Tag Archives: Sister Carrie

Hurstwood, the trolley strike … Dreiser

 

 

Chapters 40-41

 

Sister Carrie

In Chapters XL and XLI of Sister Carrie, the Brooklyn trolley strike of 1895 is described in great detail. Hurstwood, who is at first sympathetic to the strikers, becomes a scab out of desperation to find employment. He works as a trolley car motorman for a single day, and is subject to obloquy and physical abuse by strikers and their sympathizers.

See text of Sister Carrie, Chapters XL and XLI (downloadable word document above).

 

 

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The Strike

On the morning of January 14, 1895, none of the streetcars on four of Brooklyn’s six main trolley roads left their barns. The strike that followed lasted over five weeks and was the largest and most violent labor dispute that Brooklyn had ever witnessed. Before it was over, thousands of scabs had been brought in from all over the country, the National Guard of Brooklyn and of neighboring New York City had been called out, and at least two civilians had been killed. Throughout the nation, the press depicted Brooklyn as an armed camp, where the striking Knights of Labor and their sympathizers clashed hourly with the militia and the police. …

Public attention centered on the trolleys themselves: their effect on the city, the impact of their changing technology, and the behavior of the companies that built and operated them. These issues were debated passionately by many Brooklynites and public opinion was considered crucial to the success or failure of the strike. Although the little attention that has been paid to this strike by historians has tended to emphasize public support for the companies, the strikers also received widespread support in their struggle. …

On January 11 the strike question was put to a vote of the membership, and the result was overwhelming: 3997 in favor, 133 opposed. On Monday morning, January 14, almost no trolleys ran on Brooklyn’s streets.

It had been reported that the companies were advertising for nonunion men to come to Brooklyn well before the strike vote was even taken. In any case, once the strike was declared they lost little time in hiring non-union men. The companies had placed notices in the papers of 20-30 different cities–virtually every American city with a trolley system. [Daniel] Lewis and [Cassius] Wicker [officials of the transportation companies affected] made it known that they considered that the men who refused to take out their cars had quit, and that they would replace them as soon as possible. [Benjamin] Norton [president of the Atlantic Avenue Railroad
Company] said that he would run no cars until Wednesday, in order to give his men a chance to reconsider and to return to work.

The cars started running slowly–on Monday, Brooklyn Heights succeeded in operating only 17 of its usual 900 cars, while the Atlantic Avenue company ran only a single mail car, with an engineer as the motorman and a purchasing agent as a conductor. In Norton’s words: “As a means of transportation, it was a complete failure.” In the days that followed men looking for work flocked to the companies’ offices, and gradually more cars were run and more lines were open. Men came from literally all over the country to work on the Brooklyn lines, and their stories are a testimony to the hard times that prevailed in the nation. Like fictional George Hurstwood, who came to Brooklyn to try his luck on the trolley lines in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie,  the scabs were generally desperate for work. …

The Brooklyn trolley strike was defeated in spite of public support, not for lack of it. The entire military force remained on active duty in Brooklyn until January 28, and some troops remained until February 1. The strike officially lasted for another two weeks, and strike arrests were still occurring as late as February 24. On February 9, more than a week after the troops were withdrawn, there were still eight lines on which not a car was running.”

The principal reason the strike failed was the determination of the companies to wait the strikers out. As Norton said, “As long as I have a man left to operate a car, as long as I have a powerhouse to move a car, as long as I have a car to run, I shall operate the railroad. When I have not a wheel that will turn around then I will stop and wait to see what will happen next.” In the face of such resolve, the men needed both strength and staying power. However, the economic depression, the ready availability of scabs, the bitter cold weather, the failure of all legal and legislative remedies, and, of course, the city’s use of force against the strikers all combined to erode their ability to outlast the companies. The strike ended with some strikers drifting back to work, and it was officially declared off on February 16. When the companies failed to hire back more than a fraction of the old men as individuals, labor called a boycott of the lines which lasted until August 9, when the companies agreed to reinstate old employees as quickly as places opened.”

— Sarah M. Henry, “The Strikers and Their Sympathizers: Brooklyn in the Trolley Strike of 1895,” Labor History 32.3 (summer 1991): 329- 353

 

Among the issues underlying the strike were the following: schedules, timetables, and allocation of work to different classes of drivers; the length of the working day (then set at twelve hours); wages (wages were around $2 to $1.50 a day, depending on seniority and job classification of drivers); and the change from horse-driven to electric trolley cars, which appeared to threaten a reduction in trips made by full-day cars, whose drivers were paid the at the highest rate.

