Tag Archives: Theodore Dreiser

new post – “looking for work”

 

 

To fellow Dreiserians

Please see my post

“looking for work”

looking for work

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

Once I read a long account of the labor struggles of another writer …

 

 

“Once I had read a long account of the labor struggles of another writer who had dressed himself to look the part of a laborer and I had always wondered how he would have fared if he had gone in his own natural garb. Now I was determined or rather compelled to find out for myself and I had no heart for it. I realized instinctively that there was a far cry between doing anything in disguise and as an experiment and doing it as a grim necessity.”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, An Amateur Laborer

 

 

 

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If a follower of this blog can help, I would appreciate it. It may be obvious who the writer Dreiser was referring to is, but I don’t have a clue.

 

— Roger W. Smith

thoughts about Dreiser, mine (today’s)

 

 

 

The following is the text of an email from me, today, to Thomas Kranidas, a Professor Emeritus at Stony Brook University who has had a lifelong interest in Dreiser.

 

 

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Good morning, Tom.

I am busy with several projects, including getting back to some Dreiser stuff.

Now I am trying to write a long-delayed essay/article that I started quite a while ago. It is again about Dreiser’s family.

His sister Emma (Sister Carrie) married a second husband — actually, her first husband (her marriage to Hopkins/Hurstwood seems to have been a common law marriage) — John Nelson, who was a Swedish immigrant and who was known for being moody and difficult to get along with.

I think he is, possibly, a prototype for a minor character in the early chapters of Sister Carrie.

Dreiser was a TERRIBLE WRITER. His views and philosophizing were addled and (to put it kindly) jejune.

But I have not lost interest in or (entirely) enthusiasm for Dreiser.

He evokes a time and a period. He never really assimilated to the dominant American culture. Yet his characters and plots resonate. This is going out on a limb, but I would say more so than do James Joyce’s. I care more about Hurstwood than Stephen Dedalus. I am not sure about Leopold Bloom. He was my favorite character in Ulysses.

Best wishes,

Roger

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 14, 2020

“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

“I would not want to do anything that could harm the position of Russia.”

 

 

excerpt

 

 

So said Theodore Dreiser said in 1933, explaining his refusal to intercede for a group of arrested Trotskyists, according an essay/book review on Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon by Maya Zlobina: “Versiya Kestlera: kniga i zhizn” (Koestler’s Version: The book and the life) in the Russian journal, Novy mir (Novy mir, No 2, 1989).

I could not find the source of the Dreiser quote, which — in Zlobina’s article — is in Russian. The passage from the article referenced referring to Dreiser and other supporters from abroad of the Soviet Union under Stalin (in my translation from the Russian) is as follows:

… Rubashov,* who is to be shot before midnight, paces the cell, tallying the final results. The blinding darkness that had darkened his mind has dissipated, melted, and a clear, hitherto unknown stillness descends on the soul. The final chapter is called “The Dumb Interlocutor” — with him, that is, with his true Self, the hero will spend the hours allotted to him before the execution. Free from debts and obligations (or maybe just free?), Rubashov will reconsider and reevaluate his past, questioning everything he believed in. “So why should he die? To that question he had no answer.” He only knew that “I have paid; my account with history is settled.” … The author gave the hero more than an easy death — peace: “A wave slowly lifted him up. It came from afar and travelled sedately on a shrug of eternity.”

On this it would be possible, together with Koestler, to put an end to it, if his book did not give us a key to another historical phenomenon, no less mysterious than the confessions of the accused at the Moscow trials. So mysterious that others are seriously talking about a worldwide conspiracy of the left intelligentsia against Russia, in which A. Barbusse, R. Rolland, L. Aragon, T. Dreiser, B. Shaw, L. Feuchtwanger, F. Joliot-Curie, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Hewlett Johnson and others (and from our own — V. Mayakovsky, M. Gorky, I. Ehrenburg and, of course, M. Koltsov, who told Aragon before leaving for Moscow in anticipation of his arrest: “Remember that Stalin is always right”). I will not discuss this detective story, which looks suspiciously like those anti-Soviet conspiracies that were composed at Lubyanka. But the attitude of the Western intellectual elite to these crudely fabricated forgeries, to mass arrests and to everything that happened in those terrible years in our country, the stubbornness with which eminent, respected writers ignored the crimes of the Stalinist regime and thereby covered them up (and some even glorified the Soviet “camps for the re-education of citizens” as “a remarkable achievement of socialism”), is stunning and requires explanation. What was it? What “blinding darkness” covered their eyes?

