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Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945)

Author of Sister Carrie

155+ Works 12,641 Members 184 Reviews 35 Favorited
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About the Author

Theodore Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the twelfth of 13 children. His childhood was spent in poverty, or near poverty, and his family moved often. In spite of the constant relocations, Dreiser managed to attend school, and, with the financial aid of a sympathetic high school teacher, show more he was able to attend Indiana University. However, the need for income forced him to leave college after one year and take a job as a reporter in Chicago. Over the next 10 years, Dreiser held a variety of newspaper jobs in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and finally New York. He published his first novel, Sister Carrie in 1900, but because the publisher's wife considered its language and subject matter too "strong", it was barely advertised and went almost unnoticed. Today it is regarded as one of Dreiser's best works. It is the story of Carrie, a young woman from the Midwest, who manages to rise to fame and fortune on the strength of her personality and ambition, through her acting talent, and via her relationships with various men. Much of the book's controversy came from the fact that it portrayed a young woman who engages in sexual relationships without suffering the poverty and social downfall that were supposed to be the "punishment" for such "sin." Dreiser's reputation has increased instrumentally over the years. His best book and first popular success, An American Tragedy (1925), is now considered a major American novel, and his other works are widely taught in college courses. Like Sister Carrie, An American Tragedy also tells the story of an ambitious young person from the Midwest. In this case, however, the novel's hero is a man who is brought to ruin because of a horrible action he commits - he murders a poor young woman whom he has gotten pregnant, but whom he wants to discard in favor of a wealthy young woman who represents luxury and social advancement. As Dreiser portrays him, the young man is a victim of an economic system that torments so many with their lack of privilege and power and temps them to unspeakable acts. Dreiser is also known for the Coperwood Trilogy - The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and the posthumously published The Store (1947). Collectively the three books paint the portrait of a brilliant and ruthless "financial buccaneer." Dreiser is associated with Naturalism, a writing style that also includes French novelist Emile Zola. Naturalism seeks to portray all the social forces that shape the lives of the characters, usually conveying a sense of the inevitable doom that these forces must eventually bring about. Despite this apparent pessimism, Dreiser had faith in socialism as a solution to what he saw as the economic injustices of American capitalism. His socialist views were reinforced by a trip to the newly socialist Soviet Union, and in fact, Dreiser is still widely read in that country. There, as here, he is seen as a powerful chronicler of the injustices and ambitions of his time. Dreiser officially joined the Communist Party shortly before his death in 1945. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery (image use requires permission from the New York Public Library)


Works by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie (1900) — Author — 4,061 copies
An American Tragedy (1925) 4,013 copies
The Financier (1912) 549 copies
Jennie Gerhardt (1911) 424 copies
The Titan (1914) 303 copies
Sister Carrie / Jennie Gerhardt / Twelve Men (1987) — Author — 272 copies
The Genius (1915) 162 copies
The Bulwark (1946) 139 copies
The Stoic (1656) 98 copies
Twelve Men (1962) 63 copies
100 Eternal Masterpieces of Literature - volume 1 (2017) — Contributor — 59 copies
A Hoosier Holiday (1916) — Author — 51 copies
Theodore Dreiser Presents The Living Thoughts of Thoreau (1939) — Editor, some editions — 38 copies
The Color of a Great City (1996) 29 copies
Free and Other Stories (1918) 25 copies
The Hand of the Potter (1918) 22 copies
A Traveler at Forty (2005) 16 copies
Trilogy of Desire (1972) 13 copies
Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields (1970) — Editor, some editions — 12 copies
Tragic America (1931) 8 copies
A Book About Myself (2009) 8 copies
The Lost Phoebe (2012) — Author — 7 copies
Phantom Gold (1992) — Author — 7 copies
Dreiser Looks At Russia (1928) 5 copies
A Sister Carrie Portfolio (1985) 4 copies
Racconti 3 copies
Nigger Jeff (1958) 3 copies
Essays and Articles (1951) 3 copies
The American spectator year book (1934) — Editor — 3 copies
Valik novelle 3 copies
Political writings (2010) 3 copies
Free 2 copies
Carolina 2 copies
Meravigliosa Chicago (2015) 2 copies
The Hand (2011) 2 copies
Epitaph : a poem (1975) 2 copies
America Is Worth Saving (1941) 2 copies
Un caso di coscienza (2000) 2 copies
My City (1929) 2 copies
Tytan 1 copy
Geniy (2015) 1 copy
Titán 1 copy
Finančník 1 copy
Der Titan 1 copy
the stoic 1 copy
the bulward 1 copy
the genius 1 copy
the titan 1 copy
EL GENIO 1 copy
Die besten Novellen (1995) 1 copy
Married 1 copy
Zora 1 copy
Fine furniture (1973) 1 copy
Titans 1 copy
Libero 1 copy
Notes on life. (1974) 1 copy

