Category Archives: Dreiser and fellow writers

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

 

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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.

 

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

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

 

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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

 

 

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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

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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