Category Archives: Dreiser the person

an excerpt from the diary of Esther McCoy



The following is an excerpt from the diary of Esther McCoy’, which is held by the Smithsonian Institution:

April 7, 1926

Today I took a job as waitress at a restaurant on eighth street. Serve a week meals, and tips – two meals a day. She, the manager, didn’t ask much about my experience, because she said I looked as if I could learn it easily. Christ. I went all the way home thinking about it. How delicious. Yes, I may learn it. And today, also I heard from Isabel that Dreiser had a new mistress, a Mrs. Miller. That means nothing, but it brings back to me both a pity for him and for myself. For him because he is grasping frantically for someone to cohabitate with, that his remaining strength won’t be lost. How sad it is, and will he never be able to live on be satisfied until he can meet [[strikethrough]] on [[?]] [[/strikethrough]] on sexual bases everyone woman in whom he is interested. I am bilqued [[sic]] perhaps that he dropped me yet I know the uselessness of trying to turn sex into an attraction which uses anything but that. What nice times we had together. [[strikethrough]] until [[/strikethrough]] Why can’t he accept a relationship without sex.


“Esther McCoy ( I 904-89) was an author of novels, stories, screenplays, and political journalism. … Born in Kansas, she spent her childhood in Arkansas and was attending the University of Michigan when she and Dreiser first met. She initiated a correspondence with Dreiser on 7 May I 924, writing from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to describe her enthusiastic reactions to his books.” — Theodore Dreiser, Letters to Women; New Letters, Volume II, edited by Thomas P. Riggio, pg. 180


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  October 2022

could Dreiser ever truly love anyone?


The answer is NO.



Roger W. Smith, email to Thomas P. Riggio, November 4, 2016

Dreiser (who was not a good husband and never became a parent) was incapable of really, truly loving another person in his adulthood and never did. (See Harry Stack Sullivan’s oft quoted definition of absolute love.) A corollary was that he could never freely accept love or kindness nor trust anyone’s good intentions towards him.

As Sullivan wrote: “When the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one’s own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists. … under no other circumstances is a state of love present, regardless of the popular usage of the word.” ( Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry: The First William Alanson White Memorial Lectures. New York; W. W. Norton & Company, 1966. pp. 42-43)

Dreiser NEVER attained this.



Thomas P. Riggio, email to Roger W. Smith, November 4, 2016

The issue I thought we were discussing was Dreiser’s relationship with women. As to his ability to love another person, that’s another matter — one too complicated, for me at least, to make any judgments about.

It’s tough enough dealing with that topic in regard to people we know well in our own lives, never mind someone long dead whom we’ve never met. And then there are so many different criteria that people use to determine what it means to love. For instance, you mention only two, not being a husband and not having children, but that could be applied to Christ as well! Philandering husbands might still love their wives: Bill Clinton seems to “love” Hillary, for instance. As I said, it’s too complex for my simple mind to understand, so you may well be correct.



The issue is not too complex! Biographers and psychobiographers make such judgments all the time.

Dreiser scholars don’t want to go to deeply into his psyche because of what they might find.

The Dreiser archives are massive. He saved practically every letter, telegram, and scrap of paper that ever came into his hands. His love affairs and romantic entanglements have been well documented.

There is much, also, in Dreiser’s own autobiographical writings that reveals how he habitually dealt with other people, his family, relatives, and his spouses. What is notable is that he was constantly worried that someone would be unfaithful to him — or, in the case of non-intimate acquaintances, such as people he had business dealings with — that someone would cheat him. He had many acquaintances, but hardly any in the category of what you would call a best friend. He just plain could not trust or give himself to anyone. In the case of intimate relationships with women, he demanded that they pledge and observe absolute fidelity to him, but would not pledge it to them. See my essay

“Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

on this site at

for just one example — a very telling one –of how this played out in real life.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  September 2017