Tag Archives: Theodore Dreiser Dawn

“Dreiser’s Nephew Carl” — UPDATED

 

 

addendum – ‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

I have updated my post “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl” again.

 

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

 

The post is mostly in the format of downloadable Word document.

The reason for the update is that I have obtained a valuable piece of evidence: a chapter from the second typescript of Dreiser’s Dawn (at the Lilly Library) which was not available to me until now because of the library being closed during the pandemic.

The only addition to my essay is the Addendum at the end. I have posted the Addendum here as a downloadable World document (above).

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

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

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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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. It has been said, which is inaccurate, that Carl died in his teens. 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 the apartment of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

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

 

 

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Addendum, August 16, 2020:

 

I received an email from Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas today which called my attention to something I had overlooked (italics): “Dreiser was surely influenced by memory of Carl’s bellhop days. And Carl was tragically influenced by Dreiser’s portrayal of Hurstwood’s suicide in “Sister Carrie.”

Note that Carl Dresser (as detailed in my essay ) died from “Asphixiation by illuminating gas.”

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   May 2020; updated August 2020

Isabel Paterson review of “Dawn” (New York Herald Tribune)

 

 

Isabel Paterson review of Dawn – NY Herald Tribune 5-8-1931

 

 

Posted here (PDF file above) is a review of Theodore Dreiser’s Dawn

reviewed by Isabel Paterson

New York Herald Tribune

May 8, 1931

pg. 21

 

 

This brief review — mostly unfavorable in its view of the book and of Dreiser qua writer — is incisive, in my opinion.

I have long felt that Dawn is a sloppily written and inferior work; and that it is far beneath Dreiser’s A Book About Myself (later published as Newspaper Days) by any measure of literary merit. Nevertheless, Dawn does have interest as an autobiographical source.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  February 2020

 

 

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Isabel Paterson (1886-1961; née Isabel Mary Bowler) was a Canadian-American journalist, novelist, political philosopher, and a leading literary and cultural critic of her day. Paterson has been called one of the three founding mothers of American libertarianism, along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand, both of whom acknowledged an intellectual debt to her. She began her journalism career as an assistant to Burton Rascoe (who knew Dreiser personally), the literary editor of the New York Tribune (later the New York Herald Tribune). From 1924 to 1949, she wrote a column for the Herald Tribune‘s “Books” section.

 

— Wikipedia

“adolescent pachyderm”

 

 

review of Dawn (Dreiser called pachyderm) – Time 5-18-1931

 

 

The review of Theodore Dreiser’s Dawn posted here (as a Word document) is from the May 18, 1931 edition of Time.

It is written in the typically snippy (and often parodied) Time style. Nevertheless, it provides a look at the way Dreiser was regarded in his day.

 

 

–Roger W. Smith

  May 2018

Roger W. Smith, review of “Theodore Dreiser’s “Dawn — The Formation of a Mind: An Autobiographical Representation,” by Nadja Firner

 

 

Theodore Dreiser’s “Dawn” — The Formation of a Mind: An Autobiographical Representation, by Nadja Firner. Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller Aktiengesellschaft & Co. KG, 2008. 126 pp. Paper, $92.00.

 

In my opinion, which I think would be shared by many Dreiserians, the two autobiographical works of Theodore Dreiser, A Book About Myself (1922) and Dawn (1931), should be ranked very high among American autobiographies. In view of this, it is surprising that Dreiser’s two autobiographical books (which he envisioned as part of a four-volume autobiography that was never finished) are not better known.

I think that A Book About Myself (later published as Newspaper Days) is actually the better written of the two books. It seems to have a tighter focus and to exhibit less of Dreiser’s tiresome philosophizing than does the later work, Dawn. But Dawn can stand on its own as a compelling work and as an invaluable narrative of Dreiser’s youth.

Hence my excitement when I saw that this book by Nadja Firner had been published and jumped to the conclusion that it was a study of Dawn (which, as is explained below, it is not, quite) and thus, by implication, of Dreiser’s autobiographical oeuvre. That I did so was not incomprehensible given that the publicity material for the book, found on Amazon.com and on the back cover of the book, states that the book “studies Theodore Dreiser’s autobiography of youth.” This statement would seem to indicate that it is a study of Dawn. While Dawn does receive consideration, it is more exact to say that this is a book about the “dawning” of Dreiser’s consciousness and the development of his worldview over his lifetime. (A Book About Myself, incidentally, does not receive consideration.) But the subject of the book is still not clear to me after struggling to complete Firner’s study, and this indicates that there are serious flaws in the book’s conception and construction. The content – or perhaps I should say the context in which the content is embedded – of this study is often out of focus.

