Category Archives: miscellaneous

a faux philosopher


I have no theories about life, or the solution of economic and political problems. Life, as I see it, is an organized process about which we can do nothing in the final analysis. Of course, science, art, commercial progress, all go to alleviate and improve and ease the material existence of humanity, and that for the great mass, is something. But there is no plan, as I believe, from Christianity down, that can be more than a theory. And dealing with man is a practical thing—not a theoretical one. Nothing can alter his emotions, his primitive and animal reactions to life. Greed, selfishness, vanity, hate, passion, love, are all inherent in the least of us, and until such are eradicated, there can be no Utopia. Each new generation, new century brings new customs, new ideas, new theories, but misery, weakness, incapacities, poverty, side by side with happiness, strength, power, wealth, always have, and no doubt, always will exist. And until that intelligence which runs this show sees fit to remould the nature of man, I think it always will be the survival of the fittest, whether in the monarchies of England, the democracies of America, or the Soviets of Russia.

— Dreiser to Sergei Dinamov,Letters of Theodore Dreiser: A Selection, Volume Two, edited by Robert H. Elias (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), pg. 449-450

This is “vintage” Dreiser qua philosopher. Hopelessly out of his depth. Pseudo profound.

But at least expressing core beliefs that made him a bona fide naturalist. Grounded in Herbert Spencer’s (a great influence on Dreiser) adapting and popularizing of Darwin. “Survival of the fittest” was Spencer’s term.

Dreiser could have said just the opposite; it would have made as much (little) sense and had the same import.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

a “wretched loser?”


The following is an excerpt from a new blog post:

The Sunny Side of American Life

Why our greatest writers found their inspiration in misery and failure

by David Mikics


June 8, 2022

“When Dreiser first came to New York in 1894, in the midst of an economic crash, he was struck by the “hugeness and force and heartlessness of the great city.” New York was “gross and cruel,” he noted. Dreiser slept in flophouses, a wretched loser like Hurstwood in Sister Carrie, the scandalous first novel he published a few years later. Like Crane and Norris, Dreiser never lost the sense that life is ruthless.”



This is misleading and in fact inaccurate.

Dreiser visited New York City and siblings living there in the summer of 1894. He returned to the City for good in late 1894 and had some difficulty getting newspaper work. But he got his footing rather quickly and was hired in the spring of 1895 as a magazine editor. His first editing job, for the magazine Ev’ry Month, lasted for about two years. He then had a brief but quite successful career as a freelance writer for magazines. Dreiser was married in December 1898 and seemed destined to live a comfortable middle class life.

Dreiser began writing Sister Carrie in the fall of 1899. He was not down or out or homeless. He and his wife were living in an Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. Sister Carrie was published in 1900 by Doubleday, Page & Co. The events on which the novel is based occurred in the mid-1880s.

Dreiser then began a second novel, eventually published as Jennie Gerhardt. Troubled by financial worries and his inability to work on Jennie Gerhardt (he got stalled after a few chapters), Dreiser became depressed and began a period of restless wandering. He and his wife Jug (a nickname) gave up their Manhattan apartment and for the most part were living separately. This period of despair and impoverishment was recounted by Dreiser in his posthumously published account An Amateur Laborer.

This Hurstwood-like state came after Sister Carrie was written and published, and the misery and despair which Dreiser experienced then were short lived. In August 1904, Dreiser was hired by the publishing firm Street and Smith, and this led to several lucrative editorial posts in which he continued to work for several years before leaving voluntarily and returning to fiction.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

June 2022

Ayn Rand and Dreiser


Dreiserians may be interested in the following articles by Marilyn Moore posted on the Atlas Society site:

Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 1

At the end of Part 1, there is a link to Part 2 which does not work.

Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 3

Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 4

Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 5

David Karsner, “Dreiser, the Daddy of American Realists”


David Karsner, ‘Dreiser, the Daddy of American Realists’ – NY Herald Tribune 6-20-1926

David Karsner obit – NY Times 2-22-1941


Posted here (PDF files above):

David Karsner

“Dreiser, the Daddy of American Realists”

The New York Herald Tribune

June 20, 1926

Plus an Karsner’s obituary,


— posted by Roger W. Smith

James T. Farrell, “Theodore Dreiser: In Memoriam”


James T. Farrell, ‘Theodore Dreiser; I Memoriam’ – Saturday Review 1-12-1946


Posted here (downloadable PDF file above)

James T. Farrell

“Theodore Dreiser: In Memoriam”

Saturday Review of Literature

January 12, 1946

pp. 16–17, 27–28

Dreiser deserved this tribute. And, Farrell had the generosity of spirit and critical acumen to write it.


— -posted by Roger W. Smith


A couple of books from my personal library



a letter to the editor re Dreiser


Dreiser letter to editor re M. M. Hedges – The Dial 4-19-1917

Downloadable PDF file above.


The letter, from M. H. Hedges, was published in The Dial of April 19, 1917.

The letter references an article by Dreiser, “Life, Art and America,” published in the February 1917 issue of Seven Arts.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  March 2022

George Seldes, “The Nobel Prize and Dreiser”


George Seldes, ‘The Nobel Prize and Dreiser’ (letter) – NY Times 11-4-1984 (2)


“The Nobel Prize and Dreiser”

letter to the editor

George Seldes

The New York Times Book Review

November 4, 1984


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

“Art Spaces looks to honor Theodore Dreiser”




Posted here:

“Art Spaces looks to honor Theodore Dreiser”

By Steve Kash

Spectrum, Spring 2017

pp. 24-27

The article was based in part on an interview I had with Mr. Kash in Terre Haute, Indiana on March 10, 2017.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  March 2022

can a great book be badly written?


Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?

Yes, many pages in Faulkner’s most celebrated novels are atrociously written. But this terrible and occasionally illegible prose never quite overcomes the reader’s trust in Faulkner’s profound creative power. Theodore Dreiser is another example of a writer redeemed from stylistic bankruptcy by his enormous imaginative capital. And the early Bellow’s passion and intelligence always take you by the hand as you wade through the soupy parts of “The Adventures of Augie March.” On the other hand, you have Nabokov’s “Ada,” a massive, strenuously written novel, often beautiful but ultimately meretricious. Some novels by Nabokov’s pupils also come to mind.

— “Pankaj Mishra Says Faulkner’s Work Is ‘Atrociously Written,’ and Great,” The New York Times Book Review, March 3, 2022


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022