“Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners” (Sherwood Anderson speaks)


‘Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners’ – NY Herald Tribune 12-7-1931

Posted here:

Dreiser Absent As 3,000 Await Talk on Miners

Authors’ Committee Chairman Sends No Explanation of His Failure to Appear

By Elenore Kellogg

New York Herald Tribune

December 7, 1931

pg. 3


This well written article is an interesting account of what Sherwood Anderson had to say about Dreiser, and its pinpointing of many of the issues underlying and occurring daily during the investigations in 1931 by the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners and the Dreiser Committee into the conditions of striking Kentucky miners; and actions taken by officials against the miners, Dreiser, and other writers and sympathizers involved.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

in which I make the case against tedious criticism (and for myself)


‘Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’

‘Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press’

‘Some Thoughts about Dreiser’



“I find current academic writing excruciatingly boring and pointless. It is completely cut off from reality.” — Arun Mukherjee


The following are some essays from the journal American Literary History — from the latest issue (fall 2021) and going back a few years. The titles of the essays presumably reflect the mindset of the editorial board in selecting articles. They must be “academic” (in principle to be expected, and de facto required, but here the definition of academic seems very narrow and, I would say, suffocating in terms of the final product) and they should preferably address topics (theoretical, that is) of current interest to academics:

Latinx Modernism and the Spirit of Latinoamericanismo

Diagnosing Desire: Mental Health and Modern American Literature, 1890–1955

Mapping Decolonial Environmental Imaginaries in Latinx Culture

Literature’s Vexed Democratization

Unspeakable Conventionality: The Perversity of the Kindle

“Dear Anglo”: Scrambling the Signs of Anglo-Modernity from New York to Lagos

Poetic Resistances and the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz

Groping Toward Perversion: From Queer Methods to Queer States in Recent Queer Criticism

Styles of Sovereignty: Parataxis, Settler–Indigenous Difference, and the Transnationalisms of the Great Basin

The Rise of Behavioral Economic Masculinity

Looking Behind the Screen: Genealogies of Poetic Technology

Who Are We? Feminist Ambivalence in  Contemporary Literary Criticism

The Pleasure of Its Company: Of One Blood and the Potentials of Plagiarism

Economics and American Literary Studies in the New Gilded Age, or Why Study the History of Bad Predictions and Worse Rationalizations?

The Economic Humanities and the History of Financial Advice

Money Mazes, Media Machines, and Banana Republic Realisms

The Cultural Economies of Digital Books

The Limits of Critique and the Affordances of Form: Literary Studies after the Hermeneutics of Suspicion

“We Gotta Get Out of this Place”: Literary Criticism in the Academic Workplace

Illuminating the Anthropocene: Ecopoetic Explorers at the Edge of the Naturecultures Abyss

The Exhaustion of Authenticity: Biopolitical Aural Regimes and American Popular Music

Imagination and Indigenous Sovereignty in the Trumpian Era

The Novel and WikiLeaks: Transparency and the Social Life of Privacy

Queer Sociality After the Antisocial Thesis

Archives of Ecocatastrophe; or, Vulnerable Reading Practices in the Anthropocene

Wily Ecologies: Comic Futures for American Environmentalism

Racialized Bodies and Asian American Literature

The New Reification, or Quotidian Materialism

Remediating the Latin@ Sixties

Maybe for Millions, Maybe for Nobody: Jewish American Writing and the Undecidability of World Literature

Lines and Circles: Transnationalizing American Poetry Studies

Cripping [sic] Consensus: Disability Studies at the Intersection

Essay titles worthy of a satire by Jonathan Swift. For me, they are soporific.

Such essays have little to do, I would suspect, with actual literature — with literature per se, with actual books (fiction, poetry, etc.) by actual writers. The titles, at any rate, are so rarified and abstruse that one can only guess what the articles are about. There is a heavy air of presentism, tendentiousness, and a predilection for social and political topics and isms in vogue on campuses nowadays.

