Category Archives: Dreiser and fellow writers (contemparies; influence of past writers)

Dreiser and Balzac

 

 

The mixture of philosophical digressions and speculation with narrative in the text is a notable feature of Sister Carrie. The philosophy may be lightweight, but I would say Dreiser does this well. I think he got it from Balzac, whose novels were a great early influence on Dreiser.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Madame Vauquer, née de Conflans, is an old woman who for the past forty years has run a family boarding house in the rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève, between the Latin Quarter and the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. The boarding house, known as the Maison Vauquer, is open alike to men and women, young and old, but no breath of scandal has ever sullied the reputation of this respectable establishment. It is also true that for thirty years no young female person has ever been seen there, and any young man who stays there must be getting a very meagre allowance from his family. All the same, in 1819 when this drama begins an impoverished young woman was living there. However discredited the word ‘drama’ may have become through incorrect, strained and extravagant use in these days of harrowing literature, it must be employed here; not that this story is dramatic in the true sense of the word, but by the end of this work the reader will perhaps have shed a tear or two intra muros and extra. Will anyone understand it outside Paris? That is open to doubt. The special features of this scene, full of local colour and observations, can only be appreciated in the area lying between the heights of Montmartre and the hills of Montrouge, in that illustrious valley of flaking plasterwork and gutters black with mud; a valley full of suffering that is real, and of joy that is often false, where life is so hectic that it takes something quite extraordinary to produce feelings that last. One can however occasionally encounter sorrows to which the concentration of vice and virtue imparts a solemn grandeur. At such a sight egoism and self-interest are momentarily forgotten and give way to pity, but the impression lasts no longer than the taste of a fruit greedily swallowed. The chariot of civilization, like that of some juggernaut, may be briefly impeded when a heart less easily broken than most jams its wheels, but soon crushes it and rolls on in triumph. You will do likewise, holding this book in soft white hands, sinking into a comfortable armchair with the thought, ‘Perhaps I’ll enjoy this one.’ After reading about the secret misfortunes of Père Goriot, you will eat your dinner with relish, blaming the author for your insensibility, charging him with exaggeration, accusing him of poetic licence, but, let me tell you, this drama is not fiction or romance. All is true. So true that everyone can recognize its elements in his own circle, perhaps in his own heart.

The boarding house is the property of Madame Vauquer. It stands at the bottom of the rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève, just where the ground slopes down towards the rue de l’Arbalète so suddenly and steeply that horses rarely pass up or down. …

— Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot, Chapter I

 

 

When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister’s address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterised her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother’s farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.

To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a few hours–a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister’s address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.

When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility. The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognised for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.

Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class–two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest–knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject–the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman’s slipper.

“That,” said a voice in her ear, “is one of the prettiest little resorts in Wisconsin.”

“Is it?” she answered nervously.

The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. …

— Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie, Chapter I

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2020

 

 

 

 

Henry Miller and Dreiser

 

 

Henry Miller was a great admirer of Theodore Dreiser. He admired Dreiser’s realism; admired the size, scope, and power of Dreiser’s novels; admired the cumulative effect of Dreiser’s massive plots.  Dreiser was one of Miller’s major literary influences.

In March 1922, Miller took a three week vacation from his employer, The Western Union Company (the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company of North America in his novel Tropic of Capricorn). During the vacation, he wrote his first novel, Clipped Wings, which was never published.

Clipped Wings, a novel about twelve telegraph messenger boys, was inspired by Dreiser’s Twelve Men,  which had been published three years earlier, in 1919.

Early in his writing career, Miller made efforts to get published in The New Republic which did not meet with success. He wrote a long essay about Dreiser for the magazine that was rejected. However, a brief excerpt from the essay was published in April 1926 in the magazine’s letters to the editor section under the heading “Dreiser’s Style.”

The letter has not hitherto been reprinted. Texts of Miller’s early writings are in many cases unavailable.

