Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith

Edmund Wilson review of Tragic America

 

 

Edmund Wilson review of Tragic America – New Republic 5-30-1932

 

Posted here is Edmund Wilson’s review of Dreiser’s Tragic America in The New Republic of May 30, 1932.

It gets at — very effectively — the question of flagrant infelicities and weakness in Dreiser’s writing versus the strengths of same. And it perceptively examines how Dreiser’s thought and political views were evolving at the time and becoming more aligned with Communism.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2021

Dreiser and “Aunt Mollie” Jackson

 

 

 

This photo appeared in the Daily Worker of December 5, 1931, when Dreiser was heading a committee investigating conditions of striking miners.

 

PHOTO CAPTION:

“Aunt Mollie” Jackson, miner’s wife, nurse, midwife, and folk singer of the eastern Kentucky coal fields, is here shown with Theodore Dreiser, famous novelist, before whom she sang her “Kentucky Miners’ Wives Raggedy Hungry Blues,” when he and other writers of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners investigated starvation and terror among the miners. Aunt Mollie is now in New York City, where she will share the platform with Dreiser. [John] Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson. Waldo Frank. Lewis Mumford and other celebrated writers at the “Harlan Terror Protest Meeting” to be held … Sunday, December 6th, at 2:30 p. m.

At this meeting Aunt Mollie will tell of the events that led up to the indictment of 47 miners on false charges of murder and of 60 miners on charges of criminal syndicalism for fighting starvation wages in the Harlan County coal fields. The writers of the Dreiser Committee were all indicted by the Harlan Grand Jury after an open hearing [held by the Dreiser Committee] in the heart of the strike zone.

 

Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960) was an influential American folk singer and union activist.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2021

 

 

Edward Perry Burgum, “Dreiser and His America” (New Masses 1946)

 

 

Edwin Perry Burgum, ‘Dreiser and His America’ – New Masses 1-29-1946

 

The following posthumous essay on Dreiser (downloadable Word document above) is self-explanatory. It is a valuable contribution to Dreiser studies and is a positive assessment that in effect answers complaints of Dreiser’s critics:

 

Dreiser and His America

By Edwin Berry Burgum

New Masses

January 29, 1946

pp. 7-9, 22

“If he were alive today, I think Dreiser would resent the second treatment of his work almost as much as the first.”

 

 

David Platt, ‘What Hollywood Did to Dreiser’s American Tragedy’ – Daily Worker 9-23-1951 pg 7

 

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is a review of the 1951 film A Place in the Sun:

What Hollywood Did to Dreiser’s “American Tragedy”

By David Platt

Daily Worker

September 23, 1951

 

The review is self-explanatory. It elucidates my own views.

A chief reason that people rave about the film is that hardly anyone who has watched it has read An American Tragedy. Therefore, they are ignorant (although they probably wouldn’t care anyway) of the shameful liberties the film takes with Dreiser’s novel.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2021

“Gillette’s Family Sings at His Grave” (The Norwich Sun)

 

 

GILLETTE’S FAMILY SINGS AT HIS GRAVE

Burial At Soule Cemetery Two Miles From Auburn.

PATHETIC PRIVATE CEREMONY.

Chester’s Favorite Hymns Were Sung by His Mourning Family—Mrs. Gillette Unable to Travel West With Other Members of Family.

The Norwich (NY) Sun

Wednesday, April 1, 1908

 

Auburn, April 1.—The remains of Chester Gillette now rest in a grave in a distant corner of Soule cemetery, two miles from the city between Auburn and Syracuse. The burial service took place Tuesday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. Henry MacIlravy, and he was assisted by Mr. [Frank] Hartman, also of Little Falls.

Announcement was made Tuesday morning by the family that they had decided to have the services here and also the burial. Monday they said that they did not know where the body would be buried but this morning they gave out that the services such as they are permitted by the laws of the state, would be held at 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon and they were.

Every precaution was taken to keep the matter of the funeral from becoming public until the services were over Since the electrocution the body has rested in the Tallman morgue. Tuesday afternoon, shortly before 2 o’clock a hearse left the morgue with the body in it. The family went by car to the cemetery and were met there by the Rev. Henry MacIlravy of Little Falls and his friend, Mr. Hartman. There the burial service was performed and the body interred.

