Category Archives: miscellaneous

mentally at sea

 

 

I swear I can scarcely grasp the stupidity of men, at times, as much as I have witnessed & even been the victim of it. So called mind seems to me for the most part an illusion. The actions of men have little to do with it or its primary principle–logic. In fact, men act & react by some system of responses–chemic or psychic which has nothing to do with what we have been dreaming of as mind.

 

— Theodore Dressier, letter to Esther McCoy (excerpt), September 24, 1924; IN Letters of Theodore Dreiser: A Selection, Volume Two, edited by Robert H. Elias (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), pg. 430

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2020

 

 

 

 

 

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Addendum, March 12, 2020

 

I should perhaps clarify what I meant to imply by the cryptic title of this post.

Not the stupidity of mankind (though that is undeniable). But the near incoherence of Dreiser’s philosophic musings. I must admit that it can be ascertained what Dreiser means, and this is consistent with his lifelong beliefs and writings: that the “chemic or psyschic” aspect predominates in predetermining man’s behavior, not what one may think. But, Dreiser’s thoughts in this vein are very fuzzy and jejune and add nothing to our understanding. I could have done as well if not better in an eighth grade paper.

“a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made” (Dreiser, Pineville, and Herndon J. Evans)

 

 

 

The National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (the so-called Dreiser Committee), which had been organized by Theodore Dreiser, conducted hearings in Harlan County, Kentucky in November 1931 to investigate conditions in the Kentucky coal fields and provide support for striking miners there.

On November 6, the first day of the hearings (over which Dreiser presided), Dreiser was questioned aggressively by Herndon J. Evans, editor of the Pineville (KY) Sun. The hearings, which were held in the Lewallen Hotel in Pineville, in the words of Dreiser biographer Richard Lingeman, “resembled a congressional hearing.”

Dreiser’s exchange with Evans was widely reported. A subhead in the New York Herald Tribune (November 7, 1931) read: “Publisher [Evans] , Questioned as to Gifts to Needy Miners, Cross-Examines Novelist [Dreiser], Who Aids [American Civil Liberties] Union but Neglects Organized Charity.” Evans, The Tribune observed, “sought to learn if the novelist practiced what he advocated.”

From the interview transcript (Dreiser had been questioning Evans):

Mr. Evans: I would like to ask you a few questions, if you do not object.

Mr. Dreiser: Not at all.

Mr. Evans: You are a very famous novelist and have written several books. Would you kindly tell us what your royalties amount to?

Mr. Dreiser: I don’t mind. $200,000, approximately. Probably more.

Mr. Evans: What do you get a year, if you do not mind telling?

Mr. Dreiser: Last year I think I made $35,000.

Mr. Evans: Do you contribute anything to charity?

Mr. Dreiser: No, I do not.

Mr. Evans: That is all.

 

 

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Lester Cohen, one of a group of writers who accompanied Dreiser to Kentucky, wrote the following in his “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir” (Discovery no. 4, 1954):

It looked bad for Mr. Dreiser. Several times, when asked his political views, he had said he was interested in “Equity.” And here he was, making all this money, and not giving anything to charity. In fact, I had felt that Mr. Dreiser was a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made. It was as if all his life he had faced the accusation that he had not made much money, and finally here was a chance to stand forth not merely as a writer but as a man who had made great sums of money, and who from the deck of these lordly sums yet expressed his sympathies with those in life’s steerage below. [italics added]

 

 

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Reading Evans’s account, I was struck by an observation Thomas Kranidas made, in his master’s thesis on Dreiser (“The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” Columbia University, 1953) about “Dreiser’s yearning for the high class”:

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. It drove him to portray the rich with absurd, unreal strokes. It drove him in his non-fiction to tolerance of poverty and ugliness as the secret complement to thought and beauty.

 

 

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In his Discovery article, Cohen goes on to say:

Subsequently [to the Harlan County hearings] various members of the party were indicted for Criminal Syndicalism. And other writers went down to Harlan and were beaten up. And still others like Sherwood Anderson made common cause with us. …

The next I knew, Mr. Dreiser was concerned about his gold. How strange life is, and Time, as we know, marches on. Hoover was out of the White House and Roosevelt in. The bank holiday. And then, if you remember, Mr. Roosevelt and the Government called in gold and gold bank notes.

Do you remember Mr. Dreiser’s $200,000 from An American Tragedy? He had put it in it a vault, in gold.

Why gold? Who can say? And indeed, the enigma of life that Dreiser had studied all these many years, had it ever cast up a stranger concurrence than Dreiser and gold?

And yet, it is very understandable, as was everything about Dreiser, his suspiciousness, his surface coldness, the warmth and thoughtful nature of his inner being. Mr. Dreiser had, since his earliest youth, felt betrayed. First by hunger, the everlasting hunger of his youth, not merely the hunger for food, which he often experienced, but his hunger for love, understanding. ….

[Dreiser] looked about the world of the early Thirties, be felt its instability, the senselessness of its speakeasies, the nonsense of apple-selling as a way of life.

All his life he had worked, worked unceasingly. not merely on the novels and stories and plays the world knew, but on many part-finished or contemplated novels on which he and his secretaries had done exhaustive research. He was past sixty; he visualized now, in his fame, a golden age in which he could do all the things he wanted to, And he had $200,000, a fortune, to back him up. Why put it in failing banks, sinking stocks, mere greenbacks? What was the world standard–gold.

