This Day In Writing History
On August 27th, 1871, the famous American writer Theodore Dreiser was born. He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the twelfth of thirteen children. The popular songwriter Paul Dresser was Dreiser's older brother.
In 1889, Dreiser entered Indiana University, but he flunked out a year later. Several years after flunking out of university, Theodore Dreiser became a journalist, writing first for the Chicago Globe, then for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
He wrote articles about famous writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Burroughs and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison. On December 28th, 1898, he married his girlfriend, Sara White. The couple separated in 1909, but never divorced.
In 1900, Theodore Dreiser's acclaimed first novel, Sister Carrie, was published. The controversial novel told the story of 18-year-old Caroline "Carrie" Meeber, a young girl living an unhappy life in rural Wisconsin.
So, Carrie takes a train to Chicago, where she has made arrangements to move in with her older sister Minnie and her brother-in-law, Sven. On the train, Carrie meets a traveling salesman named Charles Drouet. He is attracted to her and they exchange information.
Carrie finds life at her sister's apartment not much happier than it was in Wisconsin. To earn her keep, Carrie takes a job at a shoe factory. She finds her co-workers (both male and female) vulgar and the working conditions squalid. The job takes a toll on her health.
After getting sick, Carrie loses her job. She is reunited with Charles Drouet, who is still attracted to her. He takes her to dinner, where he asks her to move in with him, lavishing her with money. Tired of living with her sister and brother-in-law, Carrie agrees to be Drouet's kept woman.
Later, Drouet introduces Carrie to George Hurstwood, the manager of his favorite bar. Hurstwood, an unhappily married man, falls in love with Carrie, and they have an affair. But she returns to Drouet because Hurstwood can't provide for her financially.
So, Hurstwood embezzles a large sum of money from the bar and persuades Carrie to run away with him to Canada. In Montreal, Hurstwood is trapped by both his guilty conscience and a private detective and returns most of the stolen money.
He agrees to marry Carrie and the couple move to New York City, where they live under the assumed names George and Carrie Wheeler. Carrie believes she may have finally found happiness, but then she and George grow apart.
After George loses his source of income and gambles away the couple's savings, Carrie, who has been trying to build a career in the theater, leaves him. She becomes a rich and famous actress, but finds that wealth and fame don't bring her happiness and that nothing will.
When it was first published, Sister Carrie sold poorly. Due to its controversial nature, even though Dreiser had cut some material himself and other parts had been altered by editors, the publisher initially reneged on his agreement to publish the novel. Fortunately, a new agreement was reached and the novel was published.
Unfortunately for Dreiser, the publisher refused to promote it and gave it a bland, red cover, with only the names of the novel and the author on it. When the publisher's wife complained that the novel was too sordid, he withdrew it from circulation.
Later, it was republished when Frank Norris, a reader for Doubleday & McClure, sent a few copies to reviewers. All the subsequent editions of the novel came from the first publisher's edited version of the manuscript.
Theodore Dreiser earned only $68.40 from the ill-fated first publication of Sister Carrie. The ordeal drove the writer to a nervous breakdown and turned him off writing for ten years. Ironically, it also ended up saving his life.
In 1912, Dreiser had originally planned to book passage home from England on the Titanic. Unable to afford tickets for the ill-fated luxury ocean liner, he sailed home earlier on a less expensive passenger ship.
In 1981, Dreiser's original, unexpurgated manuscript of Sister Carrie was finally published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Still, even in its edited version, Sister Carrie was regarded as a classic American novel. In his 1930 Nobel Prize Lecture, Sinclair Lewis said of it:
Dreiser's great first novel, Sister Carrie, which he dared to publish thirty long years ago and which I read twenty-five years ago, came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Whitman.
Theodore Dreiser wrote more classic novels, including his Trilogy of Desire series, The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The Stoic (1947). But his 1925 epic novel, An American Tragedy, became his first commercial success. It's also considered a classic novel.
Inspired by a real life criminal case and set in Kansas City, it tells the story of Clyde Griffiths, the son of poor, devoutly religious parents who force him to join in their street missionary work. Dreaming of better things, he takes a job as bellboy at a local hotel
There, the other boys introduce him to alcohol and prostitutes. He falls in love with a girl, Hortense Briggs, and does everything he can to impress her. While driving a stolen car, Clyde accidentally kills a child. He flees Kansas City.
After staying briefly in Chicago, Clyde reinvents himself as a foreman at a collar factory in Lycurgus, New York, owned by his long-lost uncle. Clyde promised himself that he wouldn't let his passions cause his downfall again, but then he falls for Roberta Alden.
Roberta is a poor farm girl who works under him at the factory. He enjoys their secret relationship (which is forbidden by company rules) and manipulates Roberta into having sex with him.
Clyde is not about to marry a poor farm girl; later, he He falls for Sondra Finchley, an elegant rich girl whose father is a friend of his uncle's. Just as his relationship with Sondra shows promise, Clyde learns that Roberta is pregnant.
His attempt at arranging an illegal abortion proves unsuccessful, and Roberta threatens to reveal their relationship unless Clyde marries her. He decides to murder her instead. He takes her for a canoe ride and ends up hitting her with his camera.
The boat capsizes, and Roberta, who can't swim, drowns while Clyde swims back to shore, unwilling to save her. The narrative is deliberately unclear as to whether Clyde really attempted to kill Roberta, or just struck her out of anger.
But the circumstantial evidence suggests murder, and the authorities are so determined to convict Clyde that they resort to manufacturing evidence to secure a conviction.
Despite a strong defense by lawyers hired by his uncle, Clyde is convicted and sentenced to death. The novel's greatest scenes of pathos take place in prison, where Clyde corresponds with his mother until the day of his execution.
In addition to his novels, Theodore Dreiser also wrote short story collections and nonfiction books about political issues. A devout socialist, Dreiser wrote of his 1927 trip to the Soviet Union in Dreiser Looks at Russia
He criticized American capitalism in Tragic America (1931) and America is Worth Saving (1941). But he was best known for his fiction and is rightfully considered to be one of the all-time greatest American novelists.
Theodore Dreiser died 1945 at the age of 74.
Quote Of The Day
"Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail." - Theodore Dreiser
Today's video features a complete reading of Theodore Dreiser's classic epic novel, An American Tragedy. Enjoy!