Monthly Archives: November 2021

H. L. Mencken, “The American Novel”


Mencken, ‘The American Novel’ (Prejudices, Fourth Series) (2)

Mencken, ‘The American Novel’ (Prejudices, Fourth Series) RUSSIAN (2)


posted here:

H. L. Mencken

“The American Novel,” in Prejudices: Fourth Series. New York: Knopf, 1924

pp. 278–93

Dreiser — see pp. 285, 287-289

This article is a reprint of Mencken’s article “The American Novel.” Voices (London) 5 (November 1921): 115–121.

I have also posted here a Russian translation of Mencken’s article that was published in Dreiser’s Collected Works (Moscow, 1938).


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

Carl Van Doren, “Contemporary American Novelists: Theodore Dreiser”


Carl Van Doren, ‘Theodore Dreiser’ – Nation 3-16-1921

Carl Van Doren, ‘Theodore Dreiser – Nation 3-16-1921 RUSSIAN.


Posted here:

Carl Van Doren

“Contemporary American Novelists: Theodore Dreiser”


March 16. 1921

pp. 400-401

I have also posted a Russian translation which was published in Teodor Drayzer, Sobraniye sochineniy (Theodore Dreiser, Collected Works), Volume X (Moscow, 1929).


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

A. B. Magil, “Theodore Dreiser: The Old and the New”


A. B. Magil, ‘Theodore Dreiser; The Old and the New’ – Daly Worker 8-28-1931

A. B. Magil, ‘Theodore Dreiser; The Old and the New’ – Daily Worker 8-28-1931 pg 4

A. B. Magil, ‘Theodore Dreiser; The Old and the New’ RUSSIAN


posted here:

Theodore Dreiser: The Old and the New

By A. B. Magil

Daily Worker

August 28, 1931

pg. 4

I have also posted a Russian translation of Magil’s article that was published in The Collected Works of Theodore Dreiser (Moscow, 1938).

A.B. Magil (1905-2003), also known as Abraham B. Magil and Abe Magil, was a Communist Party member and a Marxist journalist and pamphleteer.


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

“The Truth about Reader’s Digest”


Dreiser preface

‘The Truth About Reader’s Digest


Posted here is Dreiser’s preface to:

The Truth about Reader’s Digest

by Sender Garlin

illustrations by William Gropper

fourth printing

New York: Forum Publishers, May 1943

as well as the entire book.


Dreiser’s preface was a letter to Sender Garlin, dated April 28, 1943.

Sender Garlin (1902-1999) was on the staff of the Daily Worker from the late 1920s through 1943.

Reader’s Digest was founded in 1922 by DeWitt Wallace with his wife Lila Bell Wallace. It soon became one of the most widely circulated periodicals in the world.

Wallace was a supporter of the Republican Party with strong anti-communist views, and the magazine reflected these beliefs. The magazine maintained a consistently conservative and anti-communist perspective on political and social issues.




an editorial comment:

Dreiser states that “I did not look at any of its material other than that relating to Science, but subsequent to that, and since there are ample sources of scientific data, I dropped it.” He was actively involved at the time in intensive study of scientific phenomena (futile and ultimately worthless) described in Louis J. Zanine‘s Mechanism and Mysticism: The Influence of Science on the Thought and Work of Theodore Dreiser.

Dreiser obviously dashed off the letter. It reflects his social and political views. But it is maddingly imprecise, like so much of Dreiser’s expository writing. Woolly is a good word for what I mean. Also verbose:

… from reading your, booklet, I gather the publication’s true attitude and import. It is all so fascinatingly sly, and to my way of thinking, criminal-since plainly it labors to belittle our chief and most valuable ally, and to forward the desires of the capitalistic group in this country that seeks-and has sought from the very beginning-to establish money-plenty and money-author­ity for the few as opposed to poverty and slavery for the masses here as elsewhere on earth. How I despise their mentally stupid and wholly material standards, particularly since this in the day when the need for scarcity for any is gone and plenty for all is here. The pity of it is that they are mentally—so thick-putting matter—show, clothes, houses—all material junk, before mind—the mind of a Shelley, for instance, or a Poe or Spencer or a Jefferson or Lincoln.

But, alas, it has to be fought out and will be. The children of the world will not always starve on five cent school lunches while the money-dunces gorge and show off from day to day and year to year.