All the same: we find here “Rubashov’s syndrome” in its purest form – after all, they were not threatened with torture! … They believed — or wanted to believe — that in the USSR “the foundation of the great happiness of all mankind is being laid,” and for the sake of the dream they cherished protected and supported the myth created by Stalinist propaganda. ” It just so happened, — Bukharin said bitterly to one of his Parisian acquaintances, — that Stalin became, as it were, a symbol of the party. “Or a symbol of socialism, the foreign friends of October might say.” from Rubashov and his comrades, these highbrow humanists enjoyed all the rights and benefits of imaginary freedom, which the country was deprived of, embodying their social ideal! … Hypnotized by the alternative “who is not with us, is against us,” they were asked menacingly:

“Who are you with, masters of culture?” — they chose Stalin.

“Whatever the nature of the current dictatorship in Russia – unfair or whatever you want … until the current strict martial law is eased … and until the question of the Japanese threat is cleared up, I would not want to do anything that could harm the position of Russia. And, with God’s help, I will not do it, “Dreiser said in 1933, explaining his refusal to intercede for a group of arrested” Trotskyists,” with whom, however, “he was very sympathetic.” And Joliot-Curie, who in 1938, at the request of Koestler, wrote a letter to Stalin in defense of the Austrian physicist-communist Weissberg, who was arrested in the USSR (later transferred in accordance with the Soviet-German treaty to the Gestapo), in the late 40s, when “Darkness at Noon’ was being published in France,, and Weissberg, returned from the concentration camp, publicly branded Koestler as a detractor and slanderer! Ten years later, after the official denunciation of the “cult of personality,” the same Joliot-Curie admitted to Ehrenburg that he had seen all the “flaws” for a long time, and added: “Please, in the presence of the children, tell us about the good things that were done for you.” In essence, these intellectuals treated both their people and all of humanity as children who should only be told about the good so that they would not be disappointed in socialism! … Yes, they knew what they were doing, and in the name of a falsely understood duty they betrayed not only ourselves, but us. They betrayed the precepts of European culture and that chief duty that Zola enunciate in his famous “J’Accuse…!” and that impels every true intellectual to take up the pen and sound the alarm at the sight of injustice.

Only a few of the progressives dared to speak the truth about “the country of the victorious revolution.” Now we cannot even imagine how much courage these “apostates” needed, how they reviled and cursed these, according to Koestler, “fallen angels who had the tactlessness to divulge that paradise is not found where it is supposed to be.” The case of the purely non-partisan “defector” André Gide is very indicative in this respect. The famous French writer, who from afar saw in the USSR “an example of that new society that we dreamed of, no longer daring to hope,” was deeply disappointed with Soviet reality. In the preface to “Return from the USSR” (1936), he tried to explain that supporting a lie, “would only harm the Soviet Union and, at the same time, the cause that it personifies in our eyes”; that, with sympathy for Russia, he hesitated for a long time before coming to such a decision, for it so happened that “the truth about the USSR is spoken with hatred, and lies — with love.”

