Tag Archives: Theodore Dreiser “This Madness”

a review of “This Madness”

 

 

review of This Madness – Muskogee (Oklahoma) Democrat 2-5-1929

 

“This Madness” — a series of three sketches (” Aglaia,” “Elizabeth,” “Sidonie”) was a novella by Dreiser published in six installments in Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan from February to July 1929. The first installment had the subheading “An Honest Novel about Love by the Man Who Wrote ‘An American Tragedy’ .”

The serialized novella “This Madness” was heavily advertised, but it received hardly any reviews. It was not, apparently, deemed worthy of critical attention.

This review appeared in the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Democrat of February 5, 1929.

 

See also my post

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness”

on this site at

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

an exchange about Dreiser

 

 

The following are emails — the content of which I believe make for interesting reading — between myself and my brother Pete Smith today (plus a follow up comment from my brother several days later).

 

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Roger Smith:

I happened to reread this post of mine today

link below

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/roger-w-smith-biographical-sketch-of-theodore-dreiser/

and was very pleased with myself.

I think it’s one of the best overviews and appraisals of Dreiser.

 

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Pete Smith:

Just read this again myself. Can’t imagine it could be any better written by anyone. Perfect summary and very thoughtful; I especially like the ending where you explain why, even though he was a dirtbag plagiarist (just kidding but not totally kidding), his work lasts.

 

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Pete Smith:

I’ve been busy with work, but still finding a few moments for [Dreiser’s] “Newspaper Days” and just today have begun reading about the Chicago World’s Fair trip he was dreading. What a riot. Incredibly revealing and often unintentionally hilarious. … I’m saving judgment on Dreiser until I finish. but based on what I’ve read so far, he’s a much better writer, and a much worse person, than I had thought. . .

 

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Roger Smith:

You may have heard of the book “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” by Erik Larson.

I was a very popular book. I think I own it. I believe I read a bit of it.

The main thing about the World’s Fair trip is that Dreiser met his future wife Sara (Jug), who was one of the schoolteachers on the train.

Dreiser honestly, candidly reveals things about himself in “Newspaper Days” — his stupid adolescent mistakes and sex longings and indiscretions, his successes and failures. I admire his sincerity. He did not engage in image “window dressing.”

Dreiser the cad seems to be to more apparent in his adult years.

His primarily failings (major) — as I see it — were his shameless womanizing, believing he could have multiple, serial relationships and they couldn’t, hitting on young unsuspecting woman (personal “secretaries”) and, in one shameless, well documented case (there may have been others) a teenager in high school when he was in middle age or past it; plagiarism; and — I think this is most significant — a deep insecurity and lack of love from early age so that he could never trust or love anyone; also (less important but true), becoming a would be snob once he got well known and rich, putting on airs and admiring the rich and high class (which made him look ridiculous).

I think, as if often the case with writers, some of Dreiser’s early works are better than later ones; and when he was simply attempting to narrate and tell the truth — or engage in reportage (of, say, the Brooklyn trolley strike or the Hudson River tunnel cave in), he could be surprisingly good.

When he attempts to philosophize or pose as an intellectual, he is out of his depth. He was basically uneducated. He was often on the wrong side of political and social issues.

 

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Pete Smith:

Yes, read “Devil in the White City” years ago. Excellent book; reading Dreiser’s excitement about the World’s Fair there reminded me of the book; that part is well written.

What bothers me most is the number of women he just ducked out on treating them with zero respect or concern or care. Inexcusable; he may be one of the least empathetic men who ever lived. If you don’t count Trump.

His lack of empathy is even apparent in his account of the tragic gas fire/explosion [in the St Louis Republic; recounted in Newspaper Days] which was probably his earliest reporting success. Most of what he talks about during these horrific twenty-four hours are himself.

 

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Roger Smith:

Re your comments (in bold):

What bothers me most is the number of women he just ducked out on treating them with zero respect or concern or care. Inexcusable; he may be one of the least empathetic men who ever lived. If you don’t count Trump.

His treatment of women is horrifying, inexcusable.

I doubt you would wish to read Dreiser’s “serialized” novella “This Madness,” posted by me at:

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/16/theodore-dreiser-this-madness/

The woman characters were real lovers of his.

