Posted here (above) as a PDF file is Alfred Kazin’s article “Theodore Dreiser and the Critics,” which was originally published in a paperback book, The Anchor Review, Number One, in 1955. The article was subsequently published in The Stature of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Survey of the Man and His Work, edited by Alfred Kazin and Charles Shapiro (Indiana University Press, 1955).
This is a brilliant essay. It is fair to Dreiser in recognizing and evaluating his strengths as well as his weaknesses. It shows why Dreiser mattered to his generation, and still matters. Kazin says an awful lot in a few pages, not seemingly missing anything essential about Dreiser.
I have one quibble with Kazin’s article. He says that in Sister Carrie “there are scarce any philosophic reflections or deductions expressed.” Sister Carrie seems to actually be replete with such authorial musings, which are admixed with the narrative, no doubt reflecting Dreiser’s naïve but sincere interest in the works of social philosophers such as Herbert Spencer. — Roger W. Smith
Richard Wright’s Native Son is the most powerful American novel to appear since The Grapes of Wrath. It has numerous defects as a work of art, but it is only in retrospect that they emerge, so overwhelming is its central drive, so gripping its mounting intensity. No one, I think, except the most unconvertible Bourbons, the completely callous, or the mentally deficient, can read it without an enlarged and painful sense of what it means to be a Negro in the United States of America seventy-seven years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Native Son does for the Negro what Theodore Dreiser in An American Tragedy did a decade and a half ago for the bewildered, inarticulate American white. The two books are similar in theme, in technique, in their almost paralyzing effect on the reader, and in the large, brooding humanity, quite remote from special pleading, that informs them both.
— Clifton Fadiman, review of Native Son by Richard Wright, The New Yorker, March 2, 1940
Posted above as a downloadable PDF file is an important article on Dreiser that provides a comprehensive assessment of his critical reception in which his strengths and weaknesses as a writer are assessed from various standpoints and with reference to prominent critics with varying views:
David Lord, “Dreiser Today,” Prairie Schooner 15.4 (winter 1941): 230-239.
It is a well written and thoughtful assessment, in my opinion.
Posted here is a downloadable PDF file of an abridgment made by Stephen Stepanchev of his dissertation “Dreiser Among The Critics” (New York University, 1950). The abridgment is available at the New York Public Library.
The downloadable PDF file posted above comprises a chapter from a monograph by Marianne Debouzy: La Genèse de l’Espirit de Révolte dans le Roman Américain 1875-1915 (Bibliothèque de Littérature et d’Histoire; Paris: Lettres Modernes Minard, 1968):
“L’irruption du matérialisme: Theodore Dreiser”
My thanks to Marianne Debouzy not only for giving me a copy of her book, but also for granting permission to post the chapter on Dreiser.