“Sister Carrie” podcast

 

Miriam Gogol, a professor at Mercy College and president of the International Theodore Dreiser Society, was interviewed by John J. Miller of National Review on February 22, 2022.

podcast at

https://www.nationalreview.com/podcasts/the-great-books/episode-216-sister-carrie-by-theodore-dreiser/

I note some things about this interesting and enlightening interview.

In the interview, Sister Carrie is characterized as a “subversive” novel, a characterization that I have not heard before. Professor Gogol provides a good explanation of what is meant by this and uses an apt phrase, “the subversive nature of longing,” referring to Carrie. As Professor Gogol notes, Dreiser could identify with this, coming from a poor working class family himself and longing for things he did not have.

Sister Carrie begins in August 1889, as Professor Gogol notes. In real life — given the incidents that Dreiser based the novel on (Hurstwood’s theft of money from his employer, his flight to New York with Carrie) — the story occurred in 1886.

The novel opens (Chapter I is entitled “THE MAGNET ATTRACTING: A WAIF AMID FORCES”):

When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister’s address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money.

The plainness of Dreiser’s writing — a minimum of well chosen facts that precisely delineate character and setting — says much about what makes Dreiser so readable.

Professor Gogol notes that Hurstwood is approximately 40 years old in the novel. Hurstwood’s real life prototype, Lorenzo A. Hopkins, died in Brooklyn in December 1897 at age 53. He would have been around age 45 in 1889 .

Professor Gogol notes, perceptively, that Carrie in Chicago is a “free woman” with no family attachments. This is how she perceives things, despite her moving in briefly with sister Minnie and Minnie’s husband. It occurs to me that Dreiser perceived things similarly once he had become independent and moved away from Indiana. His family did not have a tug on him. His relationships with siblings and with his parents once he had left was minimal. This was true for the rest of his life.

Minnie’s (Carrie’s sister’s) husband, Sven Hanson, I believe, was modeled on the real life second husband (or common law husband) of Dreiser’s sister Emma: John Nelson. I have done research on this.

Professor Gogol notes that when Carrie finds work at a shoe company the working conditions are such that the girls work at stools with no backs, no footrests. This back breaking work pays $4.50 a week for ten hour days, presumably six days a week.

Hurstwood works at a high class saloon: Fitzgerald and Moy’s on Adams Street in Chicago. The actual saloon (where L. A. Hopkins was a clerk) was Chapin & Gore on Monroe Street.

Hurstwood has two children in the novel. Hopkins, Hurstwood’s real life porotype, when he met the real Carrie (Dreiser’s sister Emma), had one child, a daughter, Maria, who was around nineteen or twenty years old at the time. Census records indicate that Hopkins, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Maria were all born in New York, which probably indicates New York City, but it could be New York State.

Hurstwood steals ten thousand dollars from his employer’s safe. In actuality, Hopkins stole $3,500 and about two hundred dollars’ worth of jewelry, as indicated by news reports at the time,

The interviewer, Miller, states that Dreiser wrote a lot of Sister Carrie in Ohio, where he was visiting his friend Arthur Henry. This is inaccurate. The novel was written in New York, after both Dreiser and Henry had moved there.

Professor Gogol gives a very good explanation of naturalism: a deterministic philosophy where characters do not have free will and are subject to socioeconomic forces and their environment.

She briefly discusses the character Bob Ames and his significance in the novel. It seems to me that Ames is a stand in for Dreiser, the author’s alter ego. Professor Gogol discusses, insightfully, how Ames fosters the development of a Carrie capable of serious thought and aesthetic appreciation. This is the intellectual aspect of New York, which I myself so many years later appreciate and have benefited from. How one can meet thoughtful and highly intelligent persons unexpectedly and be schooled by them.

Ames gets Carrie to read Père Goriot. The influence of Balzac on Dreiser is not mentioned by Professor Gogol. It is unmistakable.