Dreiser writing without an editor close at hand is akin to a vehicle out of control being in danger of crashing.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021



Dreiser’s introduction to “McTeague”


Theodore Dreiser, ‘Introduction to McTeague’


Posted here, Dreiser’s introduction to:


A Story of San Francisco

By Frank Norris

with an introduction by Theodore Dreiser

Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.

Garden City, New York, 1928



“In his Introduction, “Dreiser recalls the impact McTeague had on him and his a writer of naturalistic fiction. He praises Norris for being one of the first rank of American realistic novelists, but laments the lack of critical attention Norris has received from European and American critics who have ‘noisily lauded’ Stephen Crane, Jack Lendon, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and Joseph Hergesheimer while ‘evading’ Norris. Dreiser is especially angry at the attention accorded Crane and at his being credited as the pioneer realist in American fiction. That honor, he felt, properly belonged to Henry B. Fuller [author of The Cliff-Dwellers, his best known work] of Chicago.” — Charles L.P. Silet, “Theodore Dreiser’s Introduction to McTeague.” Dreiser Newsletter 8 (Spring 1977): 15–17.


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

Leda Bauer, ‘The Revival of Dreiser”


Leda Bauer, ‘The Revival of Dreiser’ – Theatre Arts


Posted here:

The Revival of Dreiser

by Leda Bauer

Theatre Arts

August 1951

A well written and acute review of two films based on An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie.

A few observations, comments of my own; and additions to the content of the review.

At the end of the film Carrie, Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), down and out and desperate, waits for Carrie (Jennifer Jones) at the stage door and approaches her as she is leaving. Carrie, startled, is shocked by his bedraggled condition. She ushers the starving Hurstwood into her dressing room, has food ordered for him, and gives him a generous amount of money from her purse at his request. Shocked by Hurstwood’s condition, Carrie vows to take him home with her and says she wants to resume the relationship. Hurstwood is noncommittal

Carrie leaves the room for a minute to see if she can borrow more money for Hurstwood’s immediate needs. Hurstwood puts the money already given him by Carrie back into her purse, fiddles with a gas jet, turning it on for a minute and then off, and leaves. The film ends.

In the novel, Sister Carrie, the last encounter between Hurstwood and Carrie is in Chapter XLVI.

That night … she passed Hurstwood, waiting at the Casino, without observing him.

The next night, walking to the theatre, she encountered him face to face. He was waiting, more gaunt than ever, determined to see her, if he had to send in word. At first she did not recognise the shabby, baggy figure. He frightened her, edging so close, a seemingly hungry stranger.

“Carrie,” he half whispered, “can I have a few words with you?”

She turned and recognised him on the instant. If there ever had lurked any feeling in her heart against him, it deserted her now. Still, she remembered what Drouet said about his having stolen the money.

“Why, George,” she said; “what’s the matter with you?”

“I’ve been sick,” he answered. “I’ve just got out of the hospital. For God’s sake, let me have a little money, will you?”

“Of course,” said Carrie, her lip trembling in a strong effort to maintain her composure. “But what’s the matter with you, anyhow?”

She was opening her purse, and now pulled out all the bills in it–a five and two twos.

“I’ve been sick, I told you,” he said, peevishly, almost resenting her excessive pity. It came hard to him to receive it from such a source.

“Here,” she said. “It’s all I have with me.”

“All right,” he answered, softly. “I’ll give it back to you some day.”

Carrie looked at him, while pedestrians stared at her. She felt the strain of publicity. So did Hurstwood.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s the matter with you?” she asked, hardly knowing what to do. “Where are you living?”

“Oh, I’ve got a room down in the Bowery,” he answered. “There’s no use trying to tell you here. I’m all right now.”

He seemed in a way to resent her kindly inquiries–so much better had fate dealt with her.

“Better go on in,” he said. “I’m much obliged, but I won’t bother you any more.”

She tried to answer, but he turned away and shuffled off toward the east.

For days this apparition was a drag on her soul before it began to wear partially away.

Of the two films, A place in the Sun and Carrie, I think the latter is much more faithful to Dreiser’s novel. Also, the black and white film and period details, costumes, etc. make Carrie very effective in this respect; they evoke a quality of the novel that made it so telling.

