Category Archives: biographical (including posts with fragmentary but potentially useful biographical information about Dreiser, his family, or associates)

an exchange of letters

 

 

 

 

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Posted above are letters from

Dreiser to his brother Ed, April 18, 1938

Ed’s reply, April 20, 1938

Also — Rome Dreiser’s death certificate

 

Ed was Dreiser’s young brother

Rome (born Markus Romanus Dreiser) was the second oldest of the Dreiser siblings and Theodore and Ed’s brother.  He is the same Rome, a railroad engineer said to be a drifter, who — in his autobiographical work Dawn, published in May 1931, Dreiser wrote — “drank himself into failure if not death.”

Other Dreiser family members mentioned in Dreiser’s and Ed’s letters are their older sister Mame (Maria Franziska Dreiser) and her husband [Austin] Brennan; sister Emma; Mai (Skelly) Dresser. Ed’s wife; Paul Dresser, who died in 1907, the oldest of the Dreiser siblings; and Vera Dreiser, Ed and Mai’s daughter and Dreiser’s niece.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Little Brown Jug”

As Richard Lingeman explains in the first volume of his Dreiser biography, Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City, 1871-1907,   Theodore Dreiser’s wife Sara* Osborne (White) Dreiser, raised on a farm in Missouri, was called Sallie by friends and Jug by her family. Jug was a family nickname.

The nickname stuck. In adulthood, Sara was always known to relatives and friends as Jug or Juggie.

Jug, states Lingeman, was “a sobriquet given her [Sara] by a beau … because she wore brown so often that she resembled the little brown jug of the song.”

“The Little Brown Jug” was a song written in 1869 by Joseph Eastburn Winner (1837–1918). The song was originally published in Philadelphia, where Winner operated a publishing music business. It was originally a drinking song.

*Her first name was originally Sarah. She dropped the h in later years.

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The Little Brown Jug

1.
My wife and I lived all alone
In a little log hut we called our own;
She loved gin, and I loved rum,
I tell you what, we’d lots of fun.

2.
‘Tis you who makes my friends my foes,
‘Tis you who makes me wear old clothes;
Here you are, so near my nose,
So tip her up, and down she goes.

3.
When I go toiling to my farm,
I take little “Brown Jug” under my arm;
I place it under a shady tree,
Little “Brown Jug” ’tis you and me.

4.
If all the folks in Adam’s race,
Were gathered together in one place;
Then I’d prepare to shed a tear,
Before I’d part from you, my dear.

5.
If I’d a cow that gave such milk,
I’d clothe her in the finest silk;
I’d feed her on the choicest hay,
And milk her forty times a day.

6.
The rose is red, my nose is, too,
The violet’s blue, and so are you;
And yet I guess before I stop,
We’d better take another drop.

Chorus:
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
“Little brown jug” don’t I love thee;
Ha, ha ha, you and me,
“Little brown jug” don’t I love thee.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021

“As we boarded the bus … I noticed a man who seemed familiar.” (William Everson, an encounter with Theodore Dreiser)

 

 

 

William Everson

An Encounter with Theodore Dreiser

Brick: A Literary Journal

Number 93

summer 2014

pp. 36-37

 

It was on my first furlough, the furlough of 1943. [Jim] Harmon and I got leave to go down to San Francisco. We took the coast stage south to Marshfield where we had to lay over in order to pick up the Portland bus southbound for San Francisco the next morning.

As we boarded the bus in Marshfield [Oregon] I noticed a man who seemed familiar. I said to myself, “That man looks like Theodore Dreiser.” Harmon said it couldn’t be, but [Robinson] Jeffers had spoken of Dreiser as a “tough old mastodon,” and that’s just the way this character looked. Hulking shoulders. Slack jaws. Strangely inattentive eyes that missed nothing. Even in his photographs his configuration was unmistakable.

During the war the bus travel was simply awful. In order to save rubber the law held their schedule down to thirty-five miles an hour, but the drivers went like hell between stops and waited at the next depot for time to catch up. So we had plenty of opportunity to look each other over.

At Gold Beach, Oregon, we pulled in for lunch. By this time I was sure it was Dreiser. As Harmon and I got ready to sit down, Harmon forgot about lunch and followed the man into the lavatory. He came right out as if he’d really found gold on that beach. “It’s him!” he exclaimed excitedly. “It’s Dreiser, all right. Come on!”

Even as I got up I had my misgivings, but curiosity got the better of judgment, Dreiser was standing at the urinal relieving himself, and not knowing what else to do I began to talk. I had never read any of his books, so I began with us. It was a fatal mistake.

