Tag Archives: Theodore Dreiser An American Tragedy

Leda Bauer, ‘The Revival of Dreiser”

 

 

 

Leda Bauer, ‘The Revival of Dreiser’ – Theatre Arts

 

Posted here:

The Revival of Dreiser

by Leda Bauer

Theatre Arts

August 1951

A well written and acute review of two films based on An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie.

A few observations, comments of my own; and additions to the content of the review.

At the end of the film Carrie, Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), down and out and desperate, waits for Carrie (Jennifer Jones) at the stage door and approaches her as she is leaving. Carrie, startled, is shocked by his bedraggled condition. She ushers the starving Hurstwood into her dressing room, has food ordered for him, and gives him a generous amount of money from her purse at his request. Shocked by Hurstwood’s condition, Carrie vows to take him home with her and says she wants to resume the relationship. Hurstwood is noncommittal

Carrie leaves the room for a minute to see if she can borrow more money for Hurstwood’s immediate needs. Hurstwood puts the money already given him by Carrie back into her purse, fiddles with a gas jet, turning it on for a minute and then off, and leaves. The film ends.

In the novel, Sister Carrie, the last encounter between Hurstwood and Carrie is in Chapter XLVI.

That night … she passed Hurstwood, waiting at the Casino, without observing him.

The next night, walking to the theatre, she encountered him face to face. He was waiting, more gaunt than ever, determined to see her, if he had to send in word. At first she did not recognise the shabby, baggy figure. He frightened her, edging so close, a seemingly hungry stranger.

“Carrie,” he half whispered, “can I have a few words with you?”

She turned and recognised him on the instant. If there ever had lurked any feeling in her heart against him, it deserted her now. Still, she remembered what Drouet said about his having stolen the money.

“Why, George,” she said; “what’s the matter with you?”

“I’ve been sick,” he answered. “I’ve just got out of the hospital. For God’s sake, let me have a little money, will you?”

“Of course,” said Carrie, her lip trembling in a strong effort to maintain her composure. “But what’s the matter with you, anyhow?”

She was opening her purse, and now pulled out all the bills in it–a five and two twos.

“I’ve been sick, I told you,” he said, peevishly, almost resenting her excessive pity. It came hard to him to receive it from such a source.

“Here,” she said. “It’s all I have with me.”

“All right,” he answered, softly. “I’ll give it back to you some day.”

Carrie looked at him, while pedestrians stared at her. She felt the strain of publicity. So did Hurstwood.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s the matter with you?” she asked, hardly knowing what to do. “Where are you living?”

“Oh, I’ve got a room down in the Bowery,” he answered. “There’s no use trying to tell you here. I’m all right now.”

He seemed in a way to resent her kindly inquiries–so much better had fate dealt with her.

“Better go on in,” he said. “I’m much obliged, but I won’t bother you any more.”

She tried to answer, but he turned away and shuffled off toward the east.

For days this apparition was a drag on her soul before it began to wear partially away.

Of the two films, A place in the Sun and Carrie, I think the latter is much more faithful to Dreiser’s novel. Also, the black and white film and period details, costumes, etc. make Carrie very effective in this respect; they evoke a quality of the novel that made it so telling.

Leda Bauer (born Leda Vesta Bauer-Berg; 1898-1975) was a New York-based film critic, motion picture story editor; and a girlfriend of H. L. Mencken.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

from Donald Friede, “The Mechanical Angel”

 

Donald Friede, ‘The Mechanical Angel’

 

Posted here are excerpts about Dreiser from:

Donald Friede, The Mechanical Angel (New York Alfred A. Knopf, 1948)

Friede recalls his various experiences as Dreiser’s publisher, the stage production of An American Tragedy, and the trial in Boston in 1929 to suppress An American Tragedy.

Mentioned in the book are T. R. Smith (pg. 22) and George Antheil (pp. 54-55). Smith was editor-in-chief at Boni & Liveright. He was heavily involved in the editing and cutting of An American Tragedy. Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, and author.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

 

what was Gillette’s motive?

 

 

I have been studying the trial transcript of the Gillette-Brown murder case.

What about the “other woman” (Sondra Finchley in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy)?

We know that there was no such romance in actuality. But what was Gillette’s motive?

I have pointed out that Harriet Benedict, rumored to be the other woman in the actual case, with brief reports to that effect in newspapers, was not only not engaged to Gillette; she did not have a romance with him.

But Gillette and Miss Benedict (later Mrs Levi Chase) were acquainted, and witnesses in the trial transcript reported occasionally seeing them in public together.

What do I think Gillette’s motive was? It is significant that while many employees at the skirt factory in upstate Cortland, NY where Gillette and Grace Brown worked saw them flirting and talking more than usual during work hours, it was commented upon that no one ever saw them out together in public. Gillette would visit Grace in the evening at her landlady’s house.

Gillette was the poor nephew, from humble beginnings, of factory owner Noah H. Gillette, his uncle. His cousin, Harold R. Gillette, was a supervisor at the factory. (Just as in the novel, the cousin seemed to have had little personal contact with Gillette.) I think Gillette did not want his romance with Grace Brown to become known because it would ruin his chances for professional advancement and his reputation — including, perhaps, his chances of marrying a rich girl. He seemed ashamed of the relationship.

