Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith

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

 

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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

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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.

Roger W. Smith review of “On the Banks of the Wabash” by Clayton W. Henderson

 

rws-review-of-on-the-banks-of-the-wabash-indianapolis-star-9-27-20031

 
review of  On the Banks of the Wabash: The Life and Music of Paul Dresser by Clayton W. Henderson

(a biography of Paul Dresser)

reviewed by Roger W.  Smith

Indianapolis Star

September 27, 2003

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

Roger W. Smith, letter to editor; August 1, 1990

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I am posting this letter of mine to the Editor of “News at 10,” the alumni newsletter of the New York University Department of Journalism because it speaks, from the perspective of journalism, about Dreiser as I perceived him and his works at an early stage of my acquaintance with him.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

 

“mistaken attribution (Dreiser credited with early news story he didn’t write)”

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/mistaken-attribution-by-t-d-nostwich-dreiser-credited-with-early-news-story-he-didnt-write/

 

Note that I now doubt that Dreiser wrote the January 12-13, 1894 St. Louis Republic stories about the hanging of Sam Welsor.

a Theodore Dreiser chronology, by Roger W. Smith

 

 

Dreiser chronology

 

 

See downloadable Word document, above.

 

 

 

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The purpose of this timeline of Theodore Dreiser’s life, career, and publication history is to highlight key dates and events, including milestones in his life and also including turning points and incidents that shed light on Dreiser’s development — professionally and as a writer — and the development of his views.

Seemingly less important accounts or reports (some of which proved to be inaccurate), the occasional passing mention or fleeting glimpse gleaned from a newspaper account have been included to give verisimilitude to this chronology, and to show the expectations held by the public at a given time about Dreiser’s output and productions of his works, as well as false starts Dreiser made.

A key emphasis has been placed in this chronology on the publication history of Dreiser’s works, both in the U.S. and other counties, to show how far and wide Dreiser’s influence and reputation have spread.

Also included in this chronology are works of scholarship that represent key junctures in Dreiser studies.

It is hoped that the chronology posted here, besides listing facts, will give a feeling for the zigs and zags of Dreiser’s life; its ups and downs; and how events shaped the once callow reporter into a literary lion given more and more at the end of his life to pronouncements and less to actual literary output.

 

Note: An excellent, more concise chronology, compiled by Thomas P. Riggio, which fills in many gaps in this one, can be found in The Library of American edition of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2018

Edward H. Smith, “Dreiser — After Twenty Years”

 

 

‘Dreiser after Twenty Years’- The Bookman, March 1921

 

 

Posted here (above) as a PDF file is an interesting article about Theodore Dreiser by Edward H. Smith:

 

“Dreiser — After Twenty Years”

The Bookman; a Review of Books and Life 53.1 (March 1921)

 

Smith knew Dreiser personally and includes many details derived from his acquaintance with Dreiser as well as his assessments of the man and author.

 

–Roger W. Smith

  May 2018

 

source materials re Frederick Rotzler (Theodore Dreiser’s “captain”)

 

 

Thomas P. Riggio has published an article:

“Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square” in

Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 11, no. 2 (Winter 2016)

in which, for the first time, the identity of “the captain,” a figure in Chapter XLV of Sister Carrie (“Curious Shifts of the Poor”), was identified, proving that the figure of “the captain,” a chaplain who aids homeless men by soliciting donations from the public for their shelter, did indeed have a real-life model.

Almost all of the primary source material in Professor Riggio’s article came from me and not from his research, as I have explained in my post:

“a scholarly rip-off; the real identity of Theodore Dreiser’s chaplain”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/a-scholarly-rip-off-the-real-identity-of-theodore-dreisers-chaplain/

I have posted here much of the primary material I have collected in the form of downloadable PDF files. The material has already been used (without attribution) by Professor Riggio. Some Dreiser scholars may find it useful to have access to the full text of the articles at a future date.

 

 

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The articles posted below concern the real life “captain” in Dreiser’s novel: Frederick Rotzler (b. circa 1859).

Some of the articles feature Rotzler. In others, he is mentioned in passing. They describe charitable (or what might be described as missionary) activities the same as those described by Dreiser.

The earliest articles describe Rotzler as having served as a chaplain to National Guard units.