“Mr. Dreiser,” I began, “we’re two poets on furlough from a camp in Waldport [Oregon]. We are going down to San Francisco. We hope to meet some of the other writers there and renew our acquaintance with the literary scene …. ”

Dreiser looked at me, and I suddenly discovered I had nothing more to say. He slowly buttoned his fly, and as he turned to wash his hands, he said two words with extreme irony: “So what!”
Then he started in. Ripping a paper towel from the rack, he crumpled it in those fearsome hands and proceeded with contempt. “There are thousands of you. You crawl about the country from conference to literary conference. You claim to be writers, but what do you ever produce? Not one of you will amount to a goddamn. You have only the itch to write, nothing more … the insatiable itch to express yourself. Everywhere I go I run into you, and I’m sick of you. The world is being torn apart in agony, crying out for truth, the terrible truth. And you … “He paused and his voice seemed to suddenly grow weary. “You have nothing to say.”

I turned to go. Harmon was already gone. Opening the door into the restaurant, I looked back to let him know how sorry I was that I had accosted him, but I couldn’t open my mouth. Then Dreiser stepped past me, as if I had opened the door only for him. For a moment the contempt seemed to fade in his face and a kind of geniality gleamed there. “Well,” he said, “take it easy. It lasts longer that way.” Then he was gone.

Not really gone. His seat was ahead of ours, and we had already noticed that he was travelling with a young woman. After Gold Beach [Oregon] aware of our presence behind him, he kept stiffly aloof, conversing with her circumspectly. But far down the coast, at the end of the long hot afternoon, when everyone was collapsed with fatigue, she could stand it no longer. Reaching out her hand she stroked with tender fondness the balding head. Dazed with exhaustion, he accepted it gratefully until he remembered us. Suddenly thrashing his head like a mastodon caught red-handed in a pterodactyl’s nest, he flung the hand from him. She never tried it again.

 

 

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William “Bill” Everson (1912-1994), also known as Brother Antoninus, was an American poet of the San Francisco Renaissance and was also a literary critic, teacher and small press printer. Everson registered as an anarchist and a pacifist with his draft board, in compliance with the 1940 draft bill. In 1943, he was sent to a Civilian Public Service (CPS) work camp for conscientious objectors: Camp Angel at Waldport, Oregon, with other poets, artists and actors.

At Camp Angel, Everson founded a fine-arts program in which the CPS men staged plays and poetry readings and learned the craft of fine printing. During his time as a conscientious objector, Everson completed The Residual Years, a volume of poems that launched him to national fame. (Wikipedia)

Dreiser was undoubtedly traveling with his mistress Helen Richardson (née Patges), a native of Oregon. In June 1944, Dreiser and Helen were married in the state of Washington.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    January 2021

Dreiser Receives Bourne Award (Daily Worker)

 

 

 

RECEIVES BOURNE AWARD

Daily Worker

Saturday, June 7, 1941

pg. 7

 

The Randolph Bourne Memorial Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Culture and Peace was given to Theodore Dreiser at the Anti-War Meeting in Defense of Culture, sponsored by the League of American Writers, which was held at Manhattan Center last night. Dreiser, who is now in Hollywood, was one of the initial signers of the call to the Writers’ Congress. The presentation, on behalf of the National Board of the League, was made by its president, Donald Ogden Stewart.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2020

Roger W. Smith, “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

This post is in the form of a downloadable Word document (above).

 

 

'Dawn' - first typescript - Chapter XLII, pg. 13

Theodore Dreiser, “Dawn,” first typescript, Chapter XLII, pg. 13

 

 

 

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Abstract

 

 

This article focuses on Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser, who was born out of wedlock in 1886 to Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser. The article provides hitherto unknown details about Sylvia’s affair with Carl’s father — the pseudonymous “Don Ashley” — when Theodore Dreiser, his sister Sylvia, and other siblings were living in Warsaw, Indiana with their mother, as recounted by Dreiser, with some major modifications of facts, in his autobiographical work Dawn.

I have discovered the identity of Carl’s father and confirmed details of Carl’s death. It was “known” on scant evidence that he was a suicide. It has been said, which is inaccurate, that Carl died in his teens. I have found Carl’s death record, as well as his birth record.

Dreiser’s sister Sylvia abandoned Carl and did not raise him; he was raised by Dreiser’s parents and also by his aunt Mame (Theodore Dreiser’s sister) and her husband. As an unwanted child, Carl had a difficult life. Many details have remained sketchy or were never investigated by Dreiser biographers; there is scant mention of Carl in Dreiser biographies.

The story of Sylvia’s affair and pregnancy, a scandal at the time, is worth investigating, since Dreiser saw it as not insignificant in his family history and as contributing to ideas about sex and morality he had as a teenager — he used it as the subject matter of two chapters in Dawn. And, the story of Carl’s birth and his short, unhappy life throws some light on characters in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and, to a lesser extent, in his novel Jennie Gerhardt.

