (another if less conspicuous victim of the same “panic”), E. R. Thomas, an ambitious young millionaire, himself born to money, David A. Sullivan, and X____. I refuse to mention his name because he is still alive although no longer conspicuous, and conscious perhaps to avoid the uncomfortable glare of publicity when all the honors and comforts which made it endurable in the first place are absent.

The person who made X____ essentially interesting to me long before I met him was one Lucien de Shay, a ne’er-do-well pianist and voice culturist, who was also a connoisseur in the matters of rugs, hangings, paintings and furniture, things in which X____ was just then most intensely interested, erecting, as he was, a great house on Long Island* and but newly blossoming into the world of art or fashion or culture or show—those various things which the American multi-millionaire always wants to blossom or bloom into and which he does not always succeed in doing. De Shay was one of those odd natures so common to the metropolis-half artist and half man of fashion who attach themselves so readily to men of strength and wealth, often as advisors and counselors in all matters of taste, social form and social progress. How this particular person was rewarded I never quite knew, whether in cash or something else. He was also a semi-confidant of mine, furnishing me “tips” and material of one sort and another in connection with the various publications I was then managing. As it turned out later, X____ was not exactly a multi-millionaire as yet, merely a fledgling, although the possibilities were there and his aims and ambitions were fast nearing a practical tri­umph the end of which of course was to be, as in the case of nearly all American multi-millionaires of the newer and quicker order, bohemian or exotic and fleshly rather than cultural or æsthetic pleasure, although the latter were never really exactly ignored.

But even so. He was a typical multi-millionaire in the showy and even gaudy sense of the time. For if the staid and conservative and socially well-placed rich have the great houses and the ease and the luxury of paraphernalia, the bohemian rich of the X____ type have the flare, recklessness and imagination which lend to their spendings and flutterings a sparkle and a shine which the others can never hope to match.

Said this friend of mine to me one day: “Listen, I want you to meet this man X____. You will like him. He is fine. You haven’t any idea what a fascinating person he really is. He looks like a Russian Grand Duke. He has the manners and the tastes of a Medici or a Borgia. He is building a great house down on Long Island that once it is done will have cost him five or six hundred thousand. It’s worth seeing already. His studio here in the C____ studio building is a dream. It’s thick with the loveliest kinds of things. I’ve helped buy them myself. And he isn’t dull. He wrote a book at twenty, Icarus, which is not bad either and which he says is some­thing like himself. He has read your book (Sister Carrie) and he sympathizes with that man Hurstwood. Says parts of it remind him of his own struggles. That’s why he wants to meet you. He once worked on the newspapers too. God knows how he is making his money, but I know how he is spending it. He’s decided to live, and he’s doing it splendidly. It’s wonderful.”

I took notice, although I had never even heard of the man. There were so very, very many rich men in America. Later I heard much more concerning him from this same de Shay. Once he had been so far down in the scale that he had to shine shoes for a living. Once he had walked the streets of New York in the snow, his shoes cracked and broken, no over­coat, not even a warm suit. He had come here a penniless. emigrant from Russia. Now he controlled four banks, one trust company, an insurance company, a fire insurance com­pany, a great real estate venture somewhere, and what not. Naturally all of this interested me greatly. When are we indifferent to a rise from nothing to something?

At de Shay’s invitation I journeyed up to X____’s studio one Wednesday afternoon at four, my friend having telephoned me that if I could I must come at once, that there was an especially interesting crowd already assembled in the rooms, that I would meet a long list of celebrities. Two or three opera singers of repute were already there, among them an Italian singer and sorceress of great beauty, a veritable queen of the genus adventuress, who was setting the town by the ears not only by her loveliness but her voice. Her beauty was so remarkable that the Sunday papers were giving full pages to her face and torso alone. There were to be several light opera and stage beauties there also, a basso profundo to sing, writers, artists, poets.

I went. The place and the crowd literally enthralled me. It was so gay, colorful, thrillful.

Note the use of thrillful. Not the ordinary way to say it, but the word works here; gets the reader’s attention, so to speak. Dreiser can get away with such things.

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According to Thomas P. Riggio:

Twelve Men has long been recognized as Theodore Dreiser’s finest work apart from his novels. …

These twelve biographical portraits belong to a distinct species of writing in Dreiser’s oeuvre, a form born of his reluctance to make sharp distinctions between the art of the chronicler and that of the novelist. These essays, which he called “narratives,” combine the character sketch and autobiography within the framework of the short story. Written in the clear, unobtrusive manner of the reporter, they show Dreiser’s command of dialogue and his novelist’s eye for the details of scene and setting. The structure of each narrative—the presentation of selected fragments of a life with the counterpoint of Dreiser’s presence and reaction to the personality—gives the collection a dual direction: outward to objective portraiture of character and place and inward to a portrait of Dreiser himself. … The stories are among the best examples of the imaginative possibilities of autobiographical literature as Dreiser practiced it.