The following is the text of Miler’s letter. It was written in response to a review of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy by T. K. Whipple in The New Republic of March 17, 1926. The text of the Whipple review is appended here as a PDF file

— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016

 

******************************************************

 

Dreiser’s Style

Sir: In his review of Dreiser’s American Tragedy, Mr. T. K. Whipple raises an interesting problem in the art of the novel in in his discussion of Mr. Dreiser’s style. “Dreiser could not write as he does,” says Mr. Whipple, “mixing slang with poetic archaisms, reveling in the cheap, trite and florid, if there were not in himself something correspondingly muddled, banal and tawdry … a failure in writing is necessarily a failure in communication.” This is all very true when the thing to be communicated is an abstract idea or philosophy. The novel, however, is effective because of images and emotions and not because of its abstract ideas. Mr. Whipple’s error lies in applying intellectual criteria such as logic and profundity to art, which affects us by its vividness or beauty.

From this point of view it becomes evident that Mr. Dreiser’s effects are not achieved in spite of but because of his style. The “cheap trite, and tawdry” enable him to present a world which a more elegant and precise style could only hint at. He uses language, consciously or not, in the manner which modern writers, notably Joyce, use deliberately, that is, he identifies his language with the consciousness of his characters. Mr. Whipple evidently expects all writing to conform to the “mot just’ technique of the Flaubert school. But fortunately style cannot be prescribed by rule.

Henry Miller.

New York, N. Y.

 

*********************************************
T. R. Whipple, review of An American Tragedy, The New Republic, April 1926

T. R. Whipple, review of American Tragedy New Republic, April 1926

 

**********************************************

 

See also: Henry Miller, The Books in My Life (New Directions, 1969), pp. 219-220. There, Miller misspells the title of Dreiser’s second novel as Jenny Gerhardt.

a message commenting on some aspects of Dreiser studies

 

 

The following is an email dated December 27, 2015 from me to a professor of American literature who is an authority on Sherwood Anderson. We had been in touch because she was writing an article that included Dreiser.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

********************************************************

 

 

Thank you very much for getting back to me.

A few follow-/up comments.

I met Richard Lingeman about 25 years ago at a Dreiser conference in Brockport, NY. At that time, the second volume of his Dreiser biography, which is excellent, was being published. He is well respected. I found him to be friendly, modest, and unassuming.

I was invited to dinner with a Dreiser descendant and her husband at their Manhattan apartment several years ago. I gave her a copy of a biography of Dreiser’s brother Paul Dresser — the songwriter — that had just been published. I thought she would be very pleased, but she did not seem interested. Her interest in Dreiser seemed to be based on family ties and perhaps on money inherited from the Dreiser Trust.

The Dreiser Trust exerts control over publishing and performance rights to Dreiser’s works, at least those protected by copyright. (I don’t know which works these would be.) It is my understanding that Tobias Picker and librettist Gene Scheer had a very difficult time getting rights to An American Tragedy for their opera (2005). Picker was thinking of composing an opera based on Sister Carrie instead. From what I can gather, the Dreiser Trust was committed to the stage adaptation of An American Tragedy in Charles Strouse’s musical version. Then they decided to give the rights to Picker for his opera.

The Trustee of the Dreiser Trust for a long time was Harold Dies. He was a cousin of Dreiser’s second wife, Helen, who inherited all of Dreiser’s papers, which were donated to the University of Pennsylvania. I met Mr. Dies about seven years ago. He was in his nineties then and was very active in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. He held a high position with the organization and had an office in their headquarters in Brooklyn Heights. He was a very nice man, very willing to assist me with Dreiser inquiries. He recently passed away.

I actually think (or at least suspect) that Sherwood Anderson is a better writer (qua writer) than Dreiser. I wish I could say I have read more of him.

