Category Archives: obituaries

editorial re Theodore Dreiser

 

 

‘Theodore Dreiser’ (editorial) – Wash Post 12-31-1945

 
attached (above) as downloadable PDF file

“Theodore Dreiser,” Washington Post, December 31, 1945, pg. 8

Theodore Dreiser died on December 28, 1945.

The editorial provides a thoughtful appraisal of Dreiser’s career and of his strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
 

editorial comment regarding Dreiser, upon his death (“The Times of London,” “The Spectator”)

 

 

As noted elsewhere in this blog, the obituaries of Theodore Dreiser, who died on December 28, 1945, were “paltry, formulaic, and tepid, and there [were] few original ones.”

An exception is an obituary in The Times of London which is transcribed below, followed by commentary in The Spectator four days later by an editorial writer who took exception to remarks made in The Times about Dreiser.

 

 

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The Times (London)

Monday, December 31, 1945

“MR. THEODORE DREISER / AMERICAN NOVELIST”

 

 

Mr. Theodore Dreiser, the American novelist, died at Hollywood on Friday night, shortly before completing the last chapter of a new trilogy called “The Stoic,” telegraphs our Los Angeles Codependent.

There was a time when Theodore Dreiser was widely regarded as the most impressive figure in American literature since Whitman, excepting only Mark Twain. He seemed to possess something of Whitman’s symbolic quality, a similar power of articulating popular criticism while appearing to maintain an Olympian detachment, a comparable largeness and intensity of purpose. In volume after volume of prodigious size he depicted in unwearying detail the rhythm and colour of life in the great new cities of the United States. Of his sprawling strength and vitality as a novelist there can to-day be little question. But Dreiser has not quite the towering stature in American literature that he possessed in the eyes of his warmest admirers during, say, the 1920s. In retrospect his novels come a little too near to being vast and unwieldy exercises in descriptive journalism to attain the high rank that was once claimed for them.

It is not merely that Dreiser was an incorrigibly unselective writer or that he wrote in an almost painfully plodding, graceless, and prolix style. Nor is it the arid and melancholy of his cast of thought that limits his power in the first place. It is rather the unilluminated quality of his imaginative creation, the absence in him of any strong feeling for what was not obvious and on the surface of American life, that accounts for peculiarly bleak impression his novels make. After his tremendous success with “An American Tragedy” in 1925, he wrote volumes of autobiographical complexion or of social criticism – volumes which in all essential respects were not very different in descriptive quality from his fiction.

Born in 1871 in Terre Haute, in Indiana, the son of humble German parents who had emigrated to the Middle West, Dreier was one of a family of 13 children. His father’s narrow and authoritarian Roman Catholicism, joined as it was to a complete ineffectualness in practical, matters, drove him at an early age into hatred of all Churches and dogmatic creeds. His mother’s struggles to support the family always shadowed the love he felt for her. It was, without question, the experience of his childhood which made Dreiser a materialist by temperament. He found his education where he could, went early to work, and in turn sold newspapers in the streets of Chicago, washed dishes in a restaurant, was a photographer’s assistant, a clerk in a railway goods station, a packer in a hardware firm. Then, through the generosity of a woman teacher who had discerned his abilities, he went to the State University of Indiana.

At various times between 1891 and 1895 he was a newspaper reporter in Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York. In observing from time to time the movement of events and personalities behind the scenes in that predatory gilded age of American expansion he came to see life in the big cities as a naked and ruthless struggle for existence which devoured all the conventional pieties of the current moral code. His reading of Herbert Spencer and T. H. Huxley seems to have confirmed him in his view of man as a creature little better than the beasts, dominated by fear and hunger. When he conceived the ambition of becoming, in some sort, “the American Balzac,” it was with the firm intention of conceding nothing to other dissenting views.

“Sister Carrie,” his first novel, ponderous in style but of a brutally harsh realism for the times, appeared in 1900, and made little stir. Legend has surrounded the event with the suggestion that the book was deliberately suppressed by the publishers, but in fact it seems to have been issued in quite a normal way, and the most that can be urged in the circumstances in that there was possibly a lack of anxiety on the publisher’s part to “push” its sale. Dreiser, however, who was by then a successful journalist, felt deeply injured by the inadequate notice the book received (and by various items of hostile criticism), and did not publish another novel for 11 years. In the interval, he held several editorial posts, being editor-in-chief of the Butterick publications from 1907 until 1910. In 1911 he produced the relatively short “Jennie Gerhardt,” which won considered praise. Then came “The Financier” (1912, rewritten 1927) and “The Titan” (1914), which embodied at enormous length, and with a fair degree of novelist’s license, something of the career of a well-known traction magnate of the period, C. T. Yerkes. These are probably Dreiser’s best books, Illustrating with obdurate strength the corrupting psychology of wealth and power in American society.