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, “The Return of the Genius,” Chicago Sunday Globe. October 23, 1892 (under byline Carl Dreiser)

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Return of the Genius.’

 

 

 

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132 West 15th Street, NYC

+ 132 West 15th Street, Manhattan; photo by Roger W. Smith, May 2020. Carl Dreiser was born at this address, in the apartment of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

53 West Erie Street, Chicago; where Carl Dresser lived at the time of his death; photo by Tamie Dehler

 

 

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Addendum, August 16, 2020:

 

I received an email from Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas today which called my attention to something I had overlooked (italics): “Dreiser was surely influenced by memory of Carl’s bellhop days. And Carl was tragically influenced by Dreiser’s portrayal of Hurstwood’s suicide in “Sister Carrie.”

Note that Carl Dresser (as detailed in my essay ) died from “Asphixiation by illuminating gas.”

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   May 2020; updated August 2020

Carl Van Vechten, “Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him”

 

 

Carl Van Vechten, ‘Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him’ – Yale U Library Gazette

 

 

Carl Van Vechten

“Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him”

The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 25, no. 3 (January 1951), pp. 87-92

 

posted here (above) as a donwloadable PDF file

 

 

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Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein. He was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance.

new article published regarding the real “My Gal Sal”

 

 

An important article, viewed from the perspective of Dreiser studies, has just been published. It provides new information about the possible, if not likely, identity of a lover of Theodore Dreiser’s older brother Paul Dresser, the songwriter.

 

“112-year-old mystery solved? Indiana madam may have inspired famous song”

by Domenica Bongiovanni

The Indianapolis Star

August 3, 2017

http://www.indystar.com/story/entertainment/music/2017/08/03/112-year-old-mystery-solved-indiana-madam-may-have-inspired-famous-song/497691001/

 

 

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Paul Dresser wrote a popular song, “My Gal Sal,” in 1905, which, with the exception of another one of his songs, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” is Paul’s best known song and which was a hit in its day. The song is about Paul’s lover, who was said to be the madam of a house of prostitution in Evansville, Indiana.

The article refers to ongoing research that has been pursued doggedly by New York Times Magazine writer John Jeremiah Sullivan and his research assistant Joel Finsel.

In his autobiogaphical work Dawn, Theodore Dreiser identified Sal, Paul’s lover, as Annie Brace, a madam whose working name was Sallie Walker.

Through painstaking sleuthing, Sullivan believes he has discovered the identity of the real Sal.

My thanks to Tamie Dehler for informing me about this article.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 3, 2017

George K. Nelson to Theodore Dreiser, June 8, 1933

 

 

George K. Nelson to Dreiser 6-8-1933

 

 

Posted here is a copy of a letter dated June 8, 1933 to Theodore Dreiser from his nephew George K. Nelson.

George Kates Nelson (1892-1955) was the son of Dreiser’s sister Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser by Lorenzo A. Hopkins. Mr. Nelson was the manager of a hotel in Manhattan.

Dreiser was close to George K. Nelson’s sister Gertrude A. Hopkins, his niece. But, the cold, businesslike letter posted here shows that there was no personal relationship between Dreiser and his nephew George. Nelson had had a relationship in his adolescence with his uncle Paul Dresser, the songwriter (Theodore Dreiser’s brother), this according to an interview with Gloria N. Vevante, George K. Nelson’s daughter, conducted by Roger W. Smith in 2007.

Nelson writes here: “It is understood that any such moneys received by me will be received as agent for Mary F. Brennan, Sylvia Kishima, Emma A. Nelson [George K. Nelson’s mother], Albert J. Dreiser and Rome M. Dresser. …” They were Dreiser’s siblings.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

Ed Dreiser to brother Theodore, April 30, 1938

 

 

Edward Dreiser to brother Theodore 4-20-1938.jpg
Posted here is a copy of a letter dated April 30, 1938 from Theodore Dreiser’s younger brother Eduard Minerod Dreiser (1873-1958) to Dreiser

Mentioned in the letter:

“the Astoria family” —  Dreiser’s sisters Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser (1863-1936); Maria Franziska Dreiser (Mame; 1861-1944); and Cacilia Dreiser (ca. 1865-1945), all of whom lived in their later years in Astoria, Queens, New York City

“Mame” — Dreiser’s sister Maria Franziska Dreiser

“Mai” — Edward Dreiser’s wife Mai V. (Skelly) Dreiser (1878-1955)

“Vera” — Edward Dreiser’s daughter Vera Dreiser (1908-1998), Theodore Dreiser’s niece

“Paul” – Driers brother, the songwriter Paul Dresser (1856-1906)

“Dreiser Seriously Hurt in Mishap”

 

 

news item from unidentified newspaper, May 14, 1919

 

 

 

'Dreiser Seriously Hurt in Mishap' 5-14-1919