There is Studies in American Naturalism, the journal of The International Theodore Dreiser Society, which publishes a few articles on Dreiser, but is not devoted to Dreiser. The articles tend to be theoretical.

In contrast, take the last issue of the Dreiser Society’s journal to be published before it was discontinued and replaced by Studies in American Naturalism — Dreiser Studies, spring 1987 — and something becomes apparent.. The issue contained essays by prominent Dreiser scholars:

“Double Quotes and Double Meanings in Jennie Gerhardt” by James L. W. West Ill

“Dreiser: Autobiographical Fragment, 1911” by Thomas P. Riggio

“The Revisionist Views of Sarah Schänäb Dreiser” by George H. Douglas

“A Note On Dreiser’s Use of the 1895 Brooklyn Trolley Car Strike” by Michael John McDonough

Such essays would not make it into Studies in American Naturalism. Yet these are titles which would be of immediate interest to Dreiserians, and which I could get my teeth into.

I belong to the Samuel Johnson and George Gissing societies. I doubt that either author is taught that much in English courses here. Yet both societies publish journals developed solely to the author: papers on all aspects of their work, new findings and publications, etc.




I read good literature and am deeply steeped in it. If I get to into an author, I want to read all the works that I can manage to (not just the acknowledged classics) and to learn all I can about the writer. This includes reading criticism to an extent. To illustrate what I mean with specifics, take Walt Whitman. I have read Leaves of Grass many times over, and it is the poetry and the person who interest me above all. I have read several Whitman biographies. And I have not completely neglected critical studies such as C. Carroll Hollis’s brilliant Language and Style in Leaves of Grass, Harold Aspiz’s Whitman and the Body Beautiful and Aspiz’s So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death, and the writings of Whitman Scholar Ed Folsom. Or William Blake, whom I took an outstanding course on in college with the late Allen Grossman. It’s the Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the prophetic books which I immersed myself in. But then a year or two later I read E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake, a monograph which illuminated so much concerning the composition of Songs of Innocence and Experience.




Not to brag, but I happen to be knowledgeable also about music. My father was a professional pianist, piano teacher, church organist and choir director; and a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in music. I never attained proficiency in music and I can’t, unlike my father, who took a course in composition with the composer Irving Fine in college, did arrangements professionally, and composed an original score on a religious theme for performance by a theater group, read music. Yet my father acknowledged and respected my wide ranging knowledge of music as a listener. In other words, his musical knowledge was that of a professional with musical education, while mine was acquired experientially, so to speak.

Yet I write about classical music. See my essay on Shostakovich (posted here), for example.




To conclude, note the following essays of mine, posted on my Dreiser site (and above):

Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy

Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press

Some Thoughts About Dreiser: What a Close Acquaintance With His Life and Works Reveals (This article was based on a presentation by me to the Comparative Literature Department, Institute for Philology and History, Russian State University for the Humanities on March 19, 2001.)

All three were rejected for publication.

“Two Letters from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy” was submitted to Studies in. American Naturalism “over the transom.” The other two essays were assigned to me. I submitted a proposal in each case that was accepted. The fact that the articles were lengthy was not, a priori, a problem. The editors and I discussed word length. Only after the articles were submitted did the editors decide that the content did not fit their requirements. I had described content and approach fully in the proposals I sent them.

I am grateful that some scholars found my work to be of value. For example, Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas wrote me recently, commenting on my essay “Some Thoughts About Dreiser”;

I’ve read your interview with the Russians and am amazed at the sharpness of their questions and —more—with the breadth of your answers. You are now the repository of Dreiser fact. It’s time for you to write a book, on which organizes all this data into a real intellectual biography. You have rediscovered the author and the man.

Enough said. There is a place and a need for writings purely about Dreiser, his works, the circumstances of their composition, relevant details from his own life, his biography, and so forth. They don’t have to be bloodless and “fashionable” with respect to current issues. And by the way, my essays are not only meticulously researched and documented (often drawing upon archival and primary sources), but also consistently well written, with an absence of academic argot.