Neither his novels nor later works of non-fiction – “A Traveller at Forty,” “A Hoosier Holiday,” “Hey Rub-A-Dub-Dub,” and others – received anything like their just due when they first appeared. It was necessary for him to await the full development of an after-war mood of disillusionment before receiving adequate recognition. That, and rather more than that, came with the appearance of the earnest, massive but fatiguing “An American Tragedy,” an over-praised book.

There remain his volumes of autobiography, which in chronological order begin with “Dawn”; “Moods Cadenced and Declaimed”; “Chains”; a volume of short stories – his short stories were merely large-sized chunks of function, indistinguishable in artistic method from his novels; “Dreiser Looks at Russia,” written after a tourist’s visit with Mr. Sinclair Lewis in 1927, very sympathetic in tone but expressing doubt of the outcome; and “Tragic America,” published in this country in 1932 and leaving an impression of somewhat rhetorical bitterness and heat. In the 1939-45 war he several times created a minor stir by the virulence of his anti-British outbursts. In 1942, for instance, he described the British as ‘lousy and aristocratic horse-riding snobs,” predicted that Russia would go down in defeat, and hoped the Germans would invade England, which in any case had done nothing in the war, he said, except borrow money and men from the United States. Having thus spoken his mind on the eve of a public address which he was due to deliver in Toronto, he was obliged to depart in a hurry from the city and from Canada. Dreiser was not a sympathetic personality and grew crabbed and assertive in his last years. As a writer, he was, in one sense, as native to the American soil as Hawthorne or Whitman, a grim, hard, uncompromising, and powerful witness to the truth as he saw it.

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The Spectator, Friday, January 4, 1946

 

Ordinary readers – I will not say admirers – of Theodore Dreiser’s works will, I should imagine, have read with some surprise the depreciatory obituary notice of him in Monday’s Times. Take one judgement alone: “The earnest, massive, but fatiguing An American Tragedy, an over-praised book.” Well, anyone, of course, is free to think that, and to say that. Equally anyone is free to express astonishment, as I take leave to do, at such a verdict. To me this deeply moving novel has always seemed charged with all the relentless inevitability of a Greek tragedy. That I am not alone in this I know. I may be in a minority, but I doubt it.

 

death notice, Helen Dreiser, Los Angeles Times

 

 

death notice, Helen Dreiser, Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1955

 

The entry for Helen Esther Dreiser, Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, is at the bottom of the left hand column.

 

 

 

Helen Dreiser death notice LA Times 9-27-1955 FINAL.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, September 27, 1955, pg. 32

Edward M. Dreiser obituary

 

 

“Edward Dreiser Dead,” New York Times, January 31, 1958.

 

Edward M. Dreiser (1873-1958) was Theodore Dreiser’s younger brother.

 

 

 

 

Edward Dreiser obituary, NY Times 1-31-1958

 

New York Times, Friday, January 31, 1958

 

Esther Dickerson obituary

 

 
“Mrs. E. A. Dickerson Dies,” Sunday Oregonian (Portland, OR), August 27, 1916

 

Esther A. (Schnepp, or Schanab) Dickerson (1840-1916) was Theodore Dreiser’s aunt. She was the younger sister of Dreiser’s mother, Sarah (Schnepp, or Schanab) Dreiser. Samuel T. Dickerson was Esther’s second husband.

Esther Dickerson was also the maternal grandmother of Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, Helen (Patges) Dreiser. Esther’s daughter by her first marriage, Ida V. Parks, married George Patges. Their daughter Helen E. Patges married, secondly, Theodore Dreiser as his second wife.

The obituary notes that Mrs. Dickerson died at the residence of her daughter (by her second husband) Mrs. Carl M. Dies. The daughter, Myrtle Josie (Dickerson) Dies, was the mother of Harold James Dies (1914-2012), a relative of Theodore Dreiser’s second wife Helen (Patges) Dreiser. Harold Dies became Trustee of the Dreiser Trust.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Esther Dickerson obit, Sunday Oregonian (Portland) 8-27-1916, pg. 14

 

Sunday Oregonian (Portland, OR), August 27, 1916

 

 

Yvette Szekely Eastman obituary

 

 

 

“Yvette Eastman, 101, Photographer, Longtime Aquinnah Summer Resident”

by Phyllis Meras

Vineyard Gazette (Martha’s Vineyard, MA), Friday, January 24, 2014

 

 

Yvette Eastman, author, photographer, longtime Aquinnah seasonal resident and wife of the late author, magazine editor and social and political critic Max Eastman, died on Jan. 13 in New York city after a brief illness. She was 101.

