Tag Archives: シオドー・ドライサー

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

Sally Kusell, “Dreiser’s Style”

 

 

Sally Kusell, ‘Dreiser’s Style’ – NYTBR 4-8-1951

 

 

Downloadable Word document above.

 

 

 

This April 1951 letter  to The New York Times Book Review from Sally Kusell is self-explantory.

Sally Kusell (1892-1982) was a lover of Theodore Dreiser and one of his many secretarial/editorial assistants. She played a major role as a typist and editor of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

John Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet and scholar.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”

 

 

Today, I have been listening to a performance I taped in 2005 of Tobias Picker’s opera An American Tragedy, which is based on the Dreiser novel.

The opera is not available for sale in any format: CD or digital.

I found one or two excerpts on YouTube.

The opera got generally favorable (some very much so, some lukewarm) reviews.

It premiered in 2005 at the Metropolitan Opera. There was a follow up production in 2014 by the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY of a revised version (by Picker) of the opera.

I attended both the 2005 (Met Opera) and the 2014 (Glimmerglass) productions. I did not think the revised version was an improvement — I could not see the logic behind it — and noted that some of the best sections had been eliminated.

I offered to share my taped version with a very few Dreiser scholars. One was very appreciative. Others, English professors, said they had no interest in opera.

I am not an opera connoisseur. The work is uneven, I would say. But there is much beautiful music, some exquisite passages: for example the opening duet between the young Clyde and his mother, the hymn, and the scene where the libretto is based on Roberta Alden’s letters.

Picker’s opera seems to have been overlooked. I am sure that the fact of there being no available recording has to do with the Dreiser Trust.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 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.

Alfred Kazin on Dreiser

 

 

 

Alfred Kazin introduction to The Titan (The Laurel Dreiser)

 

 

Alfred Kazin introduction to Jennie Gerhardt (The Laurel Dreiser)

 

 

 

I have transcribed and posted here (downloadable Word documents above) the following:

Alfred Kazin, General Introduction, The Titan, by Theodore Dreiser (The Laurel Dresier; New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1959), pp. 7-19

Alfred Kazin, Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt, by Theodore Dreiser (The Laurel Dreiser; New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1963), pp. 5-12

They are well worth reading

 

 

 

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Some of My Thoughts About Kazin’s Observations

 

 

 

General Introduction, The Titan:

 

Kazin, pg. 9: The facts dredged up by impersonal “research” are often dubious and quickly dated, whereas the sheer web of fact that Dreiser put together about clothes, house furnishings and finance fifty years ago retains its interest for us today.

“[T]he sheer web of fact”: GOOD. Read, for example, Chapter 1 of The Financier.

 

 

Kazin, pg. 15: When Dreiser is bad, it is never because of the slowness or literalness of his technique; it is because of the imposition of a purely subjective emotion, as in parts of The ‘Genius.’ In Dreiser the writer was always wiser than the man. When his instinctive transformative powers fail him, when he imposes on the reader great blobs of incoherent personal emotion, one recognizes how silly the man Theodore Dreiser could be. An example is the tasteless endearments that Eugene Witla addresses to young Suzanne Dale.

Yes, but Dreiser often wrote to Thelma Cudlipp endearments of precisely that sort. Dreiser was drawing upon his memory and own experience. Eugene is silly, Dreiser was silly, but such an infatuation actually occurred; therefore, Dreiser, in describing Eugene’s pursuit of Suzanne Dale and the endearments was being true to life and experience.
Kazin, pg. 16: Frank Cowperwood, … despite his immense personal authority, his fortune, his undeviating attraction to so many women, must himself go from woman to woman in a yearning for that “refinement,” that ultimate “spell of beauty,” which would represent a social victory higher than anything in Philadelphia or Chicago.

 

And so did Dreiser. This was true of him from the time he became unfaithful to and then separated from his wife Sara (Jug), up to the time when, shortly before his death, he married his mistress, Helen (Patges) Richardson. His relentless pursuit of women and endless serial affairs His demand for youth and beauty as seen in the poorly written, fatuous series of magazine sketches by Dreiser entitled “This Madness.” Cowperwood as Dreiser, and vice versa.

 

 

 

Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt:

 

 

Kazin, pg. 7: When he describes Jennie as exceptional by reason of her “poetic” feeling (he speaks of “the wondrous sea of feeling in her”), he makes clear why it is that young women like Jennie, and for that matter Sister Carrie herself and even Roberta Alden in An American Tragedy, have such power to move us. American literature is notoriously poor in portraits of good women, believable women, mature women.

