Category Archives: Dreiser and Communism; Dreiser as Communist

Sally Kusell, “Dreiser’s Style”

 

 

Sally Kusell, ‘Dreiser’s Style’ – NYTBR 4-8-1951

 

 

Downloadable Word document above.

 

 

 

This April 1951 letter  to The New York Times Book Review from Sally Kusell is self-explantory.

Sally Kusell (1892-1982) was a lover of Theodore Dreiser and one of his many secretarial/editorial assistants. She played a major role as a typist and editor of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

John Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet and scholar.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

a parody of The Financier

 

 

Donald Ogden Stewart parody – Vanity Fair, April 1921

 

 

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the following:

 

“Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups: Mr. Thornton Burgess Rewritten by Three Eminent American Novelists”

By Donald Ogden Stewart

Vanity Fair. April 1921, pp. 57. 90

 

I have transcribed Stewart’s parody, which does not seem to have been reprinted.

The books of the children’s author Thornton W. Burgess provide a pretext for the parody, which begins with him. Then, successively, Stewart parodies James Branch Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, and Dreiser. The novels parodied are Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, Lewis’s Main Street, * and Dreiser’s The Financier.

Something about Dreiser caught by Stewart in this parody — his writing of the financier’s prowess and wealth, his social standing and that of his wife and friends as if he (Dreiser) himself were an awestruck bystander — in the vein of reverence for these things — seems very on target. Note the following observations made by Thomas Kranidas in his master’s thesis on Dreiser:

Dreiser wanted to write about the rich; he had a pitiful need to appear familiar with the “great world.” But he was not familiar with it. And when he wrote about it, he wrote about the surface qualities of it, never once touching the refinement, the sense of superior knowledge and awareness through ease. Dreiser was a snob on one level, a man with exorbitant class yearnings, a man who resented his origins and was scornful of the lower classes. … Dreiser’s vision was clouded many times by this snobbery. It led to certain cruelties and flippancies and certain absurd superficialities. … Whenever class consciousness touches his writing, the effect is false. Whenever he attempts to identity with knowingness or annihilate with scorn, he is unrealistic.

— Thomas Kranidas, The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953

Another thing about Dreiser’s writing that Stewart catches is the use, for example, of clichés (“all that glitters is not gold”) and weak words such as trig; of adjectives such as sumptuous — in short, his weakness at description.

 

 

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Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) was an American author and screenwriter and a member of the Algonquin Round Table. His literary friends included Ernest Hemingway, who in The Sun Also Rises modeled a character in the book (Bill Gorton) on Stewart. Stewart was known for his parodies of writers and middle-class mores.

 

[After graduating from Yale, Stewart] tried diligently to climb the corporate ladder in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minneapolis. In 1921, back in New York and temporarily out of a job, he was sent by F. Scott Fitzgerald (whom he had met in Minneapolis) to apply for work the advertising department of Vanity Fair, where Fitzgerald’s classmates Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop were assistant editors. …

There was no work available, but Wilson liked a brief parody of Dreiser that Stewart had cobbled up. … Vanity Fair printed it. … within a matter of weeks, Stewart was a full-time humorist.

— Calvin Tomkins, review of By a Stroke of Luck! An Autobiography, by Donald Ogden Stewart, The New York Times Book Review , December 14, 1975

 

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 30, 1894, Mr. Stewart was schooled at Exeter and Yale. …

”I was in the bond business in Dayton, Ohio, but I was no good at money. I was, though, a good friend of Scott Fitzgerald, who sent me to Vanity Fair, where Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop were the editors.

”For them, I wrote a parody of Scott and Theodore Dreiser, and took it to Wilson, and to my great surprise Bunny said he’d publish it. It was the first time it occurred to me that I could write, and I was scared to death.”

— “Donald O. Stewart, Screenwriter Dies.” The New York Times , August 3, 1980, pg. A32

 

 

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COMMUNISM

 

“As World War II approached, [Stewart] became a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and admitted to being a member of the Communist Party USA at one of its public meetings. During the Second Red Scare, Stewart was blacklisted in 1950 and the following year he and his wife, activist and writer Ella Winter …. emigrated to England.” (Wikipedia).

