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Theodore Dreiser

theodore dreiser, theodore dreiser an american tragedy
Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser /ˈdraɪsər, -zər/;1 August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945 was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency2 Dreiser's best known novels include Sister Carrie 1900 and An American Tragedy 1925 In 1930 he was nominated to the Nobel Prize in Literature3


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Writing career
    • 21 Personal life
    • 22 Literary career
    • 23 Political commitment
  • 3 Death
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 Works
    • 51 Fiction
    • 52 Drama
    • 53 Nonfiction
  • 6 References
  • 7 Sources
  • 8 External links

Early lifeedit

Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana to Sarah Maria née Schanab and John Paul Dreiser4 John Dreiser was a German immigrant from Mayen in the Eifel region, and Sarah was from the Mennonite farming community near Dayton, Ohio Her family disowned her for converting to Roman Catholicism in order to marry John Dreiser Theodore was the twelfth of thirteen children the ninth of the ten surviving Paul Dresser 1857–1906 was one of his older brothers; Paul changed the spelling of his name as he became a popular songwriter They were reared as Catholics

After graduating from high school in Warsaw, Indiana, Dreiser attended Indiana University in the years 1889–1890 before dropping out5

Writing careeredit

Within several years, Dreiser was writing as a journalist for the Chicago Globe newspaper and then the St Louis Globe-Democrat He wrote several articles on writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Israel Zangwill, and John Burroughs, and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field, Thomas Edison, and Theodore Thomas6 Other interviewees included Lillian Nordica, Emilia E Barr, Philip Armour and Alfred Stieglitz7

Personal lifeedit

After proposing in 1893, he married Sara Osborne White on December 28, 1898 They ultimately separated in 1909, partly as a result of Dreiser's infatuation with Thelma Cudlipp, the teenage daughter of a colleague, but were never formally divorced8 In 1913, he began a romantic relationship with the actress and painter Kyra Markham who was much younger than he910 In 1919, Dreiser met his cousin Helen Patges Richardson 1894-1955 with whom he began an affair11 Through the following decades, she remained the constant woman in his life, as other more temporary love affairs such as his 1930s affair with his secretary Clara Jaeger bloomed and perished12 Helen tolerated Dreiser's affairs, and they eventually married on June 13, 194411

Dreiser was going to return from his first European vacation on the Titanic but was talked out of going by an English publisher who recommended he board a cheaper boat13

Dreiser later became an atheist14

Literary careeredit

House of Four Pillars

During 1899, the Dreisers stayed with Arthur Henry and his wife Maude Wood Henry at the House of Four Pillars, an 1830s Greek Revival house in Maumee, Ohio15 There Dreiser began work on his first novel Sister Carrie, published in 190016 Unknown to Maude, Henry sold a half-interest in the house to Dreiser to finance a move to New York without her17

In Sister Carrie, Dreiser portrayed a changing society, writing about a young woman who flees rural life for the city Chicago and struggles with poverty, complex relationships with men, and prostitution It sold poorly and was considered controversial because of moral objections to his featuring a country girl who pursues her dreams of fame and fortune through relationships with men The book has acquired a considerable reputation It has been called the "greatest of all American urban novels"18

Dreiser c 1910s

In response to witnessing a lynching in 1893, Dreiser wrote the short story "Nigger Jeff" 1901, which was published in Ainslee's Magazine19 This period is considered the nadir of American race relations, with a high rate of lynchings in Southern states, which from 1890 to 1910 also disfranchised most black citizens from voting, legally enforced white supremacy and Jim Crow, and suppressed black people in second-class status for decades

His second novel Jennie Gerhardt was published in 191120:44 His featuring young women as protagonists dramatized the social changes of urbanization, as young people moved from rural villages to cities

Dreiser's first commercial success was An American Tragedy, published in 1925 From 1892, when Dreiser began work as a newspaperman, he had begun