The singing was done by the family and consisted of three hymns that had been favorites of Chester and that had been sung by the family both at home and in the dark cell in the condemned row of the prison. These were “Abide With Me,” “Joy Cometh in the Morning,” and “Until he Comes.” The last selection was a secular song, “A Little Boy Called Taps.” It had always been a favorite with the mother and Gillette wanted it too, among the hymns.

Gillette had also marked the passages he wanted read from the Bible and the clergyman recited the words solemnly. As his voice died away Mrs. Gillette dropped on her knees and prayed again for the salvation of her dead boy’s soul and even the grave diggers wiped their eyes as they listened.

Those who gathered about the inexpensive coffin in which the body rests were the Gillettes, father and mother and their son and daughter, Paul and Lucille, Miss Bernice Ferrin,* the clergyman, Rev. Henry MacIlravy, his assistant, Frank Hartman, and the two grave diggers. The cemetery authorities kept all others from the spot. There was a nipping March wind and the mourners shivered as the mother knelt beside the grave and prayed.

“Can’t he lie toward the west?” asked Lucille as the mother finished.

“The sun will rise on his grave,” replied Mrs. Gillette, and the little party turned away from the grave.

The relatives took a last look at the body just before the trolley car bore them to the cemetery. The mother was the first the enter the morgue—alone.

“Oh, my poor boy,” she wept. “I can touch your face now. They wouldn’t even let me kiss you goodbye.”

“Don’t go in,” she urged the others later. “It doesn’t look like Chester at all. He hasn’t his old smile. Don’t go in.”

Later, however, she regained her composure and the father and Lucille entered and smoothed the dead boy’s hair as they took their last look at his face.”

Mrs. Gillette was so much overcome by the funeral that she cannot leave with the rest of the family for Zion City, Ill. today, but will join them later.

 

*Bernice Ferrin has sometimes been referred to — probably inaccurately — as Chester Gillette’s girlfriend.  He had become acquainted with her in Zion City, Illinois, where Chester and his family were part of the Dowieite (named after the sect’s founder, John Alexander Dowie) religious community. She was living in Auburn, NY (where Gillette was executed) at the time, and described as  a “friend of the family,” was given permission to visit Gillette in prison.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2021

an exchange of letters

 

 

 

 

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Posted above are letters from

Dreiser to his brother Ed, April 18, 1938

Ed’s reply, April 20, 1938

Also — Rome Dreiser’s death certificate

 

Ed was Dreiser’s young brother

Rome (born Markus Romanus Dreiser) was the second oldest of the Dreiser siblings and Theodore and Ed’s brother.  He is the same Rome, a railroad engineer said to be a drifter, who — in his autobiographical work Dawn, published in May 1931, Dreiser wrote — “drank himself into failure if not death.”

Other Dreiser family members mentioned in Dreiser’s and Ed’s letters are their older sister Mame (Maria Franziska Dreiser) and her husband [Austin] Brennan; sister Emma; Mai (Skelly) Dresser. Ed’s wife; Paul Dresser, who died in 1907, the oldest of the Dreiser siblings; and Vera Dreiser, Ed and Mai’s daughter and Dreiser’s niece.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreiser’s favorite fiction character

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘My Favorite Fiction Character’ – The Bookman, April 1926

 

See above PDF file.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

Edgar Lee Masters, “Theodore Dreiser–A Portrait”

 

 

Edgar Lee Masters, “Theodore Dreiser–A Portrait,” The New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1915

 

 

Edgar Lee Masters, “Theodore the Poet,” Spoon River Anthology (1915)

 

A Very Bad Poem From the Book Review Archives

As we scour the past issues of the Book Review on its 125th anniversary, we have come across a lot of commissioned poetry — including this interesting specimen.

By Tina Jordan

The New York Times Book Review

April 23, 2021

 

Just as it does today, in its earliest years, the Book Review occasionally commissioned poetry — from John Masefield, Percy MacKaye (who delivered “The Heart in the Jar: A Meditation on the Nobel Prize Award for Medical Research, 1912”) and even Edgar Lee Masters of “Spoon River Anthology” fame, whose verse about Theodore Dreiser, his contemporary in the Chicago Renaissance literary movement, graced the Oct. 31, 1915, issue.

