Tag Archives: Carl Dresser

post updated – “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

I have updated my post from this week: “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

https://dreseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/roger-w-smith-dreisers-nephew-carl

 

You may wish to download the Word document again. It is posted here (above).

 

There were a couple of key pieces of information that I missed, and I have made a few corrections.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith, “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

'Dawn' - first typescript - Chapter XLII, pg. 13

Theodore Dreiser, “Dawn,” first typescript, Chapter XLII, pg. 13

 

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

This post is in the form of a downloadable Word document.

 

 

 

 

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Abstract

 

 

This article focuses on Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser, who was born out of wedlock in 1886 to Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser. The article provides hitherto unknown details about Sylvia’s affair with Carl’s father — the pseudonymous “Don Ashley” — when Theodore Dreiser, his sister Sylvia, and other siblings were living in Warsaw, Indiana with their mother, as recounted by Dreiser, with some major modifications of facts, in his autobiographical work Dawn.

I have discovered the identity of Carl’s father and confirmed details of Carl’s death. It was “known” on scant evidence that he was a suicide. I have found Carl’s death record, as well as his birth record.

Dreiser’s sister Sylvia abandoned Carl and did not raise him; he was raised by Dreiser’s parents and also by his aunt Mame (Theodore Dreiser’s sister) and her husband. As an unwanted child, Carl had a difficult life. Many details have remained sketchy or were never investigated by Dreiser biographers; there is scant mention of Carl in Dreiser biographies.

The story of Sylvia’s affair and pregnancy, a scandal at the time, is worth investigating, since Dreiser saw it as not insignificant in his family history and as contributing to ideas about sex and morality he had as a teenager — he used it as the subject matter of two chapters in Dawn. And, the story of Carl’s birth and his short, unhappy life throws some light on characters in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and, to a lesser extent, in his novel Jennie Gerhardt.

 

 

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, “The Return of the Genius,” Chicago Sunday Globe. October 23, 1892 (under byline Carl Dreiser)

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Return of the Genius.’

 

 

 

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132 West 15th Street, NYC

132 West 15th Street, Manhattan; photo by Roger W. Smith, May 2020. Carl Dreiser was born at this address, in his sister Emma’s apartment, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

53 West Erie Street, Chicago; where Carl Dresser lived at the time of his death; photo by Tamie Dehler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carl Dresser, bellboy

 

 

 

Carl Dresser death certificate

 

 

 

Posted here (above) is the death certificate for Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser.

Carl Dresser was the illegitimate son of Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia).

Carl Dresser … certificate of death #14567 … Department of Health, Chicago … date of birth, unknown … age, 26 years … date of death, March 29, 1915 … occupation, Bellboy … buried Elmwood [Cemetery], March 31, 1915 … evidence obtained at inquest … Cause of death – Asphyxiation by illuminating gas (suicide) … address, 53 W Erie St. …. length of time living in city – 4 years … name of father – unknown … name of mother – unknown. [Elmwood Cemetery is located in River Grove, IL; the village of River Grove is located about 15 miles from Chicago]

Note the cause of death, suicide, and Carl’s occupation, bellboy.

Carl Dresser gets scant mention by Dreiser biographers. In an entry for Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, her illegitimate son Carl is said to have been born on October 16, 1886. This is accurate. In a letter to Theodore Dreiser dated October 16, 1908, Carl stated, “I am twenty two years old to day.” This would mean that the age of death shown on the death certificate is not accurate. It should have been 28 years.

Carl was raised by various Dreiser family members and had contact with his uncle Theodore over the years, as is indicated by the correspondence posted as a PDF file below. He lived for a period of time with Dreiser’s’ sister Mame (Carl’s aunt) and his maternal grandfather Johann Paul Dreiser in upstate New York.

Here’s a question which intrigues me. Book One of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy is all about Clyde Griffith’s life prior to his moving to Lycurgus to work in his uncle’s collar factory. This part of the novel is all invented; it does not correspond to the life of the actual murderer Chester Gillette, who was the prototype of Clyde Griffiths. Has anyone noticed that when Clyde meets his uncle Samuel Griffiths he is BELLHOP working in a HOTEL in CHICAGO? Could Dreiser have had his nephew Carl in mind when he was writing parts of this part of the novel?

 

Carl Dresser – correspondence with Theodore Drieser

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

 

Carmel O’Neill Haley, “The Dreisers”

 

 

Carmel O’Neill Haley, ‘The Dreisers’ – Commonweal

 

 

 

Attached above as a downloadable PDF file is an article about the Dreiser family:

Carmel O’Neill Haley, “The Driesers,” The Commonweal, vol. XVIII, no. 10 (July 7, 1933), pg. 265-267

 

Ms. Haley knew Theodore Dreiser’s sister Maria Franziska Dreiser (1861-1944) – known by Ms. Haley as Mary and by the Dreiser family as Mame — and her husband Austin Daniel Brennan (1874-1928) well. She also knew Paul Dresser well.

In the article, she provides brief reminiscences of Mame and her husband; Theodore’s Dreiser’s father and mother; Theodore and Mame’s brother Paul Dresser, the songwriter (1858-1906); and a “red-headed nephew,” Carl Dresser (1888-1915), who was the son of Theodore and Mame’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2016