I spent days and weeks copying the whole “This Madness” — 56,000 words — at the New York Public Library and typing and proofreading it at home.

It comes though clearly how Dreiser regarded and treated women. How could he not see how it made him look? (Self-awareness was not one of his strong points.) Dreiser is posturing as, bragging about, his quest for the ideal woman, who, of course, he never finds; he finds faults in all of them. And leaves them. Will never commit to an enduring relationship. It never occurs to him to empathize (as yon note) with them.

His lack of empathy is even apparent in his account of the tragic gas fire/explosion which was probably his earliest reporting success. Most of what he talks about during these horrific twenty-four hours is himself.

I remember well this part of the book. But did not think about this (what you say about not empathizing with the victims). Undoubtedly true and on the mark.

 

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Pete Smith:

Thanks, Roger. This is very well written and very interesting; based on my reading of “Newspaper Days” (nearing the finish line) everything the writer says rings true. (In reference to an article I shared with my brother: “Moby Theo” by Oliver Edwards, The Times of London, January 19, 1956; see PDF below.),

I would have stopped reading “Newspaper Days” hundreds of pages ago if it weren’t so damned interesting. Embarrassingly interesting and revealingly interesting often, but interesting nonetheless. And there is something odd about Dreiser’s writing style — there are almost always far too many words, but it’s almost always not bothersome.

 

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Roger Smith:

 

Pete,

I often, continually. am recasting, reformulating, refining thoughts and opinions in my mind.

Re “Newspaper Days” — this probably (if not certainly) also applies to Dreiser’s fiction — there is no (Joycean, Hemingway-ish, Nabokovian) wall.

You, the reader, can walk right in and he shares his unscripted, plain, inchoate, actual experience with you. His memory may be faulty and, like any good raconteur, he will present the story in a certain light.

But it feels very true. And real.

Dreiser is very easy to read. This is a GOOD thing.

And, as true as this is (his readability), there is a substratum, a bedrock, of fact and actuality.
It is not fiction for philistines and those who choose the next book to read or recommend to a friend from the bestseller lists,

Which is why people who like to read still read Dreiser

While (although) he and many of his works are otherwise largely forgotten and perhaps considered out of fashion.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

 February 6, 2021

 

oliver-edwards-moby-theo-the-times-london-1-19-1956

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness”

 

 

 

image (3)

 

 

 

 

 

‘This Madness. Aglaia’ – Cosmopolitan, February 1929

 

 

‘This Madness. Aglaia’ – Cosmopolitan, March 1929

 

‘This Madness. The Story of Elizabeth’ – Cosmopolitan, April 1929

 

 

‘This Madness. The Story of Elizabeth’ – Cosmopolitan, May 1929

 

‘This Madness. The Book of Sidonie’ – Cosmopolitan, June 1929

 

 

‘This Madness. The Book of Sidonie’ – Cosmopolitan, July 1929

 

 

 

“You people may not realize it, but in ‘This Madness’ you are publishing the most intimate and important work so far achieved by me,” Theodore Dreiser told us after we had completed arrangements for his new novel to appear in Cosmopolitan. We do realize it, Mr. Dreiser. We realize that no man, certainly no American, has written so honestly, so frankly, about the part love plays in the life of a great artist.

We believe you readers of Cosmopolitan also realize what a privilege it has been to you to have the opportunity to read such an outstanding piece of realism before book publication.

 

— Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness: The Book of Sidonie,” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86 (June 1929), pg. 83

 

 

 

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Posted here (downloadable Word documents above) is the entire text of “This Madness,” a novella by Theodore Dreiser that was published in six installments in Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan in 1929.

The novella was about 56,000 words in length. This is over a third — approximately — of the length of Sister Carrie.

“This Madness” has never been republished; it never appeared in book form.

