Tag Archives: Thomas Kranidas “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy”

Kranidas thesis (post) updated

 

 

I have reposted on this site:

 

Thomas Kranidas

“The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy

Matser’s Thesis

Columbia University, 1953

 

See:

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/thomas-kranidas-the-materials-of-theodore-dreisers-an-american-tragedy/

 

— Roger W. Smith

“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

unassuming disposition?

setting sail on trip to USSR, October 1927

Dreiser setting sail for the USSR, 1927

 

 

“… Dreiser appeals to the reader though the influence of his own unassuming, undogmatic disposition.”

— Edwin Berry Burgum, “Dreiser and His America,” New Masses, January 29 1946

 

 

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While it may be unfair of me to take one sentence out of context, as it were, I disagree with the implications of this statement.

As Thomas Kranidas convincingly explained in his master’s thesis on An American Tragedy,* Dreiser could be an insufferable snob.

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2019

 

 

* Thomas Kranidas, “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy,” Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953. This thesis was unknown and ignored until Roger W. Smith discovered it, copied the thesis in its entirety, and posted it with Professor Kranidas’s approval.

Thomas Kranidas, ‘The Materials of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’

 

Thomas Kranidas, “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy”

 

 

 

Thomas Kranidas, ‘The Materials of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’ (2)

 

Posted here (downloadable PDF files above) is

 

Thomas Kranidas

“The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy

Matser’s Thesis

Columbia University, 1953

 

 

A while ago, I was contemplating writing an article on the sources of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In my research, I came across a master’s thesis which was listed in Pizer, Dowell, and Rusch’s Dreiser bibliography.

I decided to look the thesis up because it was at Columbia University (accessible to me, since I live in New York City) and because the title intrigued me. It was by Thomas Kranidas and is entitled “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy” (Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953, 94 pp.).

I read the thesis at Columbia. It wasn’t really an investigation of the sources of An American Tragedy, but it was mainly focused on that novel. It included consideration to a limited extent of other works of Dreiser — e.g., his poetry and essays — that pertained to the author’s argument.

This thesis is, in my opinion, excellent — very penetrating. It is one of the best analyses I have ever read of Dreiser as a writer and muddled thinker, and someone with pretensions to intellectual and social stature that can be detected in his writings. It is for the most part critical of Dreiser, but I think it is one of the best analyses of him I have ever read. It gets under Dreiser’s skin and “nails” him.  Nonetheless, the author, Thomas Kranidas, is appreciative of the strengths of An American Tragedy.

The thesis is here made available for the first time. I took it upon myself to photocopy the entire thesis and obtained permission from Professor Kranidas to post it on this site. It is posted above as a downloadable PDF file.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2017

 

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addendum, March 20, 2021

:

Copying Thomas Kranidas’s Master’s thesis (Columbia University, 1953) on Dreiser, which I did maybe fifteen to twenty years ago, was a chore.

The thesis was in Special Collections at Butler Library at Columbia, and I was required to get special permission to read and copy it. It was bound in a bulky volume along with other theses and papers. The copying machines at the library did not work well and kept breaking down.

Professor Kranidas was pleased to learn of my interest in his thesis — actually, what he said was that he was flattered. He said that I could and post his thesis on my site under one condition, that I agree to meet him. We did meet and formed a lasting friendship.

I realize that the Xerox copy of the thesis such as it was then (my photocopy) was in poor shape in terms of things such as alignment of text and print that was fuzzy. I have corrected this, being more able to do such formatting now myself.

I am posting a better, cleaner copy of the thesis. Much has been published on Dreiser since when Professor Kranidas wrote his thesis. The thesis did not break new ground insofar as scholarship was concerned. but it is a lucid, balanced, and penetrating analysis of Dreiser that is still well worth reading, and that gets at some of the key strengths and (notably) weaknesses of Dreiser as a thinker and would be intellectual who never overcame the sense of inferiority he felt from being an immigrant born and raised in conditions of poverty and lack of social status.

 

— Roger W. Smith

March 2021

 

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email from Roger W. Smith to Thomas Kranidas, April 25, 2017

 

Dear Professor Kranidas,

Following up on our conversation today, a few thoughts about your master’s thesis.

I read it at Butler Library. It is available nowhere else, I believe. (It was not available and was irretrievable until I copied and scanned it and posted in on my Dreiser site.)

My basic reaction, gut feeling was that (1) it was an M.A. thesis, not a dissertation; (2) it was not based on exhaustive research into the sources of An American Tragedy (which was not your objective).

Nevertheless, I felt that it was one of the best statements I have read about Dreiser qua writer; Dreiser the self-styled “philosopher”; and Dreiser the social climber who yearned for what he professed to disdain.

You “nailed” him … got under his skin. Analyzed, penetratingly, his weaknesses as a writer and the shortcomings of his worldview … his pretensions, his myopia when it came to writing about the privileged classes.

While at the same time appreciating his strengths, and steering clear of a hatchet job.