— Roger W. Smith

    November 2021

from Donald Friede, “The Mechanical Angel”


Donald Friede, ‘The Mechanical Angel’


Posted here are excerpts about Dreiser from:

Donald Friede, The Mechanical Angel (New York Alfred A. Knopf, 1948)

Friede recalls his various experiences as Dreiser’s publisher, the stage production of An American Tragedy, and the trial in Boston in 1929 to suppress An American Tragedy.

Mentioned in the book are T. R. Smith (pg. 22) and George Antheil (pp. 54-55). Smith was editor-in-chief at Boni & Liveright. He was heavily involved in the editing and cutting of An American Tragedy. Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, and author.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021


no sense of humor


We were discussing the necessity for humor in the make-up, and as [one] of the qualities of a great man. In fact we concluded that every great man views his greatness through his sense of humor. Humor in its broadest sense implies humility and great understanding. Dreiser, to Carl’s mind, was without the quality of humor. Eugene O’Neill on the other hand, in spite of his tragedy, had a sense of hu­mor or of the sardonic which gives his work flavor.

— William A. Sutton, Carl Sandburg Remembered (The Scarecrow Press, 1979), pg. 236

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    November 2021

the Gillette trial, November 19, 1906


It was a memorable day, beginning with testimony by Frank Brown, Grace Brown’s father and including testimony by Ada (Brown) Hawley (Grace Brown’s sister), Carrie Wheeler (Grace Brown’s landlady), Noah H. Gillette (Chester Gillette’s uncle, the owner of the skirt factory), and Harold R. Gillette (Noah’s son, Chester’s cousin); from factory employees; and from Albert B. Raymond, who, a few weeks before Grace Brown was drowned by Gillette, had rented a boat to Chester Gillette at an outing by Gillette and Grace Brown near Cortland (where the skirt factory was located) and noticed after they returned that Grace was in tears.


Washington Post, November 20, 1906

‘Gillette Faces Jury’ (father testifies; Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Washington Post 11-20-1906


Adirondack News, November (20?), 1906

1 ‘Probing Girl’s death (Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Adirondack News, November 1906

3 ‘Probing Girl’s death (Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Adirondack News, November 1906 (2)


trial transcript

Gillette trial testimony 11-19-1906


posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

review of Theodore Dreiser, “Dawn” – New Masses


John Herrmann review of Dawn – New Masses, September 1931


posted here:

review of Theodore Dreiser, Dawn

reviewed by John Herrmann

New Masses

September 1931

pg. 19


Note the mention of Heywood Broun. In a contemporaneous article, it was stated:

It’s really embarrassing. When one the great fixed stars of the bourgeois heavens suddenly forsakes its accustomed course and goes off on a tangent. what are the high-priests of bourgeois society to do:? They do what the world of exploiters and sycophants has always done: they declare that the star was never anything but a minor satellite of insignificant magnitude, that its efforts to attract attention are indeed pathetic, etc., etc. In other words, they do what the high-priests of the bourgeois literary world are now doing in the case of Theodore Dreiser. Led by the “socialist” buffoon, job racketeer, white chauvinist and dean of the Hotel Algonquin poker players, Heywood Broun, the literary medicine-men are desperately trying to exorcise the evil apparition of the new Theodore Dreiser—the Dreiser who denounces lynchers and coal operators and A. F. of L. betrayers—by the simple process of declaring that Dreiser, the great American novelist, does not and never did exist. Thus, in his latest diatribe against Dreiser, Broun writes: “Theodore Dreiser is an excellent novelist of the second class” (N. Y. World-Telegram. August 7, 1931). Broun is charitable—he concedes Dreiser second-class rating. It’s too bad that Dreiser isn’t content with this second-class rating that Broun has given him, but has indulged in a lot of “posturing and passion for publicity.” This about a man who most of his life worked in obscurity, suffering poverty and official persecution, who has shunned the bright lights of the fashionable literary and art world, who has almost a pathological aversion to appearing in public. That’s putting it on a little thick—especially when it comes from one of the cheapest publicity hounds that ever got his name into print.

