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