"to observe a certain type of crime in the United States that proved very common It seemed to spring from the fact that almost every young person was possessed of an ingrown ambition to be somebody financially and socially" "Fortune hunting became a disease" with the frequent result of a peculiarly American kind of crime, a form of "murder for money", when "the young ambitious lover of some poorer girl" found "a more attractive girl with money or position" but could not get rid of the first girl, usually because of pregnancy21

Dreiser claimed to have collected such stories every year between 1895 and 1935 He based his novel on details and setting of the 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in upstate New York, which attracted widespread attention from newspapers22 While the novel sold well, it also was criticized for his portrayal of a man without morals who commits a sordid murder

Though known primarily as a novelist, Dreiser also wrote short stories, publishing his first collection Free and Other Stories in 1918, made up of 11 stories

His story "My Brother Paul" was a kind of biography of his older brother Paul Dresser, who became a famous songwriter in the 1890s This story was the basis for the 1942 romantic movie My Gal Sal

Dreiser also wrote poetry His poem "The Aspirant" 1929 continues his theme of poverty and ambition: A young man in a shabby furnished room describes his own and the other tenants' dreams, and asks "why why" The poem appeared in The Poetry Quartos, collected and printed by Paul Johnston, and published by Random House in 1929

Other works include Trilogy of Desire, which was based on the life of Charles Tyson Yerkes, who became a Chicago streetcar tycoon It is composed of The Financier 1912, The Titan 1914, and The Stoic The last was published posthumously in 1947

Dreiser often was forced to battle against censorship because his depiction of some aspects of life, such as sexual promiscuity, offended authorities and challenged popular standards of acceptable opinion

Political commitmentedit

Politically, Dreiser was involved in several campaigns defending radicals whom he believed had been the victims of social injustice These included the lynching of Frank Little, one of the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the deportation of Emma Goldman, and the conviction of the trade union leader Thomas Mooney In November 1931, Dreiser led the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners NCDPP to the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky, where they took testimony from coal miners in Pineville and Harlan on the pattern of violence against the miners and their unions by the coal operators known as the Harlan County War23

Dreiser was a committed socialist and wrote several nonfiction books on political issues These included Dreiser Looks at Russia 1928, the result of his 1927 trip to the Soviet Union, and two books presenting a critical perspective on capitalist America, Tragic America 1931 and America Is Worth Saving 194124 He praised the Soviet Union under Stalin during the Great Terror and the nonaggression pact with Hitler Dreiser joined the Communist Party USA in August 1945 Although less politically radical friends, such as HL Mencken, spoke of Dreiser's relationship with communism as an "unimportant detail in his life,"20:398 Dreiser's biographer Jerome Loving notes that his political activities since the early 1930s had "clearly been in concert with ostensible communist aims with regard to the working class"20:398


Dreiser died on December 28, 1945, in Hollywood, California at the age of 7420:399


Dreiser had an enormous influence on the generation that followed his In his tribute "Dreiser" from Horses and Men 1923, Sherwood Anderson writes:

Heavy, heavy, the feet of Theodore How easy to pick some of his books to pieces, to laugh at him for so much of his heavy prose The fellows of the ink-pots, the prose writers in America who follow Dreiser, will have much to do that he has never done Their road is long but, because of him, those who follow will never have to face the road through the wilderness of Puritan denial, the road that Dreiser faced alone25

Alfred Kazin characterized Dreiser as "stronger than all the others of his time, and at the same time more poignant; greater than the world he has described, but as significant as the people in it,"26 while Larzer Ziff UC Berkeley remarked that Dreiser "succeeded beyond any of his predecessors or successors in producing a great American business novel"27

Renowned mid-century literary critic Irving Howe spoke of Dreiser as ranking "among the American giants, the very few American giants we have had"28 A British view of Dreiser came from the publisher Rupert Hart-Davis: "Theodore Dreiser's books are enough to stop me in my tracks, never mind his letters—that slovenly turgid style describing endless business deals, with a seduction every hundred pages as light relief If he's the great American novelist, give me the Marx Brothers every time"29 The literary scholar FR Leavis wrote that Dreiser "seems as though he learned English from a newspaper He gives the feeling that he doesn't have any native language" 30