He would put it in gold–and now the gold was being called back in order to gold-plate the earth beneath Fort Knox.

I happened by chance to meet him one day, still bluff, hearty, under indictment [for “criminal syndicalism”], but a sorrow and crusty bitterness in his blue-gray eyes. He told me about the gold and then­-

“What would you do,” said he. And he told me, “I voted for him.” It was almost as if he had said: I voted for Roosevelt, now he’s taking my gold away.

I could see he felt again betrayed. “’Well,” I said, “you know what most people are doing.”

I have the rest of the story from a writer [Hy Kraft] we shall call K. … as to Mr. Dreiser and his gold. He talked to K. about it, and K. being one of those clever fellows who sought to turn adversity to advantage suggested that he would go to the papers, tell them about Mr. Dreiser’s resolve to back Roosevelt and the American people and suggested a headline, “Dreiser Turns In His Gold.”

And so he did, with pictures taken down in the vault.

 

 

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I think both Evans and Kranidas were very much on target. Dreiser never had money before An American Tragedy became a best-seller. When he got it, he could not help flaunting it. His compassion for the have-nots was admixed with a desire for wealth and its trappings. The writer formerly living in bohemian Greenwich Village now ensconced in a luxury penthouse apartment across the street from Carnegie Hall (and afterwards in a suite at the Ansonia Hotel), entertaining guests at parties there and on weekends on his Westchester estate. The nattily attired traveler with cane boarding an ocean liner or photographed with his mistress’s wolfhound.

Cohen was right. Dreiser was “a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made.” Status symbols were very important to him.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2020

unassuming disposition?

setting sail on trip to USSR, October 1927

Dreiser setting sail for the USSR, 1927

 

 

“… Dreiser appeals to the reader though the influence of his own unassuming, undogmatic disposition.”

— Edwin Berry Burgum, “Dreiser and His America,” New Masses, January 29 1946

 

 

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While it may be unfair of me to take one sentence out of context, as it were, I disagree with the implications of this statement.

As Thomas Kranidas convincingly explained in his master’s thesis on An American Tragedy,* Dreiser could be an insufferable snob.

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2019

 

 

* Thomas Kranidas, “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953. This thesis was unknown and ignored until Roger W. Smith discovered it, copied the thesis in its entirety, and posted it with Professor Kranidas’s approval.

Thomas Kranidas, ‘The Materials of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’

 

Dreiser’s weaknesses as a writer are also his strengths.

 

 

Theodore Dreiser’s weaknesses as a writer are also his strengths. Simplicity (artlessness) and directness; an almost childlike, “unconscious” sincerity; an unstudied manner of narration.

This observation and these thoughts occurred to me over the past week or so while studying one of Dreiser’s works that is almost never read nowadays. More on this to come.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 12, 2019

“Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free”; a scathing review and commentary

 

 

‘Poor Dreiser’ (re Dorothy Dudley’s Forgotten Frontiers) – The Bookman, Nov 1932

 

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

 
CHRONICLE AND COMMENT: Poor Dreiser

The Bookman; a Review of Books and Life

Volume 75. Issue 7

November 1932

pp. 682-684

 
This article is cited in Theodore Dreiser: A Primary Bibliography & Reference Guide by Donald Pizer, Richard W. Dowell, and Frederic E. Rusch as follows: “Expresses pity for Dreiser at having been the victim of Dorothy Dudley’s pretentious, philosophically silly biography (Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free), which was still committed to the Greenwich Village causes of the early 1920s and provided little new and useful information. Even Dreiser deserved better.”

I do not feel that the writer of this anonymous article held Dreiser in much esteem. Consider the introductory paragraph:

We should never have believed that there could be a book on Theodore Dreiser written in worse English than the Master’s own. But that startling feat has been accomplished by Dorothy Dudley in Forgotten Frontiers, subtitled Dreiser and the Land of the Free. It is a temptation to say that Dreiser has only received his due; but fairness demands the admission that he deserved a better fate in the first lengthy volume devoted by another to his career and work. After all, with all his incompetence as a writer and with all his muddy, childish ideas, he did succeed in putting a number of veracious records of his time into books. Miss Dudley lacks the veraciousness, shares his ideas–plus a few more even too silly for him–and outdoes him in language. Hers is not the pathetic or laughable blundering of one born lacking a sense for words, but a pretentiousness almost beyond endurance. …

The above document is a complete transcription.

 

 
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A personal note:

I read Dorothy Dudley’s Forgotten Frontiers quite a while ago. I read but don’t remember it well — perhaps because it was poorly written and not well focused.

I agree with the criticisms expressed in this scathing and very well written Bookman piece. Yet I don’t think the book is a total waste. Miss Dudley wrote with conviction. She wrote at a time when Dreiser was considered more important (then) than he is now. She knew Dreiser and was therefore privy to information that others didn’t have.

The book is, overall, weak, not well done or put together, but it is still good to have it. In conclusion, I would say that Dorothy Dudley provided a service to Dreiserians.

 
— 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.

a telegram from Helen

 

 

 

telegramfromhelen10-18-1920

 

 

 

Theodore Dreiser met Helen (Patges) Richardson in Greenwich Village in September 1919. They became lovers and moved to Los Angeles shortly after beginning their romance.

The following telegram from Helen to Dreiser was dated October 18, 1920.

Can you imagine getting such a telegram? I cannot recall reading any form of correspondence with such a desperate, anguished plea. In fifteen words.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2019