Category Archives: An American Tragedy

Ayn Rand on Dreiser (some thoughts)

 

In her essay “Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 1”

https://www.atlassociety.org/post/her-better-judgment-ayn-rand-theodore-dreiser-and-the-shape-of-the-american-novel-part-1

Marilyn Moore writes:

We know that Rand was familiar with An American Tragedy. In her 1962 essay collection The Romantic Manifesto Rand singled out the novel as an example of a “bad novel” because the plot does not support the theme. The big ideas Dreiser aimed for couldn’t be supported by the story he told.

I am not an Ayn Rand fan. Have not read her books, don’t think I would want to.

But, I think Ms. Moore’s comment (and the views of Rand underlying it) are perceptive and well worth considering.

I may try myself at some point to write more about this. Keeping in mind that An American Tragedy is a work of fiction which, despite its defects, deeply impressed me as reader and which I still admire.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  May 2022

Robert Benchley. “Compiling an American Tragedy: Suggestions as to How Theodore Dreiser Might Write His Next Human Document and Save Five Years’ Work”

 

Robert Benchley, ‘Compiling An American Tragedy’ – Life 7-1-1926 (2)

 

Posted here as a PDF document:

Robert Benchley

Compiling an American Tragedy: Suggestions as to How Theodore Dreiser Might Write His Next Human Document and Save Five Years’ Work

Life

July 1, 1926


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

Robert Penn Warren, “An American Tragedy”

 

Robert Penn Warren, ‘An American Tragedy’ – Yale Review

 

Posted here:

Robert Penn Warren

“An American Tragedy”

Yale Review 52 (October 1962), pp. 1–15

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

John Cowper Powys review of “An American Tragedy”

 

John Cowper Powys review of An American Tragedy – The Dial, April 1926

 

Posted here (downloadable PDF above) is a review by John Cowper Powys of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

The Dial, April 1926

An editorial comment: Dreiser’s friend Powys certainly enjoyed showing off his vocabulary.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

Gilbert Seldes on An American Tragedy and Dreiser

 

Gilbert Seldes, ‘Mainland’

 

Posted here (downloadable PDF above) are excerpts from Gilbert Seldes, Mainland (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936).

Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) was an American writer and cultural critic. Seldes served as the editor and drama critic of the magazine The Dial.

Seldes’s review in The Nation of Ulysses by James Joyce helped the book become known in the United States. His tenure as editor of The Dial included the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in the November 1922 issue.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

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

 

“Horace Liveright: Publisher of the Twenties” (the chapters on Dreiser)

 

 

Horace Livreright, ‘Theodore Dreiser’

 

Horace Liveright, ‘An American Tragedy’

 

 

I have posted here excepts from the following book:

Horace Liveright: Publisher of the Twenties

By Walker Gilmer

New York: David Lewis, 1979

namely, the following chapters in their entirety:

“Theodore Dreiser,” pp. 39-59

“An American Tragedy,” pp. 134-152

plus footnotes

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

 

 

Horace Liveright

re stage adaptations of An American Tragedy

 

‘Gossip Around Paris’ – Holywood Reporter 7-6-1935

‘Paris Producers Do American Plays’ – Holywood Reporter 7-13-1935

‘Dreiser Opus for Paris!’ – Variety 9-14-1935

Dreiser_NYT-Four-cases-of-Clyde-Griffiths

 

In the entry “Adaptions, Stage,” by Keith Newlin, in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia,* there is discussion of Patrick Kearney’s stage adaptation of An American Tragedy , which had a successful run in New York in 1931; of an adaption of the novel performed in Vienna in 1931; and of Erwin Piscator and Lina Goldschmidt’s adaptation, ‘Case of Clyde Griffiths,” which was performed in Pennsylvania and New York City, beginning in 1935.