A few facts about Rotzler (other than the charitable activities described by Dreiser) emerge:

Rotzler tried to remain independent and nonsectarian. He was not an ordained minister. His denomination, such as it was, was Pentecostal.

He had been doing his charitable work in Worth Square, soliciting donations for homeless men, beginning in 1892. Sister Carrie was published in 1900. (Dreiser came to Manhattan for the first time in the summer of 1894 and settled there permanently in late 1894. So, he came not long after Rotzler had begun his charitable work.)

Rotzler does not appear to have been the proselytizing type. Rather, he was someone who conceived of his mission as helping the poor and downtrodden without seeking personal glory or credit.

Besides seeking to find beds for the homeless, he would visit prisons and hospitals during daytime hours.

 

 

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The Worth Monument is located in Worth Square, at Broadway and 24th Street in Manhattan, adjacent to Madison Square Park. The monument marks the grave of General William Jenkins Worth (1794– 1849), who served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Worth Street in Lower Manhattan is named after him. (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)

 

 

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Present day Worth Square, where Frederick Rotzler did his charitable work. (Photograph by Roger W. Smith.)

 

 

 

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1 – ‘The Fourth in Camp’ – NY Times 7-5-1889

 

2 – ‘In the Eleventh District’ – NY Times 4-2-1890

 

3 – ‘Eight Court-Martialed’ – NY Times 7-31-1890

 

4 – ‘National Guard Notes’ – NY Times 11-19-1893

 

5 – ‘A Preacher Unordained’ – NY Times 11-26-1893

 

6 – ‘National Guard Notes’ – NY Times 12-31-1893

 

7 – ‘Met at the Altar to Pray’ – NY Times 3-15-1894

 

8 – ‘Father Lambert Welcomed’ – NY Times 5-23-1894

 

9 – ‘The Gospel Through the Megaphone’ – The World (NY) 9-6-1896

 

10 – ‘Lodging for the Homeless’ – NY Times 12-20-1897

 

11 – ‘Dewey Arch Column Ablaze’ – NY Times 5-14-1900

 

12 – ‘Shelters A Little Army’ – NY Times 11-18-1901

 

13 – ‘Church Services To-morrow’ – NY Times 3-20-1909

 

14 – ‘Religious Notices’ – NY Times 6-4-1910

 

15 – ‘Tending His Flock by Night’ – The Continent 12-11-1913

 

16 – ‘Church Services To-morrow’ – NY Times 1-3-1914

 

17 ‘Putting His Congregation to Sleep’ – Literary Digest 1-16-1914

 

 

SOURCES:

 

“The Fourth in Camp”

New York Times

July 5, 1889

 

“In the Eleventh District”

New York Times

April 2, 1890

 

“Eight Court-Martialed”

New York Times

July 31, 1890

 

“National Guard Notes

New York Times

November 19, 1893

 

“A Preacher Unordained”

New York Times

November 26, 1893

 

“National Guard Notes”

New York Times

December 31, 1893

 

“Met at the Altar to Pray”

New York Times

March 15, 1894

 

“Father Lambert Welcomed”

New York Times

March 23, 1894

 

“The Gospel Through the Megaphone”

The World (NY)

September 6, 1896

 

“Lodging for the Homeless”

New York Times

December 20, 1897

 

“Dewey Arch Column Ablaze”

New York Times article

May 14, 1900

 

“Shelters a Little Army”

New York Times

November 18, 1901

 

“Church Services To-morrow”

New York Times

March 20, 1909

 

“Religious Notices”

New York Times

June 4, 1910

 

“Tending His Flock by Night”

The Continent

December 11, 1913

 

 

“Church Services To-morrow”

New York Times

January 3, 1914

 

“Putting His Congregation to Sleep”

Literary Digest

January 16, 1914

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Man’s Life is Dedicated to Preaching’ – Wash Post 7-1-1906

 

I have also posted here (above) as a PDF file an article by Theodore Dreiser:

“This Man’s Life Is Dedicated to Preaching to the World the Gospel of Human Brotherhood”

The Washington Post

July 1, 1906

which was originally published in Success magazine.

The article faithfully describes the charitable activities of “the captain” in Worth Square.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018