Tag Archives: теодор драйзер

72 years later; The Bulwark is republished!

 

 

 

Lydon Bulwark - cover.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

First published posthumously by Doubleday in 1946, Theodore Dreiser’s last novel, The Bulwark, has been republished in a handsome paperback edition:

 

Theodore Dreiser, The Bulwark

Introduction by Michael Lydon

RosettaBooks LLC, 2018

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The following is a review of the new edition by Roger W. Smith.

 

 

It is fitting that this new edition of The Bulwark, a book long out of print, has been shepherded into print by Michael Lydon, with an introduction written by Lydon, who has long been a “Dreiser exponent,” as well as expounder. He has unfailingly promoted Dreiser and, in particular The Bulwark, one of his favorite books, in his writings. He views The Bulwark as having never gotten the readership or critical acclaim it deserves.

In his introduction, Lydon observes perceptively — and, in my opinion, accurately — that “Dreiser succeeded in making The Bulwark a masterpiece, first, by writing simply. Critics have long enjoyed the sport of skewering Dreiser’s prose — ‘elephantine’ being the most common and absurd adjective–but from their early days together Anna [Tatum] had told him to ignore such tin-eared nonsense: ‘Don’t, don’t listen to the fools, the asses, the insane people who say you write crudely. I never heard anything more stupid …’ Anna was right: sentence by *sentence, Dreiser’s plain English paints plain portraits of Solon [Barnes] and the novel’s thirty-odd characters living plain American lives.” The Bulwark, as Lydon notes, was based on the family of Anna Tatum, one of Dreiser’s lovers. One of the main characters is based on Anna, and her anecdotes gave Dreiser the idea for the novel and the lineaments of the story.

Dreiser, Lydon notes, “wrote The Bulwark with a tender touch. Like Balzac, Dreiser often took a chilly stance toward his characters, letting them drift to their fates unwept. His Bulwark characters, in contrast, he cups gently in the hollow of his hand [a very apt and beautiful phrase by Lydon], studying them with calm, intelligent empathy, never judging them, never fixing their motives in iron chains of cause and effect. Indeed, he unfolds his characters so organically that they blossom through the book like flowers.” This is beautifully put, and jibes with my own recollection of reading the novel.

A few critical comments from a carping critic.

Lydon begins his introduction by asserting that ‘A masterpiece is a work of art so profoundly conceived and so superbly executed that, rather than dying in decades, it survives for centuries,” giving as examples Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Rembrandt’s self-portraits, Mozart’s Magic Flute, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He continues with essentially purple prose to explain what makes such works great and concludes by asserting that “The Bulwark … is one such masterpiece.” This is consistent with the position Lydon has taken in his previous writings about Dreiser. While I admire Lydon’s critical acumen, I do not, in this instance, concur. None of Dreiser’s works belong in this company. None are comparable to those of the masters. None would be classed as great world literature.

Lydon’s observations about the simplicity and grace of Dreiser’s prose in his final novel (which was begun long before its completion) are telling and well worth noting. The comparison to Balzac is apt. Dreiser, like Balzac, cared about his characters (even if, in Lydon’s words, he cared about them negatively, so to speak, often taking, in Lydon’s words, “ a chilly stance” toward them).

A paragraph on an unnumbered page preceding Lydon’s introduction, comprising a biographical sketch of Dreiser, states: “His first novel, Sister Carrie, was banned by its own publisher.” Such an error is unforgivable. Why wasn’t it caught? The banning of a book (or, in general, any work of art) is something that happens after it has been published or released. Sister Carrie was published by Doubleday, Page, & Co. in 1900. In an article by Dreiser in the March 1931 issue of The Colophon, Dreiser intimated that Sister Carrie was suppressed upon publication because of objections to the book’s content on the part of the publisher. It is true that the firm did not actively promote the book. This is not the same as banning!

On an unnumbered recto page at the beginning of this new edition, there are three quotes praising The Bulwark: one from Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker; one from the Saturday Review; and one from Horace Gregory. Since Lydon went to the effort of verifying where the Wilson quote came from, why could he not have done the same with the quote from Gregory, which came from a review in the New York Herald Tribune? And,  why isn’t the author of the review in the Saturday Review of Literature (as it was then named), Dreiser scholar Robert E. Spiller, named? Quibbles? Yes. But, if one goes to great lengths to reissue a beloved, long out of print work. shouldn’t care be taken to ensure accuracy and completeness of even the little details? This is something Dreiserians would probably (hopefully) care about.