 

 

 

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The six installments are posted here as separate Word documents:

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness [Aglaia],” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86.2 (February 1929): 22-27, 192-203

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness: Part Two—Aglaia,” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86.3 (March 1929): 44-47, 160-66

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness: The Story of Elizabeth,” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86 (April 1929): 81-85, 117-20

 

Theodore Dreiser. “This Madness [The Story of Elizabeth],” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86 (May 1929): 80-83, 146-154

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness: The Book of Sidonie,” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 86 (June 1929): 83-87, 156-68

 

Theodore Dreiser, “This Madness [Sidonie],” Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan 87 (July 929): 86-87, 179-186

 
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The New York Public Library has bound copies of these issues of the magazine. I believe that they are not readily available or obtainable elsewhere. The NYPL’s set may be unique.

The above transcriptions were done by Roger W. Smith. who copied, typed, and proofread the text.

Commentary (mine) on “This Madness” is forthcoming.

 
posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 2020

 

 

Alfred Kazin on Dreiser

 

 

Alfred Kazin introduction to The Titan (The Laurel Dreiser)

 

Alfred Kazin introduction to Jennie Gerhardt (The Laurel Dreiser)

 

 

I have transcribed and posted here (downloadable Word documents above) the following:

Alfred Kazin, General Introduction, The Titan, by Theodore Dreiser (The Laurel Dresier; New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1959), pp. 7-19

Alfred Kazin, Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt, by Theodore Dreiser (The Laurel Dreiser; New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1963), pp. 5-12

They are well worth reading

 

 

 

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Some of My Thoughts About Kazin’s Observations

 

 

 

General Introduction, The Titan:

 

Kazin, pg. 9: The facts dredged up by impersonal “research” are often dubious and quickly dated, whereas the sheer web of fact that Dreiser put together about clothes, house furnishings and finance fifty years ago retains its interest for us today.

“[T]he sheer web of fact”: GOOD. Read, for example, Chapter 1 of The Financier.

 

 

Kazin, pg. 15: When Dreiser is bad, it is never because of the slowness or literalness of his technique; it is because of the imposition of a purely subjective emotion, as in parts of The ‘Genius.’ In Dreiser the writer was always wiser than the man. When his instinctive transformative powers fail him, when he imposes on the reader great blobs of incoherent personal emotion, one recognizes how silly the man Theodore Dreiser could be. An example is the tasteless endearments that Eugene Witla addresses to young Suzanne Dale.

Yes, but Dreiser often wrote to Thelma Cudlipp endearments of precisely that sort. Dreiser was drawing upon his memory and own experience. Eugene is silly, Dreiser was silly, but such an infatuation actually occurred; therefore, Dreiser, in describing Eugene’s pursuit of Suzanne Dale and the endearments was being true to life and experience.
Kazin, pg. 16: Frank Cowperwood, … despite his immense personal authority, his fortune, his undeviating attraction to so many women, must himself go from woman to woman in a yearning for that “refinement,” that ultimate “spell of beauty,” which would represent a social victory higher than anything in Philadelphia or Chicago.

 

And so did Dreiser. This was true of him from the time he became unfaithful to and then separated from his wife Sara (Jug), up to the time when, shortly before his death, he married his mistress, Helen (Patges) Richardson. His relentless pursuit of women and endless serial affairs His demand for youth and beauty as seen in the poorly written, fatuous series of magazine sketches by Dreiser entitled “This Madness.” Cowperwood as Dreiser, and vice versa.

 

 

 

Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt:

 

 

Kazin, pg. 7: When he describes Jennie as exceptional by reason of her “poetic” feeling (he speaks of “the wondrous sea of feeling in her”), he makes clear why it is that young women like Jennie, and for that matter Sister Carrie herself and even Roberta Alden in An American Tragedy, have such power to move us. American literature is notoriously poor in portraits of good women, believable women, mature women.

 

Why does Kazin use the modifier “even” when referring to Roberta Alden? Is she not winsome with a “purity” of person and feeling not unlike that of Jennie’s?

 

 

Kazin, pg. 12: Yet though Jennie Gerhardt is not one of Dreiser’s strong books, it is as moving as if it were saturated in Jennie’s own quality of feeling. It is a book that will live.