An article in The New York Times (“Hammett Elected By Writers League: Resolutions by Group Generally Follow Communist Party Line,” The New York Times, June 9, 1941. pg. 17) noted that Dashiell Hammett was elected unanimously as president of the League of American Writers on June 8, 1941. “The League of American Writers was an association of American novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, and literary critics launched by the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in 1935. The group included Communist Party members, and so-called ‘fellow travelers’ who closely followed the Communist Party’s political line.” (Wikipedia)

Hammett’s predecessor as president of the League of American Writers was Donald Ogden Stewart.

Theodore Dreiser was named honorary president of the League at the same meeting.

 

 

* I wonder if Lewis’s references to “Grub Street” were intended to recall George Gissing’s novel New Grub Street by means of humorous association with the title of Main Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2019

 

 

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addendum:

 

Donald Ogden Stuart was the author of A Parody Outline of History (New York: George F. Doran Company, 1921).  The book is not a parody of the H. G. Wells book, but a parody of living American authors supposedly writing about great events in American history — many of the chapters are reprints of individual pieces by Stewart that had first appeared in The Bookman. Among the authors parodied are James Branch Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, Thornton W. Burgess, Edith Wharton, and Eugene O’Neill. There is no Dreiser parody.

“Dreiser and Editor Exchange Jibes,” Atlanta Constitution, November 7, 1935

 

 

 

The following is a partial transcription of an article in the Atlanta Constitution, November 7, 1931.

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

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Dreiser and Editor Exchange Jibes on Income and Service to Society

 

HARLAN, Ky., Nov 6 – (AP) – Theodore Dreiser, who came to Kentucky’s hills to investigate the sanguinary coal field controversy of the Harlan district, was transformed from prosecutor to witness today by a newspaperman who sought to learn if the famous novelist practiced what he advocated.

The newspaperman—Herndon Evans, publisher of the Pineville Sun—learned from the author of “An American Tragedy” that his annual income was approximately $35,000 and that he gave none of it to charity, but supported financially the Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Dreiser and other New York writers were conducting the first session of their inquiry into conditions in the coal fields and were questioning Mr. Evans.

Dreiser questioned the Kentucky editor about his religion, income and other personal matters and asked Evans if he thought it fair to earn between $50 and $75 a week, while miners of the district worked for $30 and $40 a month. He had expressed the opinion the editor’s sympathies were with mine operators.

“May I ask you some questions?” Evans asked, and when Dreiser responded “Certainly,” he asked:

“What is your annual income?”

“Approximately $35,000,” said the author.

 

None for Charity.

“Do you give any of it to charity?”

“No.”

“That’s all,” said the newspaperman.

Dreiser asked him not to stop, but “ask me some more questions.”

Evans then asked: “Do you give to any organization?”

To which Dreiser replied he contributed to the Civil Liberties Union and “other similar organizations.”

Dreiser recounted some personal matters and said there were 13 members of his family “and they were not very shrewd and couldn’t take care of themselves.”

“I am trying to take care of them,” he said, and estimated he spent between $5,000 and $6,000 a year on his family.

“You know,” he said, “I am a radical and interested in equality in government. I’m interested in social organization.”

Dreiser said he did not make any “real money until I wrote the ‘American Tragedy,’ at the age of 55.”

“Averaging my income over my life period,” he said, “I think you will find it to have been very moderate.”

Evans interrupted to say he believed he could show he had done more for charity of his income and along civic lines than Dreiser could on his earnings.

“Does that represent your theory of equality?” asked the Kentucky editor.

During Evans’ questioning, Dreiser denied he was a member of the communist party, but said he was in sympathy with some of its policies.

“I’m not a communist,” Dreiser said. “They wouldn’t take me, but I see an equity there, and that’s what I’m after. I believe we should let every country start on an equity basis and see what we get.”

“I don’t propose to import a Stalin or a Trotzky here, but there should be equity in all things.”

Both Evans and Dreiser were smiling when the session recessed after their exchange, which came at the end of a morning or routine questioning of miners and one miner’s wife.

 

[remainder of article not transcribed]