Koestler’s book was written in the conviction that salvation is only in truth, and was written with love for a country and people suffocating under the yoke of the Stalinist dictatorship. However, the people, who remained for all intents and purposes beyond the scope of the portrayal, are depicted in the novel as obviously conventional. The schematism of these images, which is particularly obvious and, perhaps, even offensive for the Russian reader, is simply explained by the fact that the author was unable to artistically master the “folk” (and foreign) material. And yet Koestler was able, with a penetration rare for a visiting foreigner, to discern the living soul of the people through official optimism, propaganda varnish and the dumbness of fear. In The Invisible Writing, an autobiographical book written twenty years later, we find striking words about direct, reliable, fearless people, whose civic prowess contradicts the very essence of the regime and on whom, according to Koestler, our country rests. “I have met them on my travels in every part of the Soviet Union. … These men, whether Communists or not, are ‘Soviet Patriots’ in the sense in which that word was first used in the French Revolution. … in a country where everybody fears and evades responsibility; they exercise initiative and independent judgment where blind obedience is the norm; they are loyal and devoted to their fellow-beings in a world where loyalty is only expected towards one’s superiors and devotion only towards the State. They have personal honour and an unconscious dignity of comportment, where these words are objects of ridicule. … To-day I realise that their existence is very nearly a miracle, that they became what they are not because, but in spite of that education — a, triumph of the indestructible human substance over a de-humanising environment.

 

— Maya Zlobina. “Versiya Kestlera: kniga i zhizn” (Koestler’s Version: The book and the life), Noyy mir, No 2 (1989 )

 

 

*Rubashov, a victim of the Moscow show trials during the Stalinist Great Purge, is the main character in Darkness at Noon.

 

 

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The passage from Zlobina’s article, in the original Russian, in which Dreiser is quoted is as follows:

 

“Какова бы ни была природа нынешней диктатуры в России – несправедливая или какая хотите… пока нынешнее напряженное военное положение не смягчится… и пока вопрос о японской опасности не прояснится, я не хотел бы делать ничего такого, что могло бы нанести ущерб положению России. И, с Божьей помощью, не сделаю”, – заявил в 1933 году Драйзер, объясняя свой отказ заступиться за группу арестованных “троцкистов”, коим, впрочем, “очень сочувствовал”.

 

The full text of Zlobina’s article, in the original Russian and my English translation, is posted at

 

Maya Zlobina, “Koestler’s Version: The book and the life”

 

I wish to thank the Russian independent scholar Yuri Doykov for providing me with a copy of this article in the original Russian.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    August 2020

advertisement for Jennie Gerhardt

 

 

 

advertisement for Jennie Gerhardt- NY Times 11-21-1911

 

 

 

advertisement for Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser

The New York Times

November 21, 1911

James E. Barcus, “More Light on Dreiser’s Chester Gillette/Clyde Griffiths Family”

 

 

 

James E. Barcus, ‘More Light on Dreiser’s Chester Gillette-Clyde Griffiths Family’ – English Language Notes, Sept 2000

 

 

James E. Barcus, ‘More Light on Dreiser’s Chester Gillette-Clyde Griffiths Family’ – English Laguage Notes, Sept 2000

 

 

Posted here (PDF document and Word document transcription, above) is the following article:

 

“More Light on Dreiser’s Chester Gillette/Clyde Griffiths Family”

by James E. Barcus

English Language Notes, 38:1 (2000): 68-73

 

 

Chester Gillette was the prototype of Clyde Griffiths, the main character in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 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

about this site

 

 

Followers of my Dreiser blog may be interested to see the updated “About” section on this site, at

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/about/

 

 

It points out some key posts and sections you may want not to miss.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

Theodore Dreiser, “My City”

 

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘My City’ – NY Herald Tribune 12-23-1928

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘My City’

 
Nowhere is there anything like it. My City. Not London. Not Paris. Not Moscow. Not any city I have ever seen. So strong. So immense. So elate.

Its lilt! Its power to hurry the blood in one’s veins, to make one sing, to weep, to make one hate or sigh and die. Yet in the face of defeat, loneliness, despair, the dragging of feet in sheer weariness, perhaps, what strong, good days! Winey, electric! What beauty! What impressiveness! Neither hungry days nor yet lonely nor hopeless ones have ever broken this impressiveness–this spell for me.

A cruel and brutal city by turns; a callous. money-seeking and unsentimental city, as one looks here and there. But lyric, too, And spendthrift. Frittering, idle, wasteful–saving nothing, hoarding nothing, unless maybe, unmarketable dreams. And dreaming so, even in the face of brutality and calculation. Yet, in the face of this strain, failure, none of its lyric days going unnoted, none of its spell evaded. They have burst on me–its days –with shouts, with song, a sense of deathless verse–or have come crawling, weeping, opening and closing in despair. Yet to this hour I cannot step out of my door save with a thrill responsive to it all–its grandeur, mystery, glory–yea, Babylonian eternity.