Dreiser, who was given to plagiarism and didn’t seem ashamed of it, was guilty on one known occasion of plagiarizing from Anderson in 1926. In the New York World, it was alleged that Dreiser, in his poem, The Beautiful,” published in Vanity Fair, had lifted sentences from Anderson’s story “Tandy.” (The alleged plagiarism was pointed out by columnist Franklin P. Adams.) Anderson, contacted by reporters, said he did not believe Dreiser would have plagiarized: “It is one of those accidents that occur. The thought expressed has come, I am sure, to a great many man. If Mr. Dreiser has expressed it beautifully, it is enough.”

You commented that much of Anderson’s best writing was in the form of short stories. I found this interesting and useful to hear. You mentioned, with respect to Anderson, concision (something Dreiser certainly did not achieve, or aim to achieve), open endings, and ellipses. I have noticed (in passing) Anderson’s use of ellipses.

Dreiser reminds me of Balzac (a writer whom Dreiser discovered early, admired, and emulated), and vice versa. I first read Balzac in French in college. There do not seem to be nearly enough of Balzac’s works available in English translation, let alone good translations.

Both Balzac and Dreiser are easy to get into. Neither seemed to care about style or polish. (Compare, for example, a writer like Flaubert.) I once remarked to a well read acquaintance of mine (he agreed) that when it comes to Joyce — a writer who is in a superior class to which Dreiser does not belong — I find that I do not care about his characters, whereas in the case of the inferior writer, Dreiser (and this is true of Balzac, too), I find that I do care about his characters.

You mentioned your being “forgotten” in bibliographies. I have noticed that foreign works (both by and about Dreiser) tend to get ignored – one might say shamefully ignored – in bibliographies.

“Dreiser’s Alleged ‘Cribbing’ from Anderson Raises Furor”

 

 

downloadable PDF file below

 

 

“Dreiser’s Alleged ‘Cribbing’ from Anderson Raises Furor”

New York Herald Tribune

Tuesday, September 7, 1926

 

 

‘Dreiser’s Alleged Cribbing,’ NY Herald Tribune, September 1926

 

 

 

Virginia Woolf, “A Real American”

 

 

Virginia Woolf, “A Real American”; from The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume III, 1919-1924, pp. 86-88.  Originally published  in TLS, August 21, 1919.

A review of Free and Other Stones and Twelve Men which appraises Dreiser in general terms.

 

 

Virginia Woolf, ‘A Real American’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

selections re Dreiser from the diary of Elenaor Anderson

 

 

selections from The Diary of Eleanor Anderson

 

 

 

Posted above as a downloadable Word document:

“Selections from The Diary of Eleanor Anderson, 1933-1940,” compiled by Hilbert H. Campbell, The Sherwood Anderson Review, XXVI (winter 2001), pp. 10-11.

Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson was Sherwood Anderson’s third wife.

I wish to thank Sherwood Anderson scholar Claire Bruyère for calling my attention to this excerpt and providing me with a copy.

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“George Ade Absolves Dreiser”

 

 

 

On September 7, 1926, the New York Herald Tribune printed a story concerning alleged plagiarism by Dreiser, including plagiarism in writing Sister Carrie whereby Dreiser lifted a story by George Ade.

Ade’s reply to these charges, the text of which follows below, was printed in the Herald Tribune of September 9, 1926: “George Ade Absolves Dreiser Of Lifting His ‘Swift Worker’ ”

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

*******************************************************************

 

 

You have asked if Theodore Dreiser in his novel ‘Sister Carrie’ incorporated in one of his early chapters part of a story which I had written for ‘The Chicago Record.’ Before I reply to your inquiry let it be understood that I am simply complying with your request. To get back. I am not stirring up any charge against Mr. Dreiser, not after all these years. Along about 1898 I wrote for ‘The Record’ a story in fable form called The Two Mandolin Players and the Willing Performer.

In that story I had a character shown as cousin Gus from St. Paul. He was of the type then known as a swift worker. Probably we would call him a sheik today, seeing that we have made such a tremendous advance in recent years. In my little story I detailed the tactics which would be employed by Gus if he spotted a good looker on the train between St. Paul and Chicago.