Associated Works

Fifty Great American Short Stories (1965) — Contributor — 438 copies
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (2008) — Contributor — 417 copies
Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology (2004) — Contributor — 298 copies
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (1998) — Contributor — 282 copies
The Treasury of American Short Stories (1981) — Contributor — 269 copies
Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural (1981) — Contributor — 199 copies
An Anthology of Famous American Stories (1953) — Contributor — 140 copies
The Rise of Silas Lapham [Norton Critical Edition] (1885) — Contributor — 99 copies
The Mammoth Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost Stories (1998) — Contributor — 76 copies
Bedside Book of Famous American Stories (1936) — Contributor — 72 copies
A Place in the Sun [1951 film] (1951) — Novel — 64 copies
Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons (1967) — Contributor — 61 copies
The Experience of the American Woman (1978) — Contributor — 46 copies
Fifty Best American Short Stories 1915-1965 (1965) — Contributor — 36 copies
50 Best American Short Stories 1915-1939 (1939) — Contributor — 28 copies
American short stories, 1820 to the present (1952) — Contributor — 26 copies
Ebony and Ivory (1923) — Preface, some editions — 20 copies
Lilith : a dramatic poem (1920) — Introduction, some editions — 17 copies
Carrie [1952 film] (2005) — Original novel — 11 copies
The Great Modern American Stories: An Anthology (1920) — Contributor — 10 copies
Uncanny Tales 3 (1975) — Contributor — 9 copies
Forced Labor in the United States (1971) — Introduction, some editions — 6 copies
Our lives : American labor stories — Contributor — 6 copies
Representative American Short Stories — Contributor — 5 copies
1935 Essay Annual — Contributor — 4 copies
American Short Stories (1978) — Contributor — 3 copies
The songs of Paul Dresser — Introduction, some editions — 3 copies
My Gal Sal [1942 film] (1942) — Writer — 3 copies
Modern Short Stories — Contributor — 3 copies
Marriage: Short Stories of Married Life (1923) — Contributor — 2 copies
Modern American short stories (1963) — Contributor — 1 copy


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Common Knowledge



Theodore Dreiser in George Macy devotees (July 2023)
1914: Dreiser - The Titan in Literary Centennials (November 2015)


A surprisingly modern novel, except for its reliance on exposition, originally published 1900 to a problematic reception due to its descriptions of very flawed characters without an ‘uplifting’ message; a cross between Sinclair Lewis (Babbitt) and a dash of Dickens, although the author may have aimed for Balzac. Reprinted in 19927 and currently regarded as an American classic: a precursor to A Man In Full in some ways.

The main protagonist, Carrie, flees rural WI in the late 1800s for Chicago looking for work and faces the harsh working conditions of factory life while aching for the beautiful things offered to the fortunate. Via her impoverished sister, her aspiring middle class lover and then her upper middle class lover, she is a reflection of the different socioeconomic sectors in a rapidly industrialized and urban culture. A committed socialist, Dreiser takes aim at the ultimately vacuous goals presented as the golden life while frankly displaying the untenable realities in not achieving those goals.