In the introduction, Lydon notes that, in the early 1940’s, “ A small circle of former lovers gathered at [Dreiser’s] home in Los Angeles to help him give The Bulwark a final edit and to read to him from John Woolman’s Journal [The Journal of John Woolman, published posthumously in 1774], a Quaker tome he’d come to love while writing his own.” This passing reference to Woolman’s Journal on the part of Lydon could be considered insufficient, my point being that the influence on Dreiser of Woolman, a Quaker preacher and the author of a classic of spirituality — and on The Bulwark in particular — was direct and considerable. So that, one might say, it wasn’t in the background of Desire’s consciousness when he wrote the novel (as Lydon’s passing mention of Woolman might suggest), it underlay the plot and denouement (as well as the views of Dreiser’s reflected in the novel) and is introduced outright into the novel. Chapter 66 of the Bulwark is almost entirely devoted to Woolman. The chapter consists of Solon Barnes’s prodigal daughter Etta reading passages from Woolman’s Journal to him. (See Gerhard Friedrich, “Theodore Dreiser’s Debt to Woolman’s Journal,” American Quarterly, Winter, 1955.)

Alexia Garaventa‘s cover design for this new Bulwark edition is splendid.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2019

*****************************************************

 

 

 

Addendum:

 

SEE ALSO my post:

 

Michael Lydon publishes “On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark” and “Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, & The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece”

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/michael-lydon-publishes-on-reading-theodore-dreisers-the-bulwark-and-theodore-dreiser-anna-tatum-the-bulwark-the-making-of-a-masterpiece/

 

 

This post references two previously published books by Lydon:

 

 

On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark

Patrick Press, 2011

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, & The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece

Franklin Street Press, 2017

 

 

Both books deserve readership by Dreiserians.

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, and The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece explores new aspects behind the composition of Dreiser’s final novel, which Dreiser worked on for years before it was finally published posthumously. Key findings of Lydon include material on Anna Tatum and her family, providing for a deeper understanding of the Quaker sources underlying the novel.

Alfred Kazin, “Theodore Dreiser and the Critics”

 

 

Alfred Kazin, ‘Theodore Dreiser and the Critics’ – The Anchor Review 1955

Posted here (above) as a PDF file is Alfred Kazin’s article “Theodore Dreiser and the Critics,” which was originally published in a paperback book, The Anchor Review, Number One, in 1955. The article was subsequently published in The Stature of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Survey of the Man and His Work, edited by Alfred Kazin and Charles Shapiro (Indiana University Press, 1955).

This is a brilliant essay. It is fair to Dreiser in recognizing and evaluating his strengths as well as his weaknesses. It shows why Dreiser mattered to his generation, and still matters. Kazin says an awful lot in a few pages, not seemingly missing anything essential about Dreiser.

I have one quibble with Kazin’s article. He says that in Sister Carrie “there are scarce any philosophic reflections or deductions expressed.” Sister Carrie seems to actually be replete with such authorial musings, which are admixed with the narrative, no doubt reflecting Dreiser’s naïve but sincere interest in the works of social philosophers such as Herbert Spencer.
— Roger W. Smith

    July 2018

“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

H. L. Mencken on Dreiser

 

 

The following comment on Theodore Dreiser first appeared in the journal Menckeniana (Summer 1971) among selections from previously unpublished Mencken material.

Dreiser, like Goethe, was more interesting than any of his books. He was typical, in more ways than one, of a whole generation of Americans–a generation writhing in an era of advancing chaos. There must have been some good blood hidden in him, but on the surface he was simply an immigrant peasant bewildered by the lack of neat moral syllogisms in civilized existence. He renounced his ancestral religion at the end of his teens, but never managed to get rid of it. Throughout his life it welled up in him in the form of various fantastic superstitions–spiritualism, Fortism, medical quackery, and so on–and in his last days it engulfed him in the form of Communism, a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the will to believe. If he had lived another’ ten years, maybe even another five years, he would have gone back to Holy Church–the path followed before him by many other such poor fish, for example, Heywood Broun. His last book was a full-length portrait of a true believer, and extremely sympathetic. Solon Barnes, like Dreiser himself, was flabbergasted by the apparent lack of common sense and common decency in the cosmos, but in the end he yielded himself gratefully to the God who had so sorely afflicted him.