 

Why does Kazin use the modifier “even” when referring to Roberta Alden? Is she not winsome with a “purity” of person and feeling not unlike that of Jennie’s?

 

 

Kazin, pg. 12: Yet though Jennie Gerhardt is not one of Dreiser’s strong books, it is as moving as if it were saturated in Jennie’s own quality of feeling. It is a book that will live.

I wonder if Kazin’s prediction was accurate. Jennie Gerhardt is still read. But there are few copies in print.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2019

 

 

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See also:
“Alfred Kazin, “Theodore Dreiser and the Critics”

posted on this site at
https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/07/15/alfred-kazin-theodore-dreiser-and-the-critics/

 

 

“Kazin on Dreiser: What it Means to be a Literary Critic”

by William E. Cain

Society 55 (6), November 2018, pp. 517–525

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

Note that Kazin states in his introduction to Jennie Gerhardt:

 

Dreiser had been deeply affected by the poverty and rootlessness of his early life and by the misadventures of his sisters. Carrie Meeber’s going off with Hurstwood (in Sister Carrie) was based on episodes in the life of one Dreiser sister, and Jennie Gerhardt’s having an illegitimate baby was based on the story of another sister. Robert Elias says in his biography that when the “Jennie” sister [assumed by Kazin, presumably based on his reading of Dreiser’s Dawn, to be Dreiser’s sister Cacelia/Sylvia] found herself pregnant, she went to the “Carrie” sister [Emma], who with her “Hurstwood” [L. A. Hopkins] was in New York; they were supporting themselves in part by “renting rooms to girls of questionable virtue.” The mother of “Jennie’s” wealthy lover “haughtily explained that he could do nothing about it since he had more important ties. Afterward the child was sent home to be cared for by the tireless Sarah Dreiser,” the all-forgiving and tender mother on whom Dreiser modeled Mrs. Gerhardt.

— Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt, The Laurel Dreiser, pg. 6

 

This is inaccurate. The “Jennie” sister” to whom Kazin refers was Theodore Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Dreiser) Kishima (ca. 1865-1945), who was known as Sylvia — not Dreiser’s sister Mame (Maria Franziska [Dreiser] Brennan [1861-1944]), who was known as Mame.

 

Donald Pizer is fully accurate when he says:

For the basic plot of Jennie Gerhardt, Dreiser relied principally on the experiences of his sister Mary, who was generally called Mame within the Dreiser family.  Ten years older than Dreiser, Mame had been seduced at sixteen by a prominent and middle-aged Terre Haute lawyer whom Dreiser called Colonel Silsby in Dawn. The Dreiser family fortunes were at a low ebb during their Terre Haute years of 1870-79. John Dreiser was usually unemployed, Paul and Rome were in trouble with the law on several occasions, and the older girls were interested in men who could buy them things. The Dreisers of Terre Haute, as recalled in Dawn, and the Gerhardts of Columbus, as portrayed in Jennie Gerhardt, lead parallel lives both broadly and in such details as the mothers taking in laundry from a local hotel and the boys throwing down coal from railway cars. And, most pertinent of all, Paul had been arrested for theft, Colonel Silsby had intervened on his behalf, and Mame had subsequently been seduced by the colonel.

In the summer of 1879, Sarah Dreiser moved with part of the family to Sullivan, Indiana, leaving John, Mame, and several of the other girls temporarily behind in Terre Haute. That winter Mame joined her mother in Sullivan, pregnant. Silsby had unsuccessfully attempted to arrange for an abortion and had refused to marry her. Mame remained with her mother until a stillborn child was delivered in April 1880 and then moved to Chicago. There she found work in a boardinghouse which was also apparently a gambling club. Within a short time, she began to live with Austin Brennan, a bluff, hard-living man, fourteen years her senior, who traveled for his family’s Rochester dry-goods firm. After years of living together, primarily in Chicago, they were married sometime in the mid-1880s. [They were married in Chicago in 1897.] Brennan’s family were well-to-do and conservative, with social pretensions, and though Mame visited them in Rochester both before and after her marriage, she was apparently not welcomed. She therefore frequently lived with the Dreiser family–first in Warsaw and after 1887 in Chicago–where Brennan would join her for lengthy periods. In the late 1890s, however, she and Brennan finally settled in Rochester, and when John Dreiser died late in 1900, it was at their Rochester home. Soon afterward they moved to New York City, and though Brennan was in poor circumstances during his later years, they remained a faithful couple until his death in 1928.

 

— Donald Pizer, The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976), pp. 98-99

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