From the time of her 1958 marriage to Mr. Eastman until two years ago, Mrs. Eastman would spend nearly half of each year at her East Pasture home overlooking Squibnocket Pond, with Menemsha Pond, Vineyard Sound, the Elizabeth Islands and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. She said she was certain she had the best view on the Island. To assure that the site she so loved would never be spoiled, she had over the years given much of the acreage she owned to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. When not on the Island, Mrs. Eastman lived in New York city in an apartment just off Fifth avenue.

She was born Oct. 12, 1912 in Budapest, Hungary, a daughter of Artur Szkely and Marthe Meylan. At the time of her birth her father, an economist, was secretary of the Budapest chamber of commerce and industry and director of its inter-commerce bureau. He was also the author of several works on economics. During World War II, he became secretary of the treasury of Hungary. Her mother was from French Switzerland. In her 1995 memoir, Dearest Wilding, Yvette Eastman recounts her own storybook life.

She tells of her birth mother’s abandonment by her father during Yvette’s infancy; then of her father and stepmother’s divorce while Yvette was still a toddler. With her half sister, the late Suzanne Sekey, Yvette’s stepmother, Margaret Szkely, brought her to the United States. Her stepmother was briefly married to an American and the family lived in Brooklyn. But the marriage was extremely short-lived and mother and daughters moved to Manhattan where Margaret Szekely Monahan supported them by becoming a designer of fashionable ladies’ underwear, as well as writing about important American figures in the arts for publications in Budapest.

As a newspaper and magazine correspondent, Yvette’s stepmother interviewed such notables as the novelist Theodore Dreiser, author of the novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, among others. Yvette’s memoir recounts her seduction at the age of 17 by the then 50-plus year-old writer, their long-lasting love affair and his nurturing of her intellectual enthusiasms. Never really having known a father (though she and her half-sister did go to Budapest as teenagers to meet Artur Szekely), Dreiser was a father figure as well as lover. Her book’s title comes from his nickname for her, Wilding, and is filled with love letters she received from him. It was also through her stepmother that she met Max Eastman decades before they married. Through him Yvette would come to the Vineyard.

Although her principal interests were always in literature and art, after high school she attended business school, not knowing what might lie ahead. During Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, she worked as a social investigator in the Emergency Relief Bureau. Later she worked with the Department of Welfare in New York city. After her marriage she gave up the workplace. But writing had always been a major interest and she dreamed of doing serious writing of her own. During her association with Dreiser, she had translated a French dramatization of An American Tragedy into English for him. Still, it took decades — even after Max Eastman’s death in 1969 — before she settled down to do the personal writing she had always longed to do.

A devoted beachgoer, she had retained a lifetime right to ocean swimming at the Zack’s Cliffs property that had belonged to Max Eastman but had been sold to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There she met Marta Sguibin, who would become one of her closest friends.

Marta was the governess for Caroline and John Kennedy and later a cook for Mrs. Onassis. Through her, Yvette met Mrs. Onassis. Hearing Yvette’s life story and learning that she had kept Dreiser’s letters, Mrs. Onassis, by then a book editor, urged Yvette to put the letters into a book and to recount her full life story.

At the McDowell Writers’ Colony, she did just that. Her depiction of New York intellectual life in the 1930s and 1940s was heralded by one book reviewer as “compelling, thought-provoking history.” The New York Times reviewer called it a memoir “as clear-eyed as anything penned by the celebrated American realist (Dreiser) she loved.”

Her memoir got under way at the writers’ colony; she later completed it, working in a cubicle at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York and on the Vineyard. Her discipline was to write every morning except Sunday. On that one day of the week, weather permitting, she indulged even into her 90s in the French game called boule on a specially-constructed court at East Pasture. Regulars who came to play included the late Don Page and the late Gilbert Harrison, neighbors Eva and Stephen Weinstein, house guests of her Canadian Aquinnah friends, Avrum and Dora Morrow, Max Eastman’s great nephew Charles Young, who became her caretaker after Max’s death, and many others. When Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s children were old enough to play, Yvette organized special children’s boule games for them and the Morrow grandchildren. They were always followed by ice cream and cake parties. (Ice cream was a favorite treat of Yvette’s.)