One of Dreiser's strongest champions during his lifetime, HL Mencken,31 declared "that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped"32

Dreiser's great theme was the tremendous tensions that can arise among ambition, desire, and social mores33

Dreiser Hall circa 1950 on the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute, Indiana houses the Communications Program It was named for Dreiser in 1966 Dreiser College, at Stony Brook University located in Stony Brook, New York, is also named after him

In 2011, Dreiser was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame34


Library resources about
Theodore Dreiser


  • Sister Carrie 1900
  • Jennie Gerhardt 1911
  • The Financier 1912
  • The Titan 1914
  • The "Genius" 1915
  • Free and Other Stories 1918
  • An American Tragedy 1925
  • Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories 1927
  • The Bulwark 1946
  • The Stoic 1947


  • Plays of the Natural and Supernatural 1916
  • The Hand of the Potter 1918, first produced 1921


  • A Traveler at Forty 1913
  • A Hoosier Holiday 1916
  • Twelve Men New York: Boni & Liveright, 1919
  • Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub: A Book of the Mystery and Wonder and Terror of Life New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920
  • A Book About Myself 1922; republished unexpurgated as Newspaper Days New York: Horace Liveright, 1931
  • The Color of a Great City New York: Boni & Liveright, 1923
  • MOODS Cadenced and Declaimed 1926 strictly limited to 550 numbered copies signed by the author of which 535 were for sale
  • Dreiser Looks at Russia New York: Horace Liveright, 1928
  • My City 1929
  • A Gallery of Women 1929
  • Tragic America New York: Horace Liveright, 1931
  • Dawn New York: Horace Liveright, 1931
  • America Is Worth Saving New York: Modern Age Books, 1941
  • Theodore Dreiser: Political Writings, edited by Jude Davies University of Illinois Press; 2011 321 pages


