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Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser Theodore Dreiser[2†]

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945) was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school[1†][2†]. 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 agency[1†][2†]. Dreiser was the leading figure in a national literary movement that replaced the observance of Victorian notions of propriety with the unflinching presentation of real-life subject matter[1†]. His work explored the new social problems that had arisen in a rapidly industrializing America[1†].

Dreiser’s best-known novels include “Sister Carrie” (1900) and “An American Tragedy” (1925)[1†][2†]. His writing was characterized by a stern and narrow view of Roman Catholicism, reflecting his father’s influence, and a gentle and compassionate outlook, reflecting his mother’s influence[1†]. These experiences from his early life played a significant role in shaping his novels[1†].

Early Years and Education

Theodore Dreiser was born on August 27, 1871, in Terre Haute, Indiana[3†]. He was the ninth of ten surviving children in a family that experienced perennial poverty, which forced them to frequently move between small Indiana towns and Chicago in search of a lower cost of living[3†][1†][4†]. His father, John Paul Dreiser, was a German immigrant who worked mostly as a millworker and subscribed to a stern and narrow Roman Catholicism[3†][1†][5†]. His mother, Säräh Schanab, had a gentle and compassionate outlook that sprang from her Czech Mennonite background[3†][1†][5†].

Dreiser’s early education was spotty and took place in parochial and public schools[3†][1†][4†]. His experiences during this time, particularly his strict Catholic school upbringing, would later turn him away from Catholicism and become a frequent theme in his work[3†][4†]. Despite the challenges, Dreiser managed to complete a year at Indiana University from 1889 to 1890[3†][1†][3†].

These early experiences played a significant role in shaping Dreiser’s novels. His own harsh experience of poverty as a youth and his early yearnings for wealth and success would become dominant themes in his novels[3†][1†]. The misadventures of his siblings in their early adult life also provided him with additional material on which to base his characters[3†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Theodore Dreiser began his career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago in 1892[2†]. He worked his way to the East Coast, writing for newspapers in various cities including Saint Louis, Toledo, Pittsburgh, and New York[2†]. During this period, he published his first work of fiction, “The Return of Genius,” which appeared in the Chicago Daily Globe under the name Carl Dreiser[2†]. By 1895, he was writing articles for magazines[2†].

Dreiser’s journalism career provided him with a wealth of experiences and insights into urban life in America, which would later heavily influence his novels[2†][6†]. He authored 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 Thomas[2†]. His other interviewees included Lillian Nordica, Emilia E. Barr, Philip Armour, and Alfred Stieglitz[2†].

In 1895, Dreiser convinced business associates of his songwriter brother Paul to give him the editorship of a magazine called Ev’ry Month, in which he published his first story, “Forgotten,” a tale based on a song of his brother’s titled "The Letter That Never Came"[2†]. Dreiser continued editing magazines, becoming editor of the women’s magazine The Delineator in June 1907[2†].

Dreiser’s first novel, “Sister Carrie” (1900), was a groundbreaking depiction of the harsh realities of urban life and the moral struggles of its protagonist[2†][1†][2†]. Despite initial controversy and poor sales, the novel has since been recognized as a classic of American literature[2†][1†][2†]. His next major work, “An American Tragedy” (1925), is considered his masterpiece[2†][1†][2†]. The novel, based on a notorious murder case, explores themes of ambition, desire, and the destructive effects of societal pressures[2†][1†][2†].

Throughout his career, Dreiser was known for his unflinching presentation of real-life subject matter and his exploration of social problems that had arisen in a rapidly industrializing America[2†][1†][2†]. He was the leading figure in a national literary movement that replaced the observance of Victorian notions of propriety with the unflinching presentation of real-life subject matter[2†][1†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Theodore Dreiser began his writing career as a newspaper reporter, but it was his novels that brought him fame. His first novel, “Sister Carrie” (1900), tells the story of a woman who flees her country life for the city[2†]. Despite initial controversy and poor sales due to its scandalous content, “Sister Carrie” is now considered a classic of American literature[2†].

After the success of his second novel, “Jennie Gerhardt” (1911), Dreiser began writing full-time[2†][7†]. He produced a trilogy consisting of “The Financier” (1912), “The Titan” (1914), and “The Stoic” (published posthumously in 1947)[2†][7†][8†]. These novels, based on the life of the American transportation magnate Charles T. Yerkes, explore the impact of wealth and power on the individual[2†][8†].