 

 

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THOUGHTS

Sister Carrie is a very good first novel.

It is not as if Dreiser somehow blundered his way into a classic; or as if, with no idea what he was doing — with blinkers on, so to speak — he succeeded as he did.

As a novelist, he can be most closely compared to Balzac, whose influence on Dreiser is evident.

As a stylist, Dreiser (not often in Sister Carrie, often in later works) could be atrocious. The writing — which is to say prose style — in Sister Carrie is adequate, but the book would not on that score have earned praise or critical regard, or earned for Dreiser rights to be taken seriously as a writer.

Dreiser’s strengths lay in plot and characterization. In storytelling.

Could the same be said of James Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, or Henry Miller? I think not.

Dreiser absorbed, digested, made his own what makes Balzac a great and unequivocally readable novelist.

And there was also Dreiser’s apprentice work: his journalism for the St. Louis Republic (mostly) and other papers. Read his Republic stories and you will see diligence in reporting — the pains he took, the lengths he would go to, to get the story — combined with an unmistakable genius for narration, storytelling ability.

Facts plus narrative. There is a strong factual underpinning in Sister Carrie, as evidenced by the skillful interweaving by Dreiser of real people and incidents, real places, and real events (researched by Dreiser using his reportorial skills) such as the Brooklyn trolley car strike into the narrative.

Dreiser had an inborn talent to take a substratum of actual facts and with it, flesh out a story with characters embedded in it (the principal ones often drawn from real life) who bring the story to life.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

 

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Addendum:

 

Posted here, for reference, are several news stories covering the strike.

 

1 – ‘They May Strike and They May Not’ – NY Times 1-11-1895

 

2 – ‘Trolley Men Will Know To-Day’ – NY Times 1-12-1895

 

3- ‘Will Tie Up Trolleys’ (strike considered certain) – NY Times 1-14-1895

 

4 – ‘Cars Tied Up’ (trolley strike) – St. Louis Post-Dispatch 1-14-1895

 

5 – ‘Trolley Strike Is On’ – NY Times 1-15-1895

 

6 – ‘Violence by Strikers’ – NY Times 1-16-1895

 

7 – update on trolley strike (various stories) – NY Times 1-17-1895

 

8 – ‘Strike Must Be Ended’ (Mayor says) – NY Times 1-17-1895

 

9 – ‘Men Still Holiding Out’ – NY Times 1-18-1895

 

10 – Big Mobs Attacked Cars’ – NY Times 1-18-1895

 

11 – ‘Militia Called Out’ – NY Times 1-19-1895

 

12 – ‘More Acts of Violence’ – NY Times 1-20-1895

 

13 – ‘With Fixed Bayonets, Troops Drive Back a Mob’ – NY Tribune 1-20-1895

 

14 – ‘Only a Few Cars Run’ – NY Tribune 1-20-1895

 

15 – ‘Number of Cars That Ran,’ etc – NY Times 1-20-1895

 

16 – ‘More Troops Called For’ – NY Times 1-21-1895

 

17 – ‘The Brooklyn Strike’ (editorial) – NY Times 1-21-1895

 

18 – troopers disperse mob – NY Times 1-22-1895

 

19 – ‘The Law and the Trolley Companies’ (editorial) – NY Times 1-22-1895

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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imageedit_3_5018844377 (2).jpg

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.)

 

 

imageedit_1_6437603324.jpg

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

contemporary newspaper accounts about the real life Hurstwood’s theft

 

 

 

the-safes-contents-missing-chi-inter-ocean-2-16-1886

 

 

cashier-and-money-missing-ny-times-2-16-1886

 

 

hopkins-skip-chi-inter-ocean-2-17-1886-pg-8-3

 

 

item re Hopkins (returned money) - Chi Tribune 2-19-1886, pg. 8.jpg

 

 

hopkins-is-sorry-chi-tribune-2-17-1886

 

 

See downloadable files above.

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, was based on real people and incidents: (1) Dreiser’s sister Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser  (Carrie Meeber in the novel); and, (2) Emma’s lover L. A. Hopkins (George Hurstwood in the novel). They absconded to New York after Hopkins, a married man, stole money from his employer in Chicago.

The incident in which Hopkins stole cash from his employer, Chapin & Gore (Fitzgerald and Moy in the novel), a firm that owned a number of Chicago saloons, and absconded — a central incident which underpins the plot of Sister Carrie (where Hurstwood does the same things) — happened in February 1886 and was covered in contemporary newspapers.