— Thomas P. Riggio, Preface, Theodore Dreiser, Twelve Men ,  edited by Robert Coltrane, Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992

Very true. The writing here is powerful and focused. It could be said that much of Dreiser’s strengths as a writer came from his experience in journalism and his eye for the telling detail. This does not say it all, but I think it accounts for a lot.

 

*Robin’s Long Island home was known as Driftwood and was in the town of Riverhead.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2021

from Grant Richards, “Author Hunting”

 

 

Grant Richards, ‘Author Hunting’ Chs. XV-XVI

 

Posted here (PDF file) above is

Grant Richards

Author Hunting By an Old Literary Sports Man

New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1934

Chapters XV-XVI

 

Narrates Richards’ role in persuading Century Company to finance Dreiser’s trip abroad and preparing the itinerary that would allow Dreiser to study Yerkes’ life in Europe and gain the experiences for A Traveler at Forty, which Richards found offensively indiscreet; also presents Frank Norris’s account of the suppression of Sister Carrie. (annotation, Pizer, Dowell, and Rusch, Theodore Dreiser, A Primary Bibliography and Reference Guide)

 

Franklin Thomas (Grant) Richards was an English publisher who, as is noted in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, “encouraged the writing of Jennie Gerhardt.”

In 1911 Richards was instrumental in making possible Dreiser’s first trip to Europe, which led to the publication of the latter’s A Traveler at Forty.

Richards, Renate von Bardeleben notes, “offered Dreiser a social entree into London drawing rooms and artistic circles as well as English country homes; he was his part­-time travel companion both in Paris and on the French Riviera, and, wherever needed, he provided Dreiser with detailed travel instructions.”

Dreiser portrayed Richards as “Barfleur” in A Traveler at Forty. His portrayal of Richards and his family and friends led to a dispute between the two and to what turned out to be the demise of their relationship.

 

See “Richards, (Franklin Thomas) Grant,” by Rebate von Bardeleben, in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, edited by Keith Newlin, pp. 322-324

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    October 2021

 

Roger W. Smith, “Some Thoughts About Dreiser; What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals”

 

 

‘Some Thoughts About Dreiser’

 

‘Some Thoughts about Dreiser’ RUSSIAN

 

This article (downloadable Word document above, in both English and Russian translation) is based on a presentation by me to the Comparative Literature Department, Institute for Philology and History, Russian State University for the Humanities on March 19, 2001. It discusses the major features of Theodore Dreiser’s works, his career, and his personal views and relationships from the vantage point of close reading and study over more than three decades. He is shown to have inherited primarily from Balzac facility at mixing narrative and exposition in his novels. And of achieving, in his greatest work, An American Tragedy, great expressive power, creating a narrative that is compelling, despite his chronic weaknesses as a stylist. Some of Dreiser’s characteristic stylistic faults are identified It is shown that he was not a good writer when it came to painting word pictures and creating memorable characters. He tended to portray people as types, representing a social class and economic level than as idiosyncratic, individual characters.

Dreiser’s views of Russia (favorable and often adulatory) are contrasted with his virulent anti-British statements and writings. As well as his views of blacks, his thinly veiled snobbery and tendency to put on airs once he became successful, the ups and downs of his early career (including his brief career as an editor at Ev’ry Month) , his nuclear family, his painstaking research on The Financier, his abandoning and then resuming work on his second novel Jennie Gerhardt, and details of his trip to Russia in 1927-28 and individuals he met. There is also a brief discussion of the film versions of An American Tragedy.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2021

Yuri Doykov on Dreiser

 

The following is an email from my friend and fellow researcher Yuri Doykov from Arkhangelsk, Russia:

About your article “Theodore Dreiser and the US Communist Press,” … it is interesting to know whether the “big” American press has celebrated the 150th anniversary of Dreiser’s birth. Our semi-official “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” has marked it with a “column” of a regular observer. This is understandable, since the country is following a neo-Stalinist course.

In your article there are things that are interesting to me that were kept silent in the Soviet Union. For example, anti-Semitism, hatred of “snobbish” England. Although, in my understanding, it was Dreiser and other representatives of the Red Decade who were sick with “snobbery”, admiring the Soviet Union and Stalin.

This enthusiasm, by the way, marked the beginning of the “disintegration” of the West, which Solzhenitsyn spoke about in his Harvard speech. Now the decay has led to the emergence of Mr. Trump and the New Year’s storming of the Capitol.

Best wishes,

Yuri

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 13, 2021

 

 

 

final corrected version

 

Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press

 

This article involved examining and documenting over 400 articles in the US Communist press (and then choosing which among them to reference and quote). This involved not only documentation but also transcription; almost all of the quoted material was transcribed by me.
Mistakes were inevitable. A final corrected word document has been posted by me at

 

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press”

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 13, 2021

post changed

 

 

Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press is the title of a new essay of mine posted last week on this site at

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press”

 

I have a few changes and edits. The revised Word document is posted on the site for downloading.

 

— Roger W. Smith