He seems to have thought that he could do away with Grace “quietly” and escape detection. Then he could have returned to the factory from his “vacation” and resume his normal life. He was definitely interested in girls and in becoming a regular, accepted member of the Cortland social set.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

“Horace Liveright: Publisher of the Twenties” (the chapters on Dreiser)

 

 

Horace Livreright, ‘Theodore Dreiser’

 

Horace Liveright, ‘An American Tragedy’

 

 

I have posted here excepts from the following book:

Horace Liveright: Publisher of the Twenties

By Walker Gilmer

New York: David Lewis, 1979

namely, the following chapters in their entirety:

“Theodore Dreiser,” pp. 39-59

“An American Tragedy,” pp. 134-152

plus footnotes

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

 

 

Horace Liveright

“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

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

 

*****************************************************

 

“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

 

*****************************************************

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

 

 

 

An American Tragedy (film) scenario (Eistenstein, Alexandrov, Montagu)

 

 

An American Tragedy – scenario (Eisenstein, Alexandrov, Montagu)

 

The complete scenario, written by Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Alexandrov, and Ivor Montagu, for a film of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy  (downloadable PDF file above) is posted here. The scenario was written in 1930. The film was never produced.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021

tendentious (the author as Deus ex machina)

 

 

While the money was in his hand the lock clicked. It had sprung! Did he do it? He grabbed at the knob and pulled vigorously. It had closed. …

The moment he realised that the safe was locked for a surety, the sweat burst out upon his brow and he trembled violently. He looked about him and decided instantly. There was no delaying now.

“Supposing I do lay it on the top,” he said, “and go away, they’ll know who took it. I’m the last to close up. Besides, other things will happen.”

He hurried into his little room, took down his light overcoat and hat, locked his desk, and grabbed the satchel. Then he turned out all but one light and opened the door. …

He walked steadily down the street, greeting a night watchman whom he knew who was trying doors. He must get out of the city, and that quickly.

Sister Carrie, Chapter 27

 

And Roberta, suddenly noticing the strangeness of it all–the something of eerie unreason or physical and mental indetermination so strangely and painfully contrasting with this scene, exclaiming: “Why, Clyde! Clyde! What is it? Whatever is the matter with you anyhow? You look so–so strange–so–so– Why, I never saw you look like this before. What is it?” And suddenly rising, or rather leaning forward, and by crawling along the even keel, attempting to approach him, since he looked as though he was about to fall forward into the boat–or to one side and out into the water. And Clyde, as instantly sensing the profoundness of his own failure, his own cowardice or inadequateness for such an occasion, as instantly yielding to a tide of submerged hate, not only for himself, but Roberta–her power–or that of life to restrain him in this way. And yet fearing to act in any way–being unwilling to– being willing only to say that never, never would he marry her– that never, even should she expose him, would he leave here with her to marry her–that he was in love with Sondra and would cling only to her–and yet not being able to say that even. But angry and confused and glowering. And then, as she drew near him, seeking to take his hand in hers and the camera from him in order to put it in the boat, he flinging out at her, but not even then with any intention to do other than free himself of her–her touch– her pleading–consoling sympathy–her presence forever–God!

Yet (the camera still unconsciously held tight) pushing at her with so much vehemence as not only to strike her lips and nose and chin with it, but to throw her back sidewise toward the left wale which caused the boat to careen to the very water’s edge. And then he, stirred by her sharp scream, (as much due to the lurch of the boat, as the cut on her nose and lip), rising and reaching half to assist or recapture her and half to apologize for the unintended blow–yet in so doing completely capsizing the boat–himself and Roberta being as instantly thrown into the water. And the left wale of the boat as it turned, striking Roberta on the head as she sank and then rose for the first time, her frantic, contorted face turned to Clyde, who by now had righted himself. For she was stunned, horror-struck, unintelligible with pain and fear–her lifelong fear of water and drowning and the blow he had so accidentally and all but unconsciously administered. ….

“But this–this–is not this that which you have been thinking and wishing for this while–you in your great need? And behold! For despite your fear, your cowardice, this–this–has been done for you. An accident–an accident–an unintentional blow on your part is now saving you the labor of what you sought, and yet did not have the courage to do! But will you now, and when you need not, since it is an accident, by going to her rescue, once more plunge yourself in the horror of that defeat and failure which has so tortured you and from which this now releases you? You might save her. But again you might not! For see how she strikes about. She is stunned. She herself is unable to save herself and by her erratic terror, if you draw near her now, may bring about your own death also. But you desire to live! And her living will make your life not worth while from now on. Rest but a moment–a fraction of a minute! Wait–wait–ignore the pity of that appeal. And then– then– But there! Behold. It is over. She is sinking now. You will never, never see her alive any more–ever. And there is your own hat upon the water–as you wished. And upon the boat, clinging to that rowlock a veil belonging to her. Leave it. Will it not show that this was an accident?” ..

And then Clyde, with the sound of Roberta’s cries still in his ears, that last frantic, white, appealing look in her eyes, swimming heavily, gloomily and darkly to shore. …

An American Tragedy, Book Two, Chapter XLVII

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Neither situation, as carefully constructed by Dreiser — while admittedly fiction — is plausible. Dreiser as Deus ex machina, as artificer, “intervenes” in the plot, so to speak, for the purpose of making events be explainable — be construed by the reader — from his tendentious point of view. A clumsy authorial intervention which makes the story, plot, at that point the antithesis of seamless.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2021