  1. ^ "Dreiser" Dictionarycom Retrieved 27 June 2016 
  2. ^ Van Doren, Carl 1925 American and British Literature since 1890 Century Company 
  3. ^ "Nomination Database Theodore Dreiser" Nobel Prizeorg Retrieved 27 June 2016 
  4. ^ Finding aid to the Theodore Dreiser papers at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  5. ^ Lingeman, Richard 1993 Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey Abridged Edition Wiley 
  6. ^ Dreiser, Theodore 1985 Hakutani, Yoshinobu, ed Selected magazine articles of Theodore Dreiser : life and art in the American 1890s 1 Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press p 10 ISBN 0838631746 
  7. ^ Riggio, Thomas P 2004 "Preface" In Rusch, Frederic E; Pizer, Donald Theodore Dreiser: Interviews Urbana: University of Illinois Press p 335 ISBN 9780252029431 
  8. ^ Newlin, Keith 2003 "Cudlipp, Thelma 1892-1983" A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia Greenwood Publishing Group pp 77–78 ISBN 0-313-31680-5 
  9. ^ Clayton, Douglas 1994 Floyd Dell, The Life and Times of An American Rebel Ivan R Dee 
  10. ^ Crosse, John November 1, 2012 "Edward Weston, R M Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles" Southern California Architectural History Blog 
  11. ^ a b Newlin, Keith 2003 "Dreiser, Helen Richardson 1894-1955" A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia Greenwood Publishing Group p 101 ISBN 0-313-31680-5 
  12. ^ Lean, Mary November 21, 2005 "Clara Jaeger Secretary and mistress to Theodore Dreiser" The Independent 
  13. ^ Daugherty, Greg March 2012 "Seven Famous People Who Missed the Titanic" Smithsonian Magazine 
  14. ^ Cowie, Alexander, Alfred Kazin, and Charles Shapiro "The Stature of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Survey of the Man and His Work" American Literature 282 1956: 244 Web "he turned against his father's orthodox religion and became an atheist"
  15. ^ "Lucas County : 2-48 House of Four Pillars" Remarkable Ohio Retrieved 27 June 2016 
  16. ^ "House of Four Pillars" The Toledo Regional Tour Retrieved 27 June 2016 
  17. ^ Newlin, Keith 2003 "Henry, Maude Wood 1873-1957" A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia Greenwood Publishing Group pp 186–188 ISBN 0-313-31680-5 
  18. ^ Miller, Donald 2003 City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America New York: Simon & Schuster p 263 ISBN 9780684831381 
  19. ^ Rice, Anne P 2003 Witnessing Lynching: American Writers Respond Rutgers University Press pp 151–170 ISBN 978-0813533308 
  20. ^ a b c d Loving, Jerome 2005 The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser Berkeley: University of California Press ISBN 9780520234819 
  21. ^ Srebnick, Amy Gilman; Lévy, René 2005 Crime and Culture: An Historical Perspective Burlington: Ashgate p 17 ISBN 9780754623830 
  22. ^ Fishkin, Shelley Fisher 1988 From fact to fiction : journalism & imaginative writing in America New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 9780195206388 
  23. ^ Dreiser, Theodore; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners 1932 Harlan miners speak : report on terrorism in the Kentucky coal fields New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co 
  24. ^ Cunningham, Hugo S 1999 "Theodore Dreiser 1871-1945 His Friendship to the Soviet People in 1938-1941" Cyber-USSR 
  25. ^ Anderson, Sherwood 2012 Baxter, Charles, ed Sherwood Anderson : collected stories New York, NY: Library of America ISBN 978-1598532043 Retrieved 28 June 2016 
  26. ^ Kazin, Alfred 1970 On native grounds : an interpretation of modern American prose literature Fiftieth Anniversary ed New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich p 89 ISBN 978-0156687508 Retrieved 28 June 2016 
  27. ^ Hillstrom, Kevin; Hillstrom, Laurie Collier 2005 The industrial revolution in America Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio p 227 ISBN 978-1-85109-625-1 Retrieved 28 June 2016 
  28. ^ Rodden, John 2005 Irving Howe and the Critics: Celebrations and Attacks Nebraska UP p 100 
  29. ^ Lyttelton, George 1982 "Letter dated August 30, 1959" In Hart-Davis, Rupert The Lyttelton Hart-Davis letters : correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis 4 London: John Murray ISBN 978-0-7195-3941-1 
  30. ^ Leavis, F R 2005 Mackillop, Ian; Storer, Richard, eds FR Leavis essays and documents London: Continuum p 77 ISBN 1847144578 
  31. ^ Riggio, Thomas P 1986 Dreiser-Mencken letters : the correspondence of Theodore Dreiser & HL Mencken, 1907-1945 Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press ISBN 0812280083 
  32. ^ Riggio, Thomas P "Biography of Theodore Dreiser" University of Pennsylvania Penn Libraries Retrieved 27 June 2016 
  33. ^ Cassuto, Leonard; Eby, Clare Virginia, eds 2004 The Cambridge companion to Theodore Dreiser Cambridge: Cambridge university press p 9 ISBN 9780521894654 
  34. ^ "Theodore Dreiser" Chicago Literary Hall of Fame 2011 Retrieved 2017-10-08 


  • Cassuto, Leonard and Clare Virginia Eby, eds The Cambridge Companion to Theodore Dreiser Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004
  • Loving, Jerome The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005

External linksedit

  • The International Theodore Dreiser Society
  • Finding aid to the Theodore Dreiser papers at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • DreiserWebSource at University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Sister Carrie from American Studies at the University of Virginia
  • Works by Theodore Dreiser at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Theodore Dreiser at Internet Archive
  • Works by Theodore Dreiser at LibriVox public domain audiobooks
  • Dreiser's personal library cataloged on LibraryThing
  • "Writings of Theodore Dreiser" from C-SPAN's American Writers: A Journey Through History
  • "TC" Collection: Early works of Theodore Dreiser collected by Walter N Tobriner and presented to Roger S Cohen, 115 titles From the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress

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