Dreiser’s other notable works include “The Genius” (1915) and its sequel, “The Bulwark” (published posthumously in 1946)[2†][7†]. Throughout his career, Dreiser’s works were characterized by their realistic portrayal of life and their exploration of the social problems arising in a rapidly industrializing America[2†][1†][2†].

Here is a list of some of Dreiser’s main works along with their first year of publication:

Analysis and Evaluation

Theodore Dreiser is best known for his novels, particularly “Sister Carrie” (1900) and “An American Tragedy” (1925)[9†]. His work often dealt with 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 agency[9†]. Dreiser remains one of the foremost naturalistic writers of the early twentieth century[9†].

Dreiser’s dark outlook and brooding style are leavened by his richness of language and compassion[9†]. He has been hailed as the most influential figure in American letters at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Mount Everest of American fiction, and he was considered the chief spokesman for the realistic novel[9†]. Dreiser was a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, but he lost in a close and bitterly contested vote to Sinclair Lewis, a rebuff that he never forgot[9†].

In addition to his novels, Dreiser also wrote several autobiographical volumes, various books of essays, sketches, and accounts of his travels, as well as two books of plays and a collection of poems[9†]. However, his poetry is generally of poor quality; his plays have been produced on occasion, but drama was not his métier[9†]. His philosophical works, such as “Hey, Rub-a-Dub-Dub!” (1920), and his autobiographical forays are the product of an obsession with explaining himself; the philosophy is often obscure and arcane, and the autobiography is not always reliable[9†].

Personal Life

Theodore Dreiser was married twice in his lifetime. His first marriage was to Sara Osborne White in 1898[10†]. However, the marriage was not successful, and they separated in 1909[10†]. Despite their separation, Dreiser never divorced Sara[10†].

In 1944, Dreiser married his second wife, Helen Patges Richardson[10†][2†]. Details about his relationships and personal life beyond these facts are not extensively documented.

Dreiser’s personal life was also marked by his departure from the Catholic faith. Raised in a strict Catholic school, Dreiser later distanced himself from Catholicism[10†][4†]. This struggle with public schools and faith became a frequent theme in his work[10†][4†].

Despite the hardships and challenges he faced, Dreiser’s personal life experiences significantly influenced his writing. His early experiences with poverty and his yearnings for wealth and success became dominant themes in his novels[10†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Theodore Dreiser, an American journalist and novelist, was a leading figure in the literary movement of naturalism[1†]. His unflinching presentation of real-life subject matter replaced the observance of Victorian notions of propriety[1†]. Dreiser’s novels often explored new social problems that had arisen in a rapidly industrializing America[1†].

Dreiser’s work was often controversial due to his realistic and intense portrayals of characters whose lives were considered amoral[1†][5†]. His characters were often guilty of sexual improprieties like infidelity and prostitution, but the American public felt his portrayals were far too sympathetic[1†][5†]. Despite the controversy, Dreiser’s novels, such as “Sister Carrie” and “An American Tragedy,” are considered landmarks in American fiction[1†][5†].

Dreiser’s philosophy, which he termed “chemism,” attempted to explain human behavior in terms of chemical or physical science[1†][11†]. Through chemisms, Dreiser sought to explain all phenomena, organic as well as inorganic[1†][11†].

Dreiser’s legacy lies in his ability to challenge contemporary perspectives on the ideal American family and explore the conflict between a foreign-born father who fails to understand American ways and the second generation’s rebellion against Old World religious and moral values[1†][5†]. His works also explored the role played by heredity and environment in shaping a character’s fate[1†][5†].

Despite the censorship and controversy surrounding his work during his lifetime, Dreiser’s novels continue to be influential for their frank and realistic portrayals of life, their exploration of social issues, and their challenge to conventional norms[1†][5†].

Key information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Theodore Dreiser: American author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Theodore Dreiser [website] - link
  3. Britannica Kids - Theodore Dreiser [website] - link
  4. eNotes - Theodore Dreiser Biography [website] - link
  5. New World Encyclopedia - Theodore Dreiser [website] - link
  6. Vaia - Theodore Dreiser: Biography, Book & Quotes [website] - link
  7. Britannica - Theodore Dreiser summary [website] - link
  8. CorD Magazine - 150 Years Since The Birth Of Theodore Dreiser: The Outstanding American Practitioner Of Naturalism [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Theodore Dreiser Analysis [website] - link
  10. IMDb - Theodore Dreiser - Biography [website] - link
  11. CliffsNotes - Sister Carrie - Dreiser's Ideas and Philosophy [website] - link
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