There is no mention of a French stage adaptation of  An American Tragedy, adapted by Georges Jamin and Jean Servais, which Dreiser mentioned in an article in The New York Times, in 1936.** Dreiser also mentions a Russian adaptation by H. Basilevsky, which was entitled “The Law of Lycurgus”.***

Posted here are PDF files of Dreiser’s Times article and US theater industry publications in which the 1935 French adaptation was mentioned. The French adaptation by Jamin and Servais seems clearly to have been based on Patrick Kearney’s adaptation.

 

*A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, edited by Keith Newlin (Westport, Connecticut; Greenwood Press, 2003). pp. 3-6

**”Four Cases of Clyde Griffiths,” by Theodore Dreiser, The New York Times, March 8, 1936

*** Закон Ликурга : американская трагедия : пьеса в 4 действиях и 12 картинах : по мотивам “Американской трагедии” Теодора Драйзера (Zakon Likurga : amerikanskai︠a︡ tragedii︠a︡ : pʹesa v 4 deĭstvii︠a︡kh i 12 kartinakh: po motivam “Amerikanskoĭ tragedii” Teodora Draĭzera; The Law of Lycurgus; An American Tragedy: A Play in 4 Acts and 12 Scenes: Based on Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2021

my post about Grace and Roberta’s letters

 

I encourage Dreiserians to read my post, “Two Letters from An American Tragedy,” with my thoughts and input from Thomas Kranidas.

Roger W. Smith,“Two Letters from ‘An American Tragedy’”

 

I have always been interested in Grace Brown’s letters. Grace Brown was the murder victim of Chester Gillette in 1906 who is depicted in An American Tragedy in the character Robert Alden.

I think this post says a lot about what Dreiser was thinking in drawing the characters Roberta Alden and Sondra Finchley; and about common misconceptions about them and the novel.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2021

stock characters in Dreiser’s novels

 

Sondra Finchley … An American Tragedy

Letty Pace … Jennie Gerhardt

Berenice Fleming … The Titan

are stock, papier-mâché high class woman characters.

Straight out of soap opera.

Not believable

 

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Robert Alden is very real. Her ingenuousness. Her emotions. Her love for Clyde. Her sense of betrayal. Her letters. And so on. She is, in the words of Mary Gordon, a “genuinely loving young woman who is sexually awakened by her feelings for Clyde.”

Sondra Finchley, irresistibly beautiful and marvelously rich, bestows an occasional kiss on Clyde. She is the prototypical flapper with zero sex appeal. She is too vain to really show love for Clyde. “Her clothes, her car, her sports equipment,” notes Mary Gordon, “are the locus of her sexual allure.”* Her main reaction and main worry after Clyde is arrested are to keep her name out of the papers.

Characters like Sondra Finchley and Dreiser’s other high class women seem like crude embodiments of a social class or an ideal, not real.

Bob Ames in Sister Carrie — a stand in and mouthpiece for the author, Dreiser — has no purpose or reason for being in the novel. He does not seem real and is not brought to life.

 

* Mary Gordon, “Good Boys and Dead Girls,” in Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays (1991), pp. 8-10

 

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For purposes of comparison, let’s take an author such as Charles Dickens.

Scrooge in A Christmas Carol could be considered to be a stock character: miser, skinflint, coldhearted businessman — crotchety curmudgeon.

He receives visitations from ghosts (spirits). This is realistic?

Yet …

Scrooge is realer than real. He LIVES in our imaginations.

So does Bob Cratchit, who might have been portrayed one dimensionally as the poor, overworked worker ground down by ruthless capitalism.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are so real that it sometimes seems that they actually existed and lived in Victorian London.

Or Tolstoy.

Levin in Anna Karenina is a stand in for Tolstoy the aristocratic landholder, and his views. But he is not a stock figure in the novel. His character is fully developed.

In a novel which Dreiser greatly admired, Balzac’s Père Goriot, there are characters who could be seen as types:

Goriot, old man rejected by his heedless daughters; miser out of necessity

Rastignac, prototypical social climber. Goriot’s self-centered daughters: the same

All are portrayed by Balzac in a manner that makes them fully human, idiosyncratic, and believable.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    March 2021