Tag Archives: Theodore Dreiser

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

post updated – “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

I have updated my post from this week: “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

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

 

You may wish to download the Word document again. It is posted here (above).

 

There were a couple of key pieces of information that I missed, and I have made a few corrections.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

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

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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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. 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 his sister Emma’s apartment, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

“a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made” (Dreiser, Pineville, and Herndon J. Evans)

 

 

 

The National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (the so-called Dreiser Committee), which had been organized by Theodore Dreiser, conducted hearings in Harlan County, Kentucky in November 1931 to investigate conditions in the Kentucky coal fields and provide support for striking miners there.

On November 6, the first day of the hearings (over which Dreiser presided), Dreiser was questioned aggressively by Herndon J. Evans, editor of the Pineville (KY) Sun. The hearings, which were held in the Lewallen Hotel in Pineville, in the words of Dreiser biographer Richard Lingeman, “resembled a congressional hearing.”

Dreiser’s exchange with Evans was widely reported. A subhead in the New York Herald Tribune (November 7, 1931) read: “Publisher [Evans] , Questioned as to Gifts to Needy Miners, Cross-Examines Novelist [Dreiser], Who Aids [American Civil Liberties] Union but Neglects Organized Charity.” Evans, The Tribune observed, “sought to learn if the novelist practiced what he advocated.”

From the interview transcript (Dreiser had been questioning Evans):

Mr. Evans: I would like to ask you a few questions, if you do not object.

Mr. Dreiser: Not at all.

Mr. Evans: You are a very famous novelist and have written several books. Would you kindly tell us what your royalties amount to?

Mr. Dreiser: I don’t mind. $200,000, approximately. Probably more.

Mr. Evans: What do you get a year, if you do not mind telling?

Mr. Dreiser: Last year I think I made $35,000.

Mr. Evans: Do you contribute anything to charity?

Mr. Dreiser: No, I do not.

Mr. Evans: That is all.

 

 

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Lester Cohen, one of a group of writers who accompanied Dreiser to Kentucky, wrote the following in his “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir” (Discovery no. 4, 1954):

It looked bad for Mr. Dreiser. Several times, when asked his political views, he had said he was interested in “Equity.” And here he was, making all this money, and not giving anything to charity. In fact, I had felt that Mr. Dreiser was a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made. It was as if all his life he had faced the accusation that he had not made much money, and finally here was a chance to stand forth not merely as a writer but as a man who had made great sums of money, and who from the deck of these lordly sums yet expressed his sympathies with those in life’s steerage below. [italics added]

 

 

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Reading Evans’s account, I was struck by an observation Thomas Kranidas made, in his master’s thesis on Dreiser (“The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” Columbia University, 1953) about “Dreiser’s yearning for the high class”:

Dreiser wanted to write about the rich; he had a pitiful need to appear familiar with the ‘great world.’ But he was not familiar with it. And when he wrote about it, he wrote about the surface qualities of it, never once touching the refinement, the sense of superior knowledge and awareness through ease. Dreiser was a snob on one level, a man with exorbitant class yearnings, a man who resented his origins and was scornful of the lower classes. … Dreiser’s vision was clouded many times by this snobbery. It led to certain cruelties and flippancies and certain absurd superficialities. It drove him to portray the rich with absurd, unreal strokes. It drove him in his non-fiction to tolerance of poverty and ugliness as the secret complement to thought and beauty.

 

 

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In his Discovery article, Cohen goes on to say:

Subsequently [to the Harlan County hearings] various members of the party were indicted for Criminal Syndicalism. And other writers went down to Harlan and were beaten up. And still others like Sherwood Anderson made common cause with us. …

The next I knew, Mr. Dreiser was concerned about his gold. How strange life is, and Time, as we know, marches on. Hoover was out of the White House and Roosevelt in. The bank holiday. And then, if you remember, Mr. Roosevelt and the Government called in gold and gold bank notes.

Do you remember Mr. Dreiser’s $200,000 from An American Tragedy? He had put it in it a vault, in gold.

Why gold? Who can say? And indeed, the enigma of life that Dreiser had studied all these many years, had it ever cast up a stranger concurrence than Dreiser and gold?

And yet, it is very understandable, as was everything about Dreiser, his suspiciousness, his surface coldness, the warmth and thoughtful nature of his inner being. Mr. Dreiser had, since his earliest youth, felt betrayed. First by hunger, the everlasting hunger of his youth, not merely the hunger for food, which he often experienced, but his hunger for love, understanding. ….

[Dreiser] looked about the world of the early Thirties, be felt its instability, the senselessness of its speakeasies, the nonsense of apple-selling as a way of life.

All his life he had worked, worked unceasingly. not merely on the novels and stories and plays the world knew, but on many part-finished or contemplated novels on which he and his secretaries had done exhaustive research. He was past sixty; he visualized now, in his fame, a golden age in which he could do all the things he wanted to, And he had $200,000, a fortune, to back him up. Why put it in failing banks, sinking stocks, mere greenbacks? What was the world standard–gold.

He would put it in gold–and now the gold was being called back in order to gold-plate the earth beneath Fort Knox.

I happened by chance to meet him one day, still bluff, hearty, under indictment [for “criminal syndicalism”], but a sorrow and crusty bitterness in his blue-gray eyes. He told me about the gold and then­-

“What would you do,” said he. And he told me, “I voted for him.” It was almost as if he had said: I voted for Roosevelt, now he’s taking my gold away.

I could see he felt again betrayed. “’Well,” I said, “you know what most people are doing.”