Leda Bauer (born Leda Vesta Bauer-Berg; 1898-1975) was a New York-based film critic, motion picture story editor; and a girlfriend of H. L. Mencken.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

“Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners” (Sherwood Anderson speaks)


‘Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners’ – NY Herald Tribune 12-7-1931

Posted here:

Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners

Authors’ Committee Chairman Sends No Explanation of His Failure to Appear

By Elenore Kellogg

New York Herald Tribune

December 7, 1931

pg. 3


This well written article is an interesting account of what Sherwood Anderson had to say about Dreiser, and its pinpointing of many of the issues underlying and occurring daily during the investigations in 1931 by the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners and the Dreiser Committee into the conditions of striking Kentucky miners; and actions taken by officials against the miners, Dreiser, and other writers and sympathizers involved.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

in which I make the case against tedious criticism (and for myself)


‘Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’

‘Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press’

‘Some Thoughts about Dreiser’



“I find current academic writing excruciatingly boring and pointless. It is completely cut off from reality.” — Arun Mukherjee


The following are some essays from the journal American Literary History — from the latest issue (fall 2021) and going back a few years. The titles of the essays presumably reflect the mindset of the editorial board in selecting articles. They must be “academic” (in principle to be expected, and de facto required, but here the definition of academic seems very narrow and, I would say, suffocating in terms of the final product) and they should preferably address topics (theoretical, that is) of current interest to academics:

Latinx Modernism and the Spirit of Latinoamericanismo

Diagnosing Desire: Mental Health and Modern American Literature, 1890–1955

Mapping Decolonial Environmental Imaginaries in Latinx Culture

Literature’s Vexed Democratization

Unspeakable Conventionality: The Perversity of the Kindle

“Dear Anglo”: Scrambling the Signs of Anglo-Modernity from New York to Lagos

Poetic Resistances and the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz

Groping Toward Perversion: From Queer Methods to Queer States in Recent Queer Criticism

Styles of Sovereignty: Parataxis, Settler–Indigenous Difference, and the Transnationalisms of the Great Basin

The Rise of Behavioral Economic Masculinity

Looking Behind the Screen: Genealogies of Poetic Technology

Who Are We? Feminist Ambivalence in  Contemporary Literary Criticism

The Pleasure of Its Company: Of One Blood and the Potentials of Plagiarism

Economics and American Literary Studies in the New Gilded Age, or Why Study the History of Bad Predictions and Worse Rationalizations?

The Economic Humanities and the History of Financial Advice

Money Mazes, Media Machines, and Banana Republic Realisms

The Cultural Economies of Digital Books

The Limits of Critique and the Affordances of Form: Literary Studies after the Hermeneutics of Suspicion

“We Gotta Get Out of this Place”: Literary Criticism in the Academic Workplace

Illuminating the Anthropocene: Ecopoetic Explorers at the Edge of the Naturecultures Abyss

The Exhaustion of Authenticity: Biopolitical Aural Regimes and American Popular Music

Imagination and Indigenous Sovereignty in the Trumpian Era

The Novel and WikiLeaks: Transparency and the Social Life of Privacy

Queer Sociality After the Antisocial Thesis

Archives of Ecocatastrophe; or, Vulnerable Reading Practices in the Anthropocene

Wily Ecologies: Comic Futures for American Environmentalism

Racialized Bodies and Asian American Literature

The New Reification, or Quotidian Materialism

Remediating the Latin@ Sixties

Maybe for Millions, Maybe for Nobody: Jewish American Writing and the Undecidability of World Literature

Lines and Circles: Transnationalizing American Poetry Studies

Cripping [sic] Consensus: Disability Studies at the Intersection

Essay titles worthy of a satire by Jonathan Swift. For me, they are soporific.

Such essays have little to do, I would suspect, with actual literature — with literature per se, with actual books (fiction, poetry, etc.) by actual writers. The titles, at any rate, are so rarified and abstruse that one can only guess what the articles are about. There is a heavy air of presentism, tendentiousness, and a predilection for social and political topics and isms in vogue on campuses nowadays.

There is Studies in American Naturalism, the journal of The International Theodore Dreiser Society, which publishes a few articles on Dreiser, but is not devoted to Dreiser. The articles tend to be theoretical.

In contrast, take the last issue of the Dreiser Society’s journal to be published before it was discontinued and replaced by Studies in American Naturalism — Dreiser Studies, spring 1987 — and something becomes apparent.. The issue contained essays by prominent Dreiser scholars:

“Double Quotes and Double Meanings in Jennie Gerhardt” by James L. W. West Ill

“Dreiser: Autobiographical Fragment, 1911” by Thomas P. Riggio

“The Revisionist Views of Sarah Schänäb Dreiser” by George H. Douglas

“A Note On Dreiser’s Use of the 1895 Brooklyn Trolley Car Strike” by Michael John McDonough

Such essays would not make it into Studies in American Naturalism. Yet these are titles which would be of immediate interest to Dreiserians, and which I could get my teeth into.