Firner considers the major works of Dreiser and references much Dreiser scholarship (notably by Elias, Lehan, Lingeman, Lundén, Mathiessen, Mukherjee, Swanberg, Warren, Wirth-Nesher, and Zanine), but while at times provocative and compelling points are made, a direct, seemingly inevitable consequence of such broad coverage is that it is superficial.

I once took a copyediting course in which the instructor made a point about why attention to detail on the part of editors and copyeditors is essential: Sloppiness in editing and production tends to decrease the reader’s overall confidence in a nonfiction book’s accuracy. Firner’s study appears to have been written by a non-native speaker of English; it may be a translation (and a very awkward one at that) from a manuscript in German. It is written in prose that very often does not conform to standard English usage even by relaxed standards; it is plagued with awkward wording, errors in tense and syntax and typographical errors; and it’s a very tough read. There are also annoying inconsistencies in the treatment, say, of items like young Dreiser’s name (Theo vs. Theodore). It is incredible that this book has been published as is.

The first chapter of this book illustrates what is wrong with the whole work, structurally and focus-wise. Instead of focusing on Dreiser, the chapter provides a broad (very broad, in fact overly general) overview of American society during the Gilded Age. It contains sections entitled “America’s new industrial workers,” “The new managerial class,” “The Labor Movement,” and so on in which statements such as the following are made:

In the 1890s, Coney Island was transformed into the site of some of the largest and most elaborate amusement parks in the country. Its popularity signaled the rise of mass entertainment, making the New York amusement park the unofficial capital of a new mass culture. (pg. 23)

The reader must infer what the relevance to Dreiser (if any) is. It is anyone’s guess.

In her concluding chapter, Firner makes the point that Dreiser’s writing life can be divided into distinct phases: “the yearner and dreamer in a despairingly rough reality” (seen in Dreiser’s portrayals of himself in Dawn and of Carrie Meeber in Sister Carrie); the social Darwinian; a stage in which Dreiser’s outlook became more mystical and “antithetical to the amoral objectivity of a conventionally conceived naturalist”; and a final stage where he managed to reconcile his more romantic or mystical views with a scientific and materialistic outlook. (I am not sure that I have correctly identified the phases here. Firner states that there were three phases, then seems to identify four.) These phases are treated at various points in the exposition, but if they are construed as controlling or organizing themes, then the book can be said to often wander into other territory.

The book is divided into chapters on young Dreiser’s America (already noted), his family and the immigrant experience (in which Dawn gets attention), the importance of the city in Dreiser’s development (in which both Dawn and Sister Carrie are the main focus), Dreiser’s use of symbols (in which several of the novels are scrutinized), major influences on Dreiser from Spencer to Balzac, themes in his work such as the ideal of beauty, and so on. Some of this is quite interesting, or at least potentially so, but it is all too much to cover — the book’s content does not cohere.

Many of Firner’s observations about Dreiser are derivative, which is not in itself a criticism. She clearly acknowledges indebtedness to sources and in fact uses them skillfully. She does make a lot of interesting points of her own, such as that Dreiser suffered from a “poverty complex” not unlike his father’s obsession with religion (38), that “there is hardly anyone to imagine who was more repressive, a sometimes more enthusiastic ‘believer’ and in some respects more fanatic than” Dreiser, whose beliefs about class conflict, for example, were founded, ironically, in opposition to his father’s rigidity and orthodoxy (43); that if Dreiser was in his youth impressed by Horatio Alger-like rags to riches stories, he was not in his later years blinded by them (60); that Dreiser “carried the American business novel into previously unexamined territory by suggesting that the synthesis of commercial success and conventional moral precepts were [sic] possible but by no means necessary” (60); that Dreiser gradually moved away “from the sense of social misery as individual fate to escape from by no matter what means in order to ‘rise’ in society, to the sense of social misery as a collective problem to be solved by political and fair means” (65); that illusion and reality in Dreiser’s view “existed in mutual dependence in that one was unthinkable without the other” (72); that “Dreiser was not merely a documentary social realist, but rather a profound observer of the underlying myths and emotional realities of the American experience” (117); that Dreiser’s philosophy was built more on intuition and faith than on logic and reason (117).

The problem with this study is the way such points are developed, haphazardly and sloppily, which is unfortunate, since the author evinces insightfulness and a clear enthusiasm for her subject. She needed an editor’s help. I would not recommend this book, leaving aide consideration of its exorbitant price.

 

— Roger W. Smith