There is no Hollywood ending, the message is never too bluntly struck and the pace keeps a good momentum; the characters are mostly presented as real people not one-dimensional. The problem is there are no brief paragraphs or even summary sentences to indicate what would have sent the characters along their paths in the first place: they become stock not because of a lack of description but because their actions appear too random. This isn’t an issue with minor characters, but for Carrie (the rise) and Hurstwood (the fall) the book would have benefited from a very modest amount of backstory, especially for Hurstwood.

Dreiser has sympathy for his characters and refrains from overt moralizing. Through the character Ames, the reader is given a “Third Way”, but with zero information on what this might actually entail. ‘Sister Carrie’ is one of those books that was important to have been written, very good to have read and will stay in the canon for a long time, but I suspect not a book to be reread.
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saschenka | 60 other reviews | May 23, 2024 |
When we first meet Carrie (Meeber/Wheeler/Madenda), she isn't terribly likeable. There are shades of a Pretty Woman storyline, and the pace is rather slow. Stick with it--there's a lot here. The innocent Carrie, treated by the men in her life like an orphan without agency, quickly learns how to forge her own path, and this will include learning to play her own games. The story itself is quite miserly--definitely a tale of fortune's wheel. Dreiser has a gift for revealing the twists and turns of the darker bits of our souls, but in such a way that it is in fact part of our mundane existence, rather than dramatic depravity. The narration is exceedingly clever--sometimes sympathetic, sometimes sardonic commentary. The descriptions of city life and class structure are rich and dimensional and we come to feel a refreshing ambiguity about our heroine at the end.… (more)
rebcamuse | 4 other reviews | Feb 21, 2024 |
5 powerful short stories: an old widower becomes convinced his late wife is still alive; a reporter is sent to observe a lynching; a young woman, dumped by her love of her life, gloomily ponders settling for second best.. Brilliant writing
starbox | Jan 25, 2024 |
This book is about a woman who winds up with a rather modern lifestyle, never marrying or having children, having a series of serious and casual romantic attachments and even living with her lovers, and eventually setting herself up in a successful entertainment career to the extent that instead of her deadbeat boyfriend supporting her on whatever cash he had not gambled away yet, she could support him. Dreiser writes her story as if it is a subtle tragedy in which despite gaining wealth, fame, financial security, and all the finer things in life, she was missing a certain 'something', perhaps the traditional life of wife/mother. This lament coming from the narrator never rang particularly true when considering the character of Carrie though. I could not imagine Carrie, as written, actually wanting traditional marriage or babies.
Dreiser also glosses over all the preparatory work that would have gone on during Carrie's younger life for her to be able to join in with a chorus line in a ballet so easily near the end of the book. If she is able to excel as a dancer and stage performer, surely she has had some training in the past. Dreiser portrays her stage career as if there is really no skill to it, merely innate talent and an artistic mind, plus luck that lands Carrie at the right place and time to get the right opportunities to make it big. So, her success is portrayed as almost dumb luck, unearned except perhaps in some way to atone for the messy past fate gave her by that point. Meanwhile her boyfriend, who kidnapped her and took her away to a new city to live with him, is portrayed as if his choice to not look for work seriously and his choices to gamble with the money he had left were not as important as the waves of fate that turned him into a pathetic beggar. He seems clinically depressed, as a result of chronic unemployment, sure, but I still could not really care about his demise.
So, while the story was entertaining, and I could definitely relate to some of the characters, my interpretation of the situations in this novel is not quite Dreiser's. In my reading of it, Carrie gets a happy ending, albeit a realistic one where she might be a little lonely right now, but where life really is good.
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JBarringer | 60 other reviews | Dec 15, 2023 |


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James Hill Cover artist
Roy Price Cover artist
George Giusti Cover designer
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Louis Auchincloss Introduction
Willard Thorp Afterword
Herbert Leibowitz Introduction
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