I belong to the Samuel Johnson and George Gissing societies. I doubt that either author is taught that much in English courses here. Yet both societies publish journals developed solely to the author: papers on all aspects of their work, new findings and publications, etc.



I read good literature and am deeply steeped in it. If I get to into an author, I want to read all the works that I can manage to (not just the acknowledged classics) and to learn all I can about the writer. This includes reading criticism to an extent. To illustrate what I mean with specifics, take Walt Whitman. I have read Leaves of Grass many times over, and it is the poetry and the person that interest me above all. I have read several Whitman biographies. And I have not completely neglected critical studies such as C. Carroll Hollis’s brilliant Language and Style in Leaves of Grass, Harold Aspiz’s Whitman and the Body Beautiful and Aspiz’s So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death, and the writings of Whitman Scholar Ed Folsom. Or William Blake, whom I took an outstanding course on in college with the late Allen Grossman. It’s the Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the prophetic books which I immersed myself in. But then a year or two later I read E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake, a monograph which illuminated so much concerning the composition of Songs of Innocence and Experience.

These studies are notable and eminently worthwhile in that they illuminate and increase appreciation for the WORKS, rather than promulgating some extraneous theory manufactured for the audience and occasion.



Not to brag, but I happen to be knowledgeable also about music. My father was a professional pianist, piano teacher, church organist and choir director; and a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in music. I never attained proficiency in music and I can’t, unlike my father, who took a course in composition with the composer Irving Fine in college, did arrangements professionally, and composed an original score on a religious theme for performance by a theater group, read music. Yet my father acknowledged and respected my wide ranging knowledge of music as a listener. In other words, his musical knowledge was that of a professional with musical education, while mine was acquired experientially, so to speak.

Yet I write about classical music. See my essay on Shostakovich (posted here), for example. I can also write well and knowledgeably about writers and literature. The point I am trying to make is as follows: judge commentary and criticism on my its merits (and its interest to the reader) rather than on the writer’s resume.



To conclude, note the following essays of mine, posted on my Dreiser site (and above):

Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy

Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press

Some Thoughts About Dreiser: What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals (This article was 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.)

All three were rejected for publication.

“Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy” was submitted to Studies in. American Naturalism “over the transom.” The other two essays were assigned to me. I submitted a proposal in each case that was accepted. The fact that the articles were lengthy was not, a priori, a problem. The editors and I discussed word length. Only after the articles were submitted did the editors decide that the content did not fit their requirements. I had described content and approach fully in the proposals I sent them.

I am grateful that some scholars found my work to be of value. For example, Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas wrote me recently, commenting on my essay “Some Thoughts About Dreiser”;

I’ve read your interview with the Russians and am amazed at the sharpness of their questions and —more—with the breadth of your answers. You are now the repository of Dreiser fact. It’s time for you to write a book, on which organizes all this data into a real intellectual biography. You have rediscovered the author and the man.

Enough said. There is a place and a need for writings purely about Dreiser, his works, the circumstances of their composition, relevant details from his own life, his biography, and so forth. They don’t have to be bloodless and “fashionable” with respect to current issues. And by the way, my essays are not only meticulously researched and documented (often drawing upon archival and primary sources), but also consistently well written, with an absence of academic argot.


— Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

from Donald Friede, “The Mechanical Angel”


Donald Friede, ‘The Mechanical Angel’


Posted here are excerpts about Dreiser from:

Donald Friede, The Mechanical Angel (New York Alfred A. Knopf, 1948)

Friede recalls his various experiences as Dreiser’s publisher, the stage production of An American Tragedy, and the trial in Boston in 1929 to suppress An American Tragedy.

Mentioned in the book are T. R. Smith (pg. 22) and George Antheil (pp. 54-55). Smith was editor-in-chief at Boni & Liveright. He was heavily involved in the editing and cutting of An American Tragedy. Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, and author.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021


no sense of humor


We were discussing the necessity for humor in the make-up, and as [one] of the qualities of a great man. In fact we concluded that every great man views his greatness through his sense of humor. Humor in its broadest sense implies humility and great understanding. Dreiser, to Carl’s mind, was without the quality of humor. Eugene O’Neill on the other hand, in spite of his tragedy, had a sense of hu­mor or of the sardonic which gives his work flavor.

— William A. Sutton, Carl Sandburg Remembered (The Scarecrow Press, 1979), pg. 236

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    November 2021