Category Archives: miscellaneous

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

“Mr. Benchley Interviews Theodore Dreiser”

 

 

‘Mr. Benchley Interviews Theodore Dreiser’ – Life 8-15-1926

 

 

 

Posted here (above) as a PDF file is a spoof by the humorist Robert Benchley.

 

“Mr. Benchley Interviews Theodore Dreiser”

Life, April 15, 1926

Roger W. Smith, letter to editor; August 1, 1990

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I am posting this letter of mine to the Editor of “News at 10,” the alumni newsletter of the New York University Department of Journalism because it speaks, from the perspective of journalism, about Dreiser as I perceived him and his works at an early stage of my acquaintance with him.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

 

“mistaken attribution (Dreiser credited with early news story he didn’t write)”

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/mistaken-attribution-by-t-d-nostwich-dreiser-credited-with-early-news-story-he-didnt-write/

 

Note that I now doubt that Dreiser wrote the January 12-13, 1894 St. Louis Republic stories about the hanging of Sam Welsor.

source materials re Frederick Rotzler (Theodore Dreiser’s “captain”)

 

 

Thomas P. Riggio has published an article:

“Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square” in

Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 11, no. 2 (Winter 2016)

in which, for the first time, the identity of “the captain,” a figure in Chapter XLV of Sister Carrie (“Curious Shifts of the Poor”), was identified, proving that the figure of “the captain,” a chaplain who aids homeless men by soliciting donations from the public for their shelter, did indeed have a real-life model.

Almost all of the primary source material in Professor Riggio’s article came from me and not from his research, as I have explained in my post:

“a scholarly rip-off; the real identity of Theodore Dreiser’s chaplain”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/a-scholarly-rip-off-the-real-identity-of-theodore-dreisers-chaplain/

I have posted here much of the primary material I have collected in the form of downloadable PDF files. The material has already been used (without attribution) by Professor Riggio. Some Dreiser scholars may find it useful to have access to the full text of the articles at a future date.

 

 

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The articles posted below concern the real life “captain” in Dreiser’s novel: Frederick Rotzler (b. circa 1859).

Some of the articles feature Rotzler. In others, he is mentioned in passing. They describe charitable (or what might be described as missionary) activities the same as those described by Dreiser.

The earliest articles describe Rotzler as having served as a chaplain to National Guard units.

A few facts about Rotzler (other than the charitable activities described by Dreiser) emerge:

Rotzler tried to remain independent and nonsectarian. He was not an ordained minister. His denomination, such as it was, was Pentecostal.

He had been doing his charitable work in Worth Square, soliciting donations for homeless men, beginning in 1892. Sister Carrie was published in 1900. (Dreiser came to Manhattan for the first time in the summer of 1894 and settled there permanently in late 1894. So, he came not long after Rotzler had begun his charitable work.)

Rotzler does not appear to have been the proselytizing type. Rather, he was someone who conceived of his mission as helping the poor and downtrodden without seeking personal glory or credit.

Besides seeking to find beds for the homeless, he would visit prisons and hospitals during daytime hours.

 

 

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imageedit_3_5018844377 (2).jpg

The Worth Monument is located in Worth Square, at Broadway and 24th Street in Manhattan, adjacent to Madison Square Park. The monument marks the grave of General William Jenkins Worth (1794– 1849), who served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Worth Street in Lower Manhattan is named after him. (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)

 

 

imageedit_1_6437603324.jpg

Present day Worth Square, where Frederick Rotzler did his charitable work. (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)

 

 

 

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1 – ‘The Fourth in Camp’ – NY Times 7-5-1889

 

2 – ‘In the Eleventh District’ – NY Times 4-2-1890

 

3 – ‘Eight Court-Martialed’ – NY Times 7-31-1890

 

4 – ‘National Guard Notes’ – NY Times 11-19-1893

 

5 – ‘A Preacher Unordained’ – NY Times 11-26-1893

 

6 – ‘National Guard Notes’ – NY Times 12-31-1893

 

7 – ‘Met at the Altar to Pray’ – NY Times 3-15-1894

 

8 – ‘Father Lambert Welcomed’ – NY Times 5-23-1894

 

9 – ‘The Gospel Through the Megaphone’ – The World (NY) 9-6-1896

 

10 – ‘Lodging for the Homeless’ – NY Times 12-20-1897

 

11 – ‘Dewey Arch Column Ablaze’ – NY Times 5-14-1900

 

12 – ‘Shelters A Little Army’ – NY Times 11-18-1901

 

13 – ‘Church Services To-morrow’ – NY Times 3-20-1909

 

14 – ‘Religious Notices’ – NY Times 6-4-1910

 

15 – ‘Tending His Flock by Night’ – The Continent 12-11-1913

 

16 – ‘Church Services To-morrow’ – NY Times 1-3-1914

 

17 ‘Putting His Congregation to Sleep’ – Literary Digest 1-16-1914

 

 

SOURCES:

 

“The Fourth in Camp”

New York Times

July 5, 1889

 

“In the Eleventh District”

New York Times

April 2, 1890

 

“Eight Court-Martialed”

New York Times

July 31, 1890

 

“National Guard Notes

New York Times

November 19, 1893

 

“A Preacher Unordained”

New York Times

November 26, 1893

 

“National Guard Notes”

New York Times

December 31, 1893

 

“Met at the Altar to Pray”

New York Times

March 15, 1894

 

“Father Lambert Welcomed”

New York Times

March 23, 1894

 

“The Gospel Through the Megaphone”

The World (NY)

September 6, 1896

 

“Lodging for the Homeless”

New York Times

December 20, 1897

 

“Dewey Arch Column Ablaze”

New York Times article

May 14, 1900

 

“Shelters a Little Army”

New York Times

November 18, 1901

 

“Church Services To-morrow”

New York Times

March 20, 1909

 

“Religious Notices”

New York Times

June 4, 1910

 

“Tending His Flock by Night”

The Continent

December 11, 1913

 

 

“Church Services To-morrow”

New York Times

January 3, 1914

 

“Putting His Congregation to Sleep”

Literary Digest

January 16, 1914

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Man’s Life is Dedicated to Preaching’ – Wash Post 7-1-1906

 

I have also posted here (above) as a PDF file an article by Theodore Dreiser:

“This Man’s Life Is Dedicated to Preaching to the World the Gospel of Human Brotherhood”

The Washington Post

July 1, 1906

which was originally published in Success magazine.

The article faithfully describes the charitable activities of “the captain” in Worth Square.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018