The following is an excerpt from a new blog post:
The Sunny Side of American Life
Why our greatest writers found their inspiration in misery and failure
by David Mikics
June 8, 2022
“When Dreiser first came to New York in 1894, in the midst of an economic crash, he was struck by the “hugeness and force and heartlessness of the great city.” New York was “gross and cruel,” he noted. Dreiser slept in flophouses, a wretched loser like Hurstwood in Sister Carrie, the scandalous first novel he published a few years later. Like Crane and Norris, Dreiser never lost the sense that life is ruthless.”
This is misleading and in fact inaccurate.
Dreiser visited New York City and siblings living there in the summer of 1894. He returned to the City for good in late 1894 and had some difficulty getting newspaper work. But he got his footing rather quickly and was hired in the spring of 1895 as a magazine editor. His first editing job, for the magazine Ev’ry Month, lasted for about two years. He then had a brief but quite successful career as a freelance writer for magazines. Dreiser was married in December 1898 and seemed destined to live a comfortable middle class life.
Dreiser began writing Sister Carrie in the fall of 1899. He was not down or out or homeless. He and his wife were living in an Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. Sister Carrie was published in 1900 by Doubleday, Page & Co. The events on which the novel is based occurred in the mid-1880s.
Dreiser then began a second novel, eventually published as Jennie Gerhardt. Troubled by financial worries and his inability to work on Jennie Gerhardt (he got stalled after a few chapters), Dreiser became depressed and began a period of restless wandering. He and his wife Jug (a nickname) gave up their Manhattan apartment and for the most part were living separately. This period of despair and impoverishment was recounted by Dreiser in his posthumously published account An Amateur Laborer.
This Hurstwood-like state came after Sister Carrie was written and published, and the misery and despair which Dreiser experienced then were short lived. In August 1904, Dreiser was hired by the publishing firm Street and Smith, and this led to several lucrative editorial posts in which he continued to work for several years before leaving voluntarily and returning to fiction.
— posted by Roger W. Smith