I have the rest of the story from a writer [Hy Kraft] we shall call K. … as to Mr. Dreiser and his gold. He talked to K. about it, and K. being one of those clever fellows who sought to turn adversity to advantage suggested that he would go to the papers, tell them about Mr. Dreiser’s resolve to back Roosevelt and the American people and suggested a headline, “Dreiser Turns In His Gold.”

And so he did, with pictures taken down in the vault.

 

 

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I think both Evans and Kranidas were very much on target. Dreiser never had money before An American Tragedy became a best-seller. When he got it, he could not help flaunting it. His compassion for the have-nots was admixed with a desire for wealth and its trappings. The writer formerly living in bohemian Greenwich Village now ensconced in a luxury penthouse apartment across the street from Carnegie Hall (and afterwards in a suite at the Ansonia Hotel), entertaining guests at parties there and on weekends on his Westchester estate. The nattily attired traveler with cane boarding an ocean liner or photographed with his mistress’s wolfhound.

Cohen was right. Dreiser was “a little over-anxious to tell how much money he had made.” Status symbols were very important to him.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 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

Lester Cohen, “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir”

 

 

 

Lester Cohen, ‘Theodore Dreiser; A Personal Memoir’

 

lester-cohen-theodore-dreiser-a-personal-memoir

 

 

Posted here is the complete text of an article by Lester Cohen: “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir,” Discovery no. 4 (1954), pp. 99-126. It is an excellent source of biographical/anecdotal information, and Cohen writes perceptively and with insight about Dreiser the man and his works.

Lester Cohen (1901-1963) was an American novelist and screenwriter, He was a member of the Dreiser Committee which visited the Kentucky coal fields in 1931 to document the labor struggles of Harlan County coal miners.

A portion, about half, of Cohen’s Discovery article has been published in Theodore Dreiser Recalled, edited by Donald Pizer (Clemson University Press, 2017).

Cohen, in discussing extensively the activities of the Dreiser Committee in Harlan County, mentions that Dreiser had “a girl with him, a Miss X” and he alludes (without going into detail) to the “Toothpick trap” incident, which resulted in Dreiser and the woman being charged for adultery. The woman’s name was Marie Pergain.

“I am not at all sure [Dreiser] was interested in the girl he brought down to Kentucky, he never seemed interested in her, in fact he might have paid her a salary to come along, puzzle his compatriots and shock the natives,” Cohen wrote. Cohen may, at least in part, be right about Dreiser’s motives in bringing Marie Pergain with him, but she was more than a fleeting romantic interest for Dreiser. See my post on this site:
“Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/theodore-dreiser-ervin-nyiregyhazi-helen-richardson-and-marie-pergain/

 

 

The “Mr. K.” of Cohen’s article was Hyman Solomon (Hy) Kraft (1899-1975), who was credited as a collaborator on The Tobacco Men: A Novel Based on Notes by Theodore Dreiser and Hy Kraft, written by Borden Deal, published in 1965.

Cohen states, writing of Dreiser’s early days in New York City, and his composing, with his brother Paul. the song “On the Banks of the Wabash” (noting that Theodore was not looking to profit from the song): “Theodore took not the cash and let the credit go … and one day found himself down by the river, waiting to jump in. And the work he did to keep alive–he worked on one of the tunnels, under the waters of Manhattan, became partly deaf.” (italics added)

Did Dreiser work (briefly) as a sandhog on the North River Tunnel? The tunnel project began at a time commensurate with Dreiser’s experience of unemployment (as an editor/writer) and poverty which resulted in his working briefly as a laborer (as well as a clerk) in 1903 for the New York Central Railroad. Dreiser did write a well-known short story about sandhogs: “St. Columba and the River.”

As noted by Joseph Griffin in his The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser’s Short Stories (and by Scott Zaluda in his entry “St. Columba and the River” in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia), the initial source for “St. Columba and the River” was an article by Dreiser published in the New York Daily News in 1904: “Just What Happened When the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel.”

It is apparent from a reading of “St. Columba and the River” how well Dreiser had researched his subject matter — perhaps he had himself experienced it. (There is a feeling of immediacy and verisimilitude in the descriptive passages.) It seems likely (or at least possible) that he got his details from interviewing sandhogs.

None of Dreiser’s biographers appears to have mentioned anything about Dreiser working on the North River tunnel. This includes the introduction by Richard W. Dowell to the University of Pennsylvania Press edition of Dreiser’s An Amateur Laborer.

There seems to be verisimilitude to what Cohen writes — he got it from Dreiser. It sounds convincing what he says about Dreiser’s partial deafness. And an autobiographical fragment confirms what Cohen says about Dreiser once considering suicide by drowning in the months before he began working for the New York Central Railroad. But additional evidence would be required to prove the truth of Cohen’s statement that Dreiser worked as a sandhog.

It should be noted that in an unpublished retrospective account of that period by Dreiser, “Down Hill” (published in Dreiser Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, fall 1988, as Thomas P. Riggio, ” ‘Down Hill: A Chapter in Dreiser’s Story about Himself”), Dreiser does mention the period of despair when he was living in Brooklyn and contemplated suicide, but there is no mention by Dreiser of his working on the Hudson tubes.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2020

“Theodore Dreiser Joins Communist Party”

 

 

‘Theodore Dreiser Joins Communist Party’

 

 
“Theodore Dreiser Joins Communist Party”

Daily Worker

July 30, 1945

pg. 5

 

Posted here (PDF file above) is a letter of July 20, 1945 from Theodore Dreiser to William Z. Foster, General Secretary of the Communist Party USA, in which Dreiser applied for membership in the party. Dreiser was admitted to membership.

The letter was published in the Daily Worker, which was published by the Communist Party USA.

 
— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2020