 

— H. L. Mencken

Michael Lydon, “Theodore Dreiser and George Eliot: Contrast & Coincidence”

 

 

Michael Lydon, ‘Theodore Dreiser & George Eliot; Contrast and Coicidence’

 

 

 

Posted here (above) as a downloadable PDF file document is an original essay by Dreiser scholar Michael Lydon:

 

“Theodore Dreiser and George Eliot: Contrast & Coincidence”

 

 

***************************

 

See also:

 

Michael Lydon publishes “On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark” and “Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, & The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/michael-lydon-publishes-on-reading-theodore-dreisers-the-bulwark-and-theodore-dreiser-anna-tatum-the-bulwark-the-making-of-a-masterpiece/

 

Michael Lydon, “Justice to Theodore Dreiser”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/michael-lydon-justice-to-theodore-dreiser/

Michael Lydon publishes “On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark” and “Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, & The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece”

 

 

 

Dreiser enthusiast and scholar Michael Lydon is the author of two new books on Dreiser that have not had wide distribution, but which are well worth reading:

 

On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark

Patrick Press, 2011

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, & The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece

Franklin Street Press, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

On Reading Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark is essentially an appréciation of Dreiser’s final novel.

 

Theodore Dreiser, Anna Tatum, and The Bulwark: The Making of a Masterpiece explores new aspects behind the composition of Dreiser’s final novel, which Dreiser worked on for years before it was finally published posthumously. Key findings of Lydon include material on Anna Tatum and her family, providing for a deeper understanding of the Quaker sources underlying the novel.

Anna Tatum was a brilliant young woman from a Quaker family in New Jersey who was one of Dreiser’s many mistresses. She told Dreiser stories about growing up in a Quaker home and community, and these inspired him to write The Bulwark. Lydon’s book length essay combines a sensitive analysis of the novel’s literary excellence and a narrative of the tangled story of Dreiser’s and Tatum’s on again, off again affair. Using newly discovered source material, it delves into how Tatum’s Quaker roots influenced the creation of The Bulwark.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

The books are available for purchase by going to the publisher’s website

 

franklinstpress.com

 

and scrolling down through the “bookstore” link (at bottom of page) and, then, scrolling through the “bookstore” (hit “next page” to the desired books on Dreiser). Use “Add to Cart” button to purchase.

Payment is by PayPal. Buyers not using PayPal can click on the “contact” button at the top of the page and purchase the book by phone or mail, enclosing a check.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

See also:

 

Michael Lydon, “Justice to Theodore Dreiser”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/michael-lydon-justice-to-theodore-dreiser/

“foul tactics”

 

 

‘Dreiser Defends Norris on Power’ – NY Times 1-2-1931

 

‘Dreiser Attacks Power Trust,’Chicago Daily Tribune 7-2-1931

 

‘Foul Tactics’ – NY Times 7-3-1931

 

 

Posted here (above) as downloadable PDF files are two news stories and an editorial focusing on controversy that Theodore Dreiser was involved in in 1931. As is well known, Dreiser did less writing after the publication of his only bestseller, An American Tragedy, and became an outspoken critic of the capitalist system. The articles posted above focus on a controversy which occurred in July 1931 when Dreiser attacked monopolistic practices of utility companies.

 

 

DREISER DEFENDS NORRIS ON POWER

The New York Times

July 2, 1931

 

 

DREISER ATTACKS “POWER TRUST” AND TELLS WHY

Chicago Daily Tribune

July 2, 1931

 

 

FOUL TACTICS (editorial)

The New York Times

July 3, 1931

 

 

The New York Times editorial in whimsical fashion segues from a discussion of Dreiser’s attack on utilities to a billboard advertising the forthcoming film An American Tragedy and Dreiser’s dissatisfaction with the film, which he tried to prevent from being shown.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2018