Despite the fact that it ran on Halloween — and was filled with terrifying imagery that compared Dreiser to a jack-o’-lantern, with “eyes [that] burn like a flame at the end of a funnel” and “powerful teeth” — the poem doesn’t seem to have been written as a holiday spoof. Like “Theodore: A Poet,” a homage to Dreiser that appeared in “Spoon River Anthology,” this piece was later reprinted in several books about the “Sister Carrie” novelist.

 

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I agree with Tina Jordan’s assessment of the poem.

Two lines struck me: “You could not hurt him / If he would allow himself to have a friend. …”

Dreiser didn’t “do” friends. He had — pretty much never — no close friends.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2021

my post about Grace and Roberta’s letters

 

 

I encourage Dreiserians to read my post, “Two Letters from An American Tragedy,” with my thoughts and input from Thomas Kranidas.

 

Roger W. Smith,“Two Letters from ‘An American Tragedy’”

 

I have always been interested in Grace Brown’s letters. Grace Brown was the murder victim of Chester Gillette in 1906 who is depicted in An American Tragedy in the character Robert Alden.

I think this post says a lot about what Dreiser was thinking in drawing the characters Roberta Alden and Sondra Finchley; and about common misconceptions about them and the novel.

 

— Roger W. Smith

April 2021

Dreiser and Zola; The Financier

 

 

The Philadelphia into which Frank Algernon Cowperwood was born was a city of two hundred and fifty thousand and more. It was set with handsome parks, notable buildings, and crowded with historic memories. Many of the things that we and he knew later were not then in existence–the telegraph, telephone, express company, ocean steamer, city delivery of mails. There were no postage-stamps or registered letters. The street car had not arrived. In its place were hosts of omnibuses, and for longer travel the slowly developing railroad system still largely connected by canals.

— Theodore Dreiser, The Financier, Chapter 1

 

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“The Financier, the third of Dreiser’s published novels, marks a distinct turning point in his career. It is at once a departure from his characteristic subject matter and the beginning of his use of the larger canvas to which he knew that his fictional works were most ideally suited. Both Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt had been essentially autobiographical works drawn from Dreiser’s family and work experiences, as was The “Genius,” which was drafted by 1911 but not yet published. Contrasting strongly with those works, The Financier was planned from its inception as an extensive work based (as Emile Zola had advised) upon research. Elements deriving from the writer’s personal and professional lives were now held to a mere shadow of their former prominence. The new story itself was huge, involving a multitude of prominent characters interacting with the central figure over a span of years; it was conceived as a cradle-to­-grave saga, the complete telling of one very significant and individual American life.

“As always in Dreiser’s realist fiction, The Financier is grounded firmly in the socioeconomic context of the author’s youth and young manhood. …”

— Philip Gerber, A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia

 

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I loved the way The Financier begins. In typical Dreiser fashion it draws you right into the novel. And, the beginning and opening chapters place you in nineteenth century Philadelphia, what it was like to live there. And for a boy such as Frank Algernon Cowperwood.

Cowperwood is born in Philadelphia, as was the financier Charles Tyson Yerkes Jr., the real life model for Cowperwood. Dreiser closely followed the actual life of Yerkes in The Financier and two succeeding novels. (Dreiser’s three novels — The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic — comprise the so-called Trilogy of Desire.)

By the time Dreiser began The Financier, he had amassed over 2,000 pages of handwritten notes, some of them verbatim transcriptions of newspaper articles, and he had been saving newspaper clippings from at least a decade earlier when he was living in New York City, Yerkes’ last place of residence.

The influence of Balzac on Dreiser — evident in the latter’s first work, Sister Carrie — has been commented upon frequently by Dreiser scholars (and by me in posts on this site). Zola was clearly a major influence too. This is most evident in An American Tragedy, but it can also be seen in works such as The Financier, as noted above by the late Philip Gerber, an authority on the Trilogy of Desire.

When it comes to An American Tragedy, I feel that Dreiser does not get sufficient credit for the extensive research by him in newspapers that was involved. All we hear for the most part is complaints about how Dreiser plagiarized from accounts of the Gillette murder case and trial. Actually, this was not plagiarism. He drew upon such accounts. And he (for example) quoted more or less verbatim from some of the letters of Grace Brown (the real life Roberta Alden). That is not technically plagiarism. Plagiarism is when one steals another author’s work without giving credit.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2021