When the very large and important novel called Sister Carrie came out I read it, and I was much amused to discover that Theodore Dreiser had incorporated in a description of one of his important characters the word picture of Cousin Gus which I had outlined in my newspaper story and which later appeared in a volume called ‘Fables in Slang.’ It is true that for a few paragraphs Mr. Dreiser’s copy for the book tallied very closely with my copy for the little story. When I discovered the resemblance I was not horrified or indignant. I was simply flattered. It warmed me to discover that Mr. Dreiser has found my description suitable for the clothing of one of his characters. Many people came to me and called my attention to the fact that a portion of my little fable had been found imbedded in the very large novel of Mr. Dreiser.

I figured that he had read my fable was about like his character in the novel and that he absorbed the description and used it without any intent of taking something which belonged to someone else. Most certainly I do not accuse Mr. Dreiser of plagiarism even by implication or in a spirit of pleasantry. I have a genuine admiration for him. To me he is a very large and commanding figure in American letters. While some of us have been building chicken coops, or, possibly, bungalows, Mr. Dreiser has been erecting skyscrapers. He makes the three-decker novel look like a pamphlet. He is the only writer on our list who has the courage and the patience and the painstaking qualities of observation to get all of the one _____ [illegible word] into the story.

Theodore Dreiser was born in Indiana and the Hoosiers are very proud of him. I knew rather intimately his brother, Paul, who wrote many popular songs and one highly esteemed here at home, ‘The Banks of the Wabash.’ I was active in planning a memorial to Paul to be placed on the banks of the Wabash down near his old home. While we were planning the memorial I had some correspondence with Theodore Dreiser. I am rather sorry that some one has reminded the Herald Tribune, of which I an constant reader and regular subscriber, that Mr. Dreiser got into his novel something which I read like something written by one before his novel came out.

It all happened so many years ago. It seems to raise the absolutely preposterous suggestion that Mr. Dreiser needs help. Anybody who writes novels containing approximately one million words each doesn’t need any help from any one. As I said before, while most of our guild are at work on tiny structures which stay close to the ground, Mr. Dreiser is putting up skyscrapers. If, in building one of his massive structures he used a brick from my pile, goodness knows he was welcome to it and no questions were asked or will be asked. These are the facts in the case. Mr. Dreiser hasn’t hurt my feelings at any time. I don’t want to hurt his feelings now.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

 

See also:

“did Dreiser plagiarize in writing his first novel?”

posted on this site at

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/did-dreiser-plagiarize-in-writing-his-first-novel/

James T. Farrell on “An American Tragedy” (from “Bernard Clare”)

 

 

The novelist James T. Farrell (1904-1979) was a great admirer of Dreiser. In his underrated novel Bernard Clare (The Vanguard Press, 1946), Farrell pays indirect tribute to Dreiser by having his two main characters engage in a discussion of An American Tragedy, about which the character Eva makes perceptive comments.

Many readers of An American Tragedy (and the admirers and makers of the film A Place in the Sun) have missed the point about the distinction between Roberta Alden and Sondra Finchley made by Farrell (indirectly, through his characters) here, although Dreiser certainly didn’t.

An excerpt from Bernard Clare is posted here below as a downloadable PDF  file.

 

 

 

from ‘Bernard Clare’

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

a visit with Dreiser; from “The Diary of Anaïs Nin”

 

 

 

from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934-1939, edited by Gunther Stuhlman, pp. 12-13

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

In January 1935, the writer Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), who became famous for her diaries, paid a visit to Dreiser in his apartment at the Hotel Ansonia in Manhattan. She recorded the visit in her diary, an excerpt from which is posted below as a downloadable PDF file. Her brief diary entry sheds some light on Dreiser’s customary demeanor.

This meeting seems to have escaped the notice of Dreiser biographers.

 

 

from ‘The Diary of Anais Nin’

 

 

— Roger W. Smith