That Bill Green, president of the A. F. of L., attacks Dreiser is only to be expected. Green is defending his class interests (the interests of the bourgeoisie) and his functional role as a strikebreaker and betrayer of the workers. But what of the literary gentry, those lofty souls who are always so keen about keeping politics out of ‘art”? Dreiser has committed the unpardonable sin; at an age when he should know better he has attacked the foundations of capitalist society, he has aligned himself with dangerous outlaw elements—“Reds,” Communists; he has raised his voice for the working class and against the capitalist class. And suddenly: his books are awful, he never could write, he’s only a ham, etc. The literary birds of prey (most of whom were only yesterday singing his praises) are busily pecking away.

— “Theodore Dreiser: The Old and the New,” By A. M. Magil, Daily Worker, August 28, 1931, pg. 4

Heywood Campbell Broun Jr. (1888-1939) was an American journalist and a member of the Algonquin Round Table. He worked as a sportswriter, newspaper columnist, and editor in New York City.


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

re Chester Gillette’s parents – Watertown (NY) Herald 4-26-1907



‘Chester Gillette’s Parents’ – Watertown (NY) Herald 4-26-1907 (2)


The name of Gillette’s father, here misspelled, was Frank Gillette.

Note the following:

Denver directory, 1907
Gillette, E J Mrs, dressmkr, rms 1747 Wellington
Gillette, Frank S., rms 1408 Delaware

Denver directory, 1908
Gillette, E J Mrs, dressmkr, rms 311 16th
Gillette, Frank S., engineer, rms 1416 Delaware

Frank S. was Chester’s father.


— posted by Roger W. Smith
   November 2021

what was Gillette’s motive?



I have been studying the trial transcript of the Gillette-Brown murder case.

What about the “other woman” (Sondra Finchley in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy)?

We know that there was no such romance in actuality. But what was Gillette’s motive?

I have pointed out that Harriet Benedict, rumored to be the other woman in the actual case, with brief reports to that effect in newspapers, was not only not engaged to Gillette; she did not have a romance with him.

But Gillette and Miss Benedict (later Mrs Levi Chase) were acquainted, and witnesses in the trial transcript reported occasionally seeing them in public together.

What do I think Gillette’s motive was? It is significant that while many employees at the skirt factory in upstate Cortland, NY where Gillette and Grace Brown worked saw them flirting and talking more than usual during work hours, it was commented upon that no one ever saw them out together in public. Gillette would visit Grace in the evening at her landlady’s house.

Gillette was the poor nephew, from humble beginnings, of factory owner Noah H. Gillette, his uncle. His cousin, Harold R. Gillette, was a supervisor at the factory. (Just as in the novel, the cousin seemed to have had little personal contact with Gillette.) I think Gillette did not want his romance with Grace Brown to become known because it would ruin his chances for professional advancement and his reputation — including, perhaps, his chances of marrying a rich girl. He seemed ashamed of the relationship.

He seems to have thought that he could do away with Grace “quietly” and escape detection. Then he could have returned to the factory from his “vacation” and resume his normal life. He was definitely interested in girls and in becoming a regular, accepted member of the Cortland social set.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

Theodore Dreiser, “Amerikas angst von den Kommunisten”



Theodore Dreiser, ‘America’s Fear of Communism’ GERMAN


Theodore Dreiser, ‘America’s Fear of Communism’ – Der Querschnitt


Theodore Dreiser, ‘America’s Fear of Communism’ – Der Querschnitt



Posted here in the original German and English translation (documents above):

Theodore Dreiser, “Amerikas angst von den Kommunisten” (America’s Fear of Communism), Der Querschnitt, XII (August 1932): 549-550

This article is not cited in the standard Dreiser bibliography by Pizer, Dowell, and Rusch.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021


Ignatieff, “American Literature in the Soviet Union”


Ignatieff, ‘American Literature in the Soviet Union’


posted here (PDF file above)

American Literature in the Soviet Union

By Leonid Ignatieff

The Dalhousie Review 35.1 (1955)

pp. 56-66

Note the comments on Dreiser on pp. 57-58.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021