I wonder if Kazin’s prediction was accurate. Jennie Gerhardt is still read. But there are few copies in print.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2019

 

 

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See also:
“Alfred Kazin, “Theodore Dreiser and the Critics”

posted on this site at
https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2018/07/15/alfred-kazin-theodore-dreiser-and-the-critics/

 

 

“Kazin on Dreiser: What it Means to be a Literary Critic”

by William E. Cain

Society 55 (6), November 2018, pp. 517–525

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

Note that Kazin states in his introduction to Jennie Gerhardt:

 

Dreiser had been deeply affected by the poverty and rootlessness of his early life and by the misadventures of his sisters. Carrie Meeber’s going off with Hurstwood (in Sister Carrie) was based on episodes in the life of one Dreiser sister [Emma], and Jennie Gerhardt’s having an illegitimate baby was based on the story of another sister [Mame]. Robert Elias says in his biography that when the “Jennie” sister [Cacilia, known as Sylvia] found herself pregnant, she went to the “Carrie” sister [Emma], who with her “Hurstwood” [L. A. Hopkins] was in New York; they were supporting themselves in part by “renting rooms to girls of questionable virtue.” The mother of “Jennie’s” wealthy lover “haughtily explained that he could do nothing about it since he had more important ties. Afterward the child was sent home to be cared for by the tireless Sarah Dreiser,” the all-forgiving and tender mother on whom Dreiser modeled Mrs. Gerhardt.

— Introduction, Jennie Gerhardt, The Laurel Dreiser, pg. 6

 

The “Jennie” sister” (who found herself pregnant and went to New York City to her sister Emma’s apartment, where, in real life, her child was born) to whom Kazin refers was Theodore Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Dreiser) Kishima (ca. 1865-1945), who was known as Sylvia — not Dreiser’s sister Mame (Maria Franziska [Dreiser] Brennan [1861-1944]), who was known as Mame. This should be noted to avoid confusion, since Mame was the real life model for Jennie in the novel. Both of Dreiser’s sisters, Mame and Sylvia, had illegitimate children in real life, and this can create confusion.

 

Donald Pizer is fully accurate when he says:

For the basic plot of Jennie Gerhardt, Dreiser relied principally on the experiences of his sister Mary, who was generally called Mame within the Dreiser family.  Ten years older than Dreiser, Mame had been seduced at sixteen by a prominent and middle-aged Terre Haute lawyer whom Dreiser called Colonel Silsby in Dawn. The Dreiser family fortunes were at a low ebb during their Terre Haute years of 1870-79. John Dreiser was usually unemployed, Paul and Rome were in trouble with the law on several occasions, and the older girls were interested in men who could buy them things. The Dreisers of Terre Haute, as recalled in Dawn, and the Gerhardts of Columbus, as portrayed in Jennie Gerhardt, lead parallel lives both broadly and in such details as the mothers taking in laundry from a local hotel and the boys throwing down coal from railway cars. And, most pertinent of all, Paul had been arrested for theft, Colonel Silsby had intervened on his behalf, and Mame had subsequently been seduced by the colonel.

In the summer of 1879, Sarah Dreiser moved with part of the family to Sullivan, Indiana, leaving John, Mame, and several of the other girls temporarily behind in Terre Haute. That winter Mame joined her mother in Sullivan, pregnant. Silsby had unsuccessfully attempted to arrange for an abortion and had refused to marry her. Mame remained with her mother until a stillborn child was delivered in April 1880 and then moved to Chicago. There she found work in a boardinghouse which was also apparently a gambling club. Within a short time, she began to live with Austin Brennan, a bluff, hard-living man, fourteen years her senior, who traveled for his family’s Rochester dry-goods firm. After years of living together, primarily in Chicago, they were married sometime in the mid-1880s. [They were married in Chicago in 1897.] Brennan’s family were well-to-do and conservative, with social pretensions, and though Mame visited them in Rochester both before and after her marriage, she was apparently not welcomed. She therefore frequently lived with the Dreiser family–first in Warsaw and after 1887 in Chicago–where Brennan would join her for lengthy periods. In the late 1890s, however, she and Brennan finally settled in Rochester, and when John Dreiser died late in 1900, it was at their Rochester home. Soon afterward they moved to New York City, and though Brennan was in poor circumstances during his later years, they remained a faithful couple until his death in 1928.

 

— Donald Pizer, The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976), pp. 98-99