Tag Archives: actual experience with you.

an exchange about Dreiser

 

 

The following are emails — the content of which I believe make for interesting reading — between myself and my brother Pete Smith today (plus a follow up comment from my brother several days later).

 

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Roger Smith:

I happened to reread this post of mine today

link below

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/roger-w-smith-biographical-sketch-of-theodore-dreiser/

and was very pleased with myself.

I think it’s one of the best overviews and appraisals of Dreiser.

 

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Pete Smith:

Just read this again myself. Can’t imagine it could be any better written by anyone. Perfect summary and very thoughtful; I especially like the ending where you explain why, even though he was a dirtbag plagiarist (just kidding but not totally kidding), his work lasts.

 

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Pete Smith:

I’ve been busy with work, but still finding a few moments for [Dreiser’s] “Newspaper Days” and just today have begun reading about the Chicago World’s Fair trip he was dreading. What a riot. Incredibly revealing and often unintentionally hilarious. … I’m saving judgment on Dreiser until I finish. but based on what I’ve read so far, he’s a much better writer, and a much worse person, than I had thought. . .

 

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Roger Smith:

You may have heard of the book “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” by Erik Larson.

I was a very popular book. I think I own it. I believe I read a bit of it.

The main thing about the World’s Fair trip is that Dreiser met his future wife Sara (Jug), who was one of the schoolteachers on the train.

Dreiser honestly, candidly reveals things about himself in “Newspaper Days” — his stupid adolescent mistakes and sex longings and indiscretions, his successes and failures. I admire his sincerity. He did not engage in image “window dressing.”

Dreiser the cad seems to be to more apparent in his adult years.

His primarily failings (major) — as I see it — were his shameless womanizing, believing he could have multiple, serial relationships and they couldn’t, hitting on young unsuspecting woman (personal “secretaries”) and, in one shameless, well documented case (there may have been others) a teenager in high school when he was in middle age or past it; plagiarism; and — I think this is most significant — a deep insecurity and lack of love from early age so that he could never trust or love anyone; also (less important but true), becoming a would be snob once he got well known and rich, putting on airs and admiring the rich and high class (which made him look ridiculous).

I think, as if often the case with writers, some of Dreiser’s early works are better than later ones; and when he was simply attempting to narrate and tell the truth — or engage in reportage (of, say, the Brooklyn trolley strike or the Hudson River tunnel cave in), he could be surprisingly good.

When he attempts to philosophize or pose as an intellectual, he is out of his depth. He was basically uneducated. He was often on the wrong side of political and social issues.

 

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Pete Smith:

Yes, read “Devil in the White City” years ago. Excellent book; reading Dreiser’s excitement about the World’s Fair there reminded me of the book; that part is well written.

What bothers me most is the number of women he just ducked out on treating them with zero respect or concern or care. Inexcusable; he may be one of the least empathetic men who ever lived. If you don’t count Trump.

His lack of empathy is even apparent in his account of the tragic gas fire/explosion [in the St Louis Republic; recounted in Newspaper Days] which was probably his earliest reporting success. Most of what he talks about during these horrific twenty-four hours are himself.

 

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Roger Smith:

Re your comments (in bold):

What bothers me most is the number of women he just ducked out on treating them with zero respect or concern or care. Inexcusable; he may be one of the least empathetic men who ever lived. If you don’t count Trump.

His treatment of women is horrifying, inexcusable.

I doubt you would wish to read Dreiser’s “serialized” novella “This Madness,” posted by me at:

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/16/theodore-dreiser-this-madness/

The woman characters were real lovers of his.

I spent days and weeks copying the whole “This Madness” — 56,000 words — at the New York Public Library and typing and proofreading it at home.

It comes though clearly how Dreiser regarded and treated women. How could he not see how it made him look? (Self-awareness was not one of his strong points.) Dreiser is posturing as, bragging about, his quest for the ideal woman, who, of course, he never finds; he finds faults in all of them. And leaves them. Will never commit to an enduring relationship. It never occurs to him to empathize (as yon note) with them.

His lack of empathy is even apparent in his account of the tragic gas fire/explosion which was probably his earliest reporting success. Most of what he talks about during these horrific twenty-four hours is himself.

I remember well this part of the book. But did not think about this (what you say about not empathizing with the victims). Undoubtedly true and on the mark.

 

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Pete Smith:

Thanks, Roger. This is very well written and very interesting; based on my reading of “Newspaper Days” (nearing the finish line) everything the writer says rings true. (In reference to an article I shared with my brother: “Moby Theo” by Oliver Edwards, The Times of London, January 19, 1956; see PDF below.),

I would have stopped reading “Newspaper Days” hundreds of pages ago if it weren’t so damned interesting. Embarrassingly interesting and revealingly interesting often, but interesting nonetheless. And there is something odd about Dreiser’s writing style — there are almost always far too many words, but it’s almost always not bothersome.

 

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Roger Smith:

 

Pete,

I often, continually. am recasting, reformulating, refining thoughts and opinions in my mind.

Re “Newspaper Days” — this probably (if not certainly) also applies to Dreiser’s fiction — there is no (Joycean, Hemingway-ish, Nabokovian) wall.

You, the reader, can walk right in and he shares his unscripted, plain, inchoate, actual experience with you. His memory may be faulty and, like any good raconteur, he will present the story in a certain light.

But it feels very true. And real.

Dreiser is very easy to read. This is a GOOD thing.

And, as true as this is (his readability), there is a substratum, a bedrock, of fact and actuality.
It is not fiction for philistines and those who choose the next book to read or recommend to a friend from the bestseller lists,

Which is why people who like to read still read Dreiser

While (although) he and many of his works are otherwise largely forgotten and perhaps considered out of fashion.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

 February 6, 2021

 

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