Professor Gogol notes that a new 464-page complete edition of the original novel is now available as a Vintage Classic edition published by Penguin Random House. She briefly discusses An American Tragedy and a recollection of having seen at an early age the uncut version of the film A Place in the Sun. If there was such a version of the film, in which George Eastman’s (Clyde’s) execution is shown, I was unaware of this.

Sister Carrie, in my opinion, was a very good debut novel, a sort of literary miracle, the work of an untutored, autochthonous genius.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 23, 2022

8 thoughts on ““Sister Carrie” podcast

      1. David

        Pg 43 (Penguin edition) “At Rector’s, Drouet had met Mr. G. W. Hurstwood, manager of the Hannah and Hogg’s Adams Street place, the latter having been pointed out as a very successful and well-known man about town…Drouet immediately conceived a notion of him [Hurstwood] as being someone worth knowing and was glad not only to meet him, but to visit the Adams Street bar thereafter whenever he wanted a drink or a cigar.” The first mention of Hannah and Hogg’s appears to be on Page 41. P.S. I’m adapting the novel for a script so I’ve had to really be familiar with the story. DP

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      2. Roger W. Smith Post author

        The Penguin edition of Sister Carrie you are quoting from is based on the so called Pennsylvania edition of Sister Carrie. It was published in 1981 in hardback. This edition, which has been criticized, is based on Dreiser’s original holograph. The novel was published in 1900. I was quoting from the PUBLISHED novel. Dreiser before publishing it changed the name of the saloon from Hannah and Hogg’s to Fitzgerald and Moy’s. In actual fact, the saloon was named Chapin & Gore, and it was on Monroe Street. But, that is not relevant for your purposes.

        You are free to use the name of the saloon from the Penguin edition, of course, but you should know that Dreiser changed the name to Fitzgerald and Moy’s in the published novel.

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      3. David

        I have only read the Penguin with the very good Kazin essay. I don’t doubt your knowledge of the novel’s early history. (I also just purchased an annotated e-book edition, but I don’t know who was invoIved on that one.) I have not read the holograph. In the end, I’m using Hannah & Hogg’s for my script and steering clear of connections to the 1952 film adaptation which uses F&M. The film has its moments and Olivier is good, but it’s more Paramount than Dreiser. Wyler wanted to cast Elizabeth Taylor, who was much too beautiful, but at 18 the correct age. Jennifer Jones was 31 and pregnant when they filmed in 1950. Cheers, DP

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      4. Roger W. Smith Post author

        Thanks. What I am drawing upon is the actual facts of the novel’s publication, and which versions or editions represent the “actual” novel when it came out in 1900. The name of the saloon in the 1952 film is “accurate” in that it was taken from the book as it was published in 1900. I agree that Olivier’s (as was the usual case) performance was very good. I think Jennifer Jones did a very good job and that Elizabeth Taylor would have been a poor choice for Carrie. Dreiser based Carrie on his older sister Emma, and much of the story reflects actual events in Emma’s life. After she and her husband absconded to New York City, they lived together — it does not seem that the ever were married — and had two children.

        Here’s an interesting fact. There was a Hannah & Hogg on Clark Street in Chicago in the mid-1880s when “Carrie” (Dreiser’s sister Emma) and “Hurstwood” (Emma’s lover L. A. Hopkins) met, which is the time period of the novel. Hopkins (the prototype of Hurstwood) did not work there; he worked at another saloon. But Dreiser would not have known or remembered such details. So he used the name of a real Chicago saloon. Then, when the book was published, he decided to “fictionalize” the name and changed it from Hannah & Hogg to Fitzgerald and Moy’s.

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      5. David

        Wow, that is interesting. I just checked to see who was the annotator of this Kindle Carrie edition and it appears to be Herbert Leibowitz, Editor of Parnassus, a poetry review. There’s really not much in the way of annotation, to my disappointment. By comparison, Leslie Klinger’s series of annotated editions of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula are very dense and detailed works of scholarship. I did get to meet Prof. Miriam Gogol who teaches the novel at Mercy College and edited a book on Dreiser. She was very helpful and answered my questions about the book.

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