See, here it is. Miles and miles. You shall not be rid of it in any direction under hours of rapid riding. And the millions and millions tramping to and fro within it! A veritable stream of them; as at Times Square at the theater hour–a Niagara of them, as in Wall Street or Fifty-seventh Street or Fifth Avenue at the opening or closing hours of each day. And each so small. A Parsee of dust. Yet each with its hunger, lust, hope.

Each with that something–call it mind, soul, mood; electrons in electro-physical combination, ions in electro-chemical union or libido or what you will. But each with the power to stir the other–to hate, to love, to longing, to dream, to aches, to death. And all gathered here in this endless pother of dreaming and seeking–seeking among canyons of stone, beneath tall towers of matter that stand foursquare to all the winds.

 

* * *

 

It is as old and as young as I am. As curious and indifferent. Amid all the stupendous wealth of it a man may die of hunger–a minute atom of a man or child, and so easily fed. And where there is so much wherewith to feed. Or of loneliness–where millions are lonely and seeking heartease, the pressure of a single friendly hand. Ho! one may cry aloud for aid and not be heard; ask for words only and harvest silence only where yet all is blare. Or be harried by too much contact, and fail of peace; be driven, harried, buried by attention. God!

 

 

* * *

 

 

And yet for all this or that here it runs like a great river, beats and thunders like a tumultuous sea; or yawns or groans or shrieks or howls in sheer ennui.

I never step out but I note it. Yet I never step out but I think, power, energy. strength, life, beauty, terror! And the astounding mystery of it all! You–I–all of us–with our eager. futile dreams. We are here together, seeking much, straining much. You, I. We are yearning to do much here in my city–be so much—-have some one group or phase or audience, or mayhap one other somewhere in all this, to recognize just us–just you–me. And not always finding that one. My fateful city!

 

 

 

TALL towers–
Clustered pinnacles–
Varied and fretted flowers of stone and steel
That island the upper air,
That tops the fogs and storms.
Erect–
Elate–
Frowning-­
Stern–
That shoulder in toothy canyons;
That march in serried ranks.
Dreams–
Ambitions–
Illusions–
Moods.
An architect has uttered a building;
A poet a tower.
Tall towers that ants have builded;
That mite and midge have reared.
Clustered pinnacles–
That prow and pierce the windy sky,
Thar ark a horde of trudging ants,
That roof a world of burrowing moles.

 

Yet at the base an immemorable river;
And about your feet the contemptuous,
Immemorable soil;
And before your strength the innumerable years.

 

Tall towers–
Clustered pinnacles–
Defiant spears of steel and stone.
Aye, but the inevitable winds that tag your strength!
Aye, but the inevitable cold that bites and eats!
Aye, but the inevitable days that front and wait!
Aye, but the unbroken grass that will bed you all!

 

 

— “My City,” by Theodore Dreiser, New York Herald Tribune, December 23, 1928, pg. B1

 

 

 

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An email of mine to a not quite Sub Sub (that’s a joke, echoing Herman Melville) former English major:

I’m in the NYPL now. I always find something.

I just stumbled across a newspaper article by Dreiser. December 1928. About New York City.

Never saw it before.

It almost makes my heart palpitate (an overstatement). It says simply and powerfully things I have thought and would like to be able to say.

One should, I never do, give up on Dreiser.

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

February 6, 2020

 

 

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comments

 
Michael Lydon, February 7, 2020

Why, I don’t know why, but TD’s poetry leaves me cold, even as his prose lights me on fire!

 

 

Roger W. Smith, February 7, 2020
Michael — We are in agreement. I debated with myself whether to even include the poem, but decided that — in the interests of completeness — I should. This TD poem is at least on topic, and it’s not as bad as many of his other ones. But Dreiser’s prose poetry is jejune and insipid.