After her memoir, she began work on a book about Max, but never finished it. She also wrote occasional poetry and prose pieces for the Gazette. In afternoons, she would make her way down to the Squibnocket beach below her house for a swim and to watch the sailboats tacking by. Or she would head for Squibnocket Associates Beach or the Zack’s Cliffs beach with friends and a picnic basket. She liked being asked out to dinner or enjoyed having friends come to visit, from on and off-Island. Frequently it was relatives, such as her sister Sue and Cornelius Clark, whose father had been married to her stepmother, or her nieces Pascal Soriano and Florence Bachoven. Her sister’s friend and business partner the late Harold Leeds and the late Robert Giroux of the publishing firm, Farrar, Straus & Giroux were also regularly invited for weeklong stays. Guests brought their pets if they had them, for Yvette was a great lover of animals. Invariably there was a cat or two — Twiggy, Sebastian, Daisy or Sguby — sharing the East Pasture house or the New York apartment with her.

Although she never enjoyed cooking — remembering with horror trying to prepare chicken for Max soon after their marriage and adding allspice when a piquant seasoning was required — she enthusiastically gave annual giant summer cocktail parties. Wendy Weldon of Chilmark often did the catering.

As her stepmother had, Yvette delighted in the company of writers and artists and actors. Her close Island friends included the late Vineyard Gazette editor and publisher Henry Beetle Hough, the late New York Times movie critic Bolsey Crowther and his wife Florence, the late publisher Hiram Haydn and his wife, Mary, and the late Shakespearian actress and director Margaret Webster, another East Pasture neighbor. Her guests would not only enjoy the view and the company, but Yvette’s stunning black and white photographs of Max, of Vineyard sea and dunes and moors, her own drawings and the paintings by friends that decorated her small, simple home that never took precedence over its natural surroundings.

She enjoyed traveling, but did it infrequently, although she was diligent about going to Geneva, Switzerland, to see her birth mother in her later years. (They had finally met when Yvette was 19.) She also would go regularly to see her stepmother who remained in New York. With Max, she spent time in the Caribbean; for her 90th birthday, she went to Montreal and she also went to Italy and revisited central Europe.

Mostly she would go from New York to the Vineyard each June and remain until after Thanksgiving, or occasionally Christmas, so she could celebrate the holidays with her good friends Peggy and the late Nick Freydberg, or her East Pasture neighbors, the Weinsteins.

Stephen Weinstein recalled: “At one of the last Thanksgivings that she had with us, maybe six years ago, she suggested that we all say what we were thankful for. When it came to be her turn, she said in her irrepressible way, in her lovely lyrical voice, with a sparkle in her brown eyes, ‘I’m thankful for still being here.’ ”

At her 100th and 101st birthday parties, celebrated in New York, she enjoyed the company, the ice cream and cake and insisted on finishing two glasses of champagne. She read the New York Times each day and the New Yorker each week until just before her death.

“Yvette was cutting edge,” Stephen Weinstein said. “Her death marks the end of an era,”

She is survived by two nieces, Pascale Soriano of New York city and Florence Bachofen of Zollikon, Switzerland; a great nephew, Massimo Soriano of New York city and a great niece, Paloma Soriano of New York city; Nancy Clark, wife of her late step half-brother, Cornelius Clar, of Siler City, N.C.; Charles Young of Aquinnah and his sister, Rebecca Young of New York city, great nephew and great niece of Max Eastman; Richard Eastman of Shasta, Calif., great nephew of Max Eastman; Anne and Cordelia Fuller of New York city, great nieces of Max Eastman, and by her beloved cat, Sguby.

She was predeceased by her half sister Suzanne Sekey; her half-brother Thomas Szekely and her step half-brother Cornelius Clark.

A memorial service will be held this summer in Aquinnah.

 

 

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Note: Yvette (Szekely) Eastman (1912-2014) was (as noted in her obituary) a lover of Theodore Dreiser. See:

Dearest Wilding: A Memoir, with Love Letters from Theodore Dreiser, by Yvette Eastman; edited by Thomas P. Riggio (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995)

Marguerite Tjader Harris obituary

 

 

Marguerite Tjader (1901-1986) was a secretary and lover of Theodore Dreiser. The attached obituary is from the Darien (CT) News-Review, Thursday, April 10, 1986.

 

 

Marguerite Tjader Harris obitituary, Darien News-Review 4-10-1986

 

 

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