Five such newspaper accounts are attached here as downloadable files:

“The Safe’s Contents Missing,” Chicago Inter Ocean, February 16 1886

“Cashier and Money Missing,” New York Times, February 16, 1886

“Hopkins’ Skip,” Chicago Inter Ocean, February 17, 1886

“Hopkins Is Sorry,” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1886

news item re return of money by Hopkins, Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1886

 

 

–Roger W. Smith

    November 2016

“How to Make ‘Sister Carrie’ Come Alive” — new opera

 

 

how-to-make-sister-carrie-come-alive

 

 

Attached (above) is an article in Urban Milwaukee which was posted on line on October 3, 2016.

Sister Carrie, a new opera based on the Dreiser novel, composed by Robert Aldridge with a libretto by Herschel Garfein, had its world premiere in September 2016 in a performance by the Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

'Sister Carrie' - playbill.jpg

+

 

“George Ade Absolves Dreiser”

 

 

 

On September 7, 1926, the New York Herald Tribune printed a story concerning alleged plagiarism by Dreiser, including plagiarism in writing Sister Carrie whereby Dreiser lifted a story by George Ade.

Ade’s reply to these charges, the text of which follows below, was printed in the Herald Tribune of September 9, 1926: “George Ade Absolves Dreiser Of Lifting His ‘Swift Worker’ ”

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

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You have asked if Theodore Dreiser in his novel ‘Sister Carrie’ incorporated in one of his early chapters part of a story which I had written for ‘The Chicago Record.’ Before I reply to your inquiry let it be understood that I am simply complying with your request. To get back. I am not stirring up any charge against Mr. Dreiser, not after all these years. Along about 1898 I wrote for ‘The Record’ a story in fable form called The Two Mandolin Players and the Willing Performer.

In that story I had a character shown as cousin Gus from St. Paul. He was of the type then known as a swift worker. Probably we would call him a sheik today, seeing that we have made such a tremendous advance in recent years. In my little story I detailed the tactics which would be employed by Gus if he spotted a good looker on the train between St. Paul and Chicago.

When the very large and important novel called Sister Carrie came out I read it, and I was much amused to discover that Theodore Dreiser had incorporated in a description of one of his important characters the word picture of Cousin Gus which I had outlined in my newspaper story and which later appeared in a volume called ‘Fables in Slang.’ It is true that for a few paragraphs Mr. Dreiser’s copy for the book tallied very closely with my copy for the little story. When I discovered the resemblance I was not horrified or indignant. I was simply flattered. It warmed me to discover that Mr. Dreiser has found my description suitable for the clothing of one of his characters. Many people came to me and called my attention to the fact that a portion of my little fable had been found imbedded in the very large novel of Mr. Dreiser.

I figured that he had read my fable was about like his character in the novel and that he absorbed the description and used it without any intent of taking something which belonged to someone else. Most certainly I do not accuse Mr. Dreiser of plagiarism even by implication or in a spirit of pleasantry. I have a genuine admiration for him. To me he is a very large and commanding figure in American letters. While some of us have been building chicken coops, or, possibly, bungalows, Mr. Dreiser has been erecting skyscrapers. He makes the three-decker novel look like a pamphlet. He is the only writer on our list who has the courage and the patience and the painstaking qualities of observation to get all of the one _____ [illegible word] into the story.

Theodore Dreiser was born in Indiana and the Hoosiers are very proud of him. I knew rather intimately his brother, Paul, who wrote many popular songs and one highly esteemed here at home, ‘The Banks of the Wabash.’ I was active in planning a memorial to Paul to be placed on the banks of the Wabash down near his old home. While we were planning the memorial I had some correspondence with Theodore Dreiser. I am rather sorry that some one has reminded the Herald Tribune, of which I an constant reader and regular subscriber, that Mr. Dreiser got into his novel something which I read like something written by one before his novel came out.

It all happened so many years ago. It seems to raise the absolutely preposterous suggestion that Mr. Dreiser needs help. Anybody who writes novels containing approximately one million words each doesn’t need any help from any one. As I said before, while most of our guild are at work on tiny structures which stay close to the ground, Mr. Dreiser is putting up skyscrapers. If, in building one of his massive structures he used a brick from my pile, goodness knows he was welcome to it and no questions were asked or will be asked. These are the facts in the case. Mr. Dreiser hasn’t hurt my feelings at any time. I don’t want to hurt his feelings now.

 

 

 

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See also:

“did Dreiser plagiarize in writing his first novel?”

posted on this site at

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/did-dreiser-plagiarize-in-writing-his-first-novel/