Theodore Dreiser

Author of An American Tragedy

Theodore Dreiser

In 1871, Theodre Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, to a large and impoverished German American family. He started his writing career as a reporter for Chicago newspapers. Until an editor friend, Arthur Henry, suggested he write a novel, he worked in Pittsburg and St. Louis. Sister Carrie, based on the life of Dreiser's own sister Emma, who had fled to New York with a married man, was the result. The book was rejected by several publishers... because it was "immoral," but it was eventually accepted by Doubleday and Company and published in 1900, despite Frank Doubleday's strong objections. Various hands, including Arthur Henry, Dreiser himself, had made numerous cuts and changes in the lengthy original manuscript. Dreiser would later claim, when mythologizing his career, that Sister Carrie's publishing history had been one of bowdlerization and suppression only; however, the University of Pennsylvania Press's publication of his unedited manuscript in 1981 shows that Dreiser approved and even welcomed Henry's and Jug's changes. (Whether their liberal editing ultimately improved or harmed the book is a fascinating and unresolved question among Dreiser scholars.) Sister Carrie was a flop, but it was hailed as a watershed moment in American realism by writers like Frank Norris and William Dean Howells, and Dreiser's career as a novelist was launched. His trilogy about the rise of a tycoon began with The Financer (1912) and The Titan (1914), but it was An American Tragedy (1925), based on newspaper accounts of a sensational murder case, that brought him fame. The novel was adapted for the stage and then sold to Hollywood. Dreiser, newly influential and wealthy, traveled to Russia and was unimpressed, writing about his experiences in the skeptical Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928). Later in life, however, he became an outspoken (albeit unconventional) Communist, writing political treatises such as America Is Worth Saving (1941). With his artistic abilities waning, Dreiser relocated to Hollywood in 1939, relying heavily on the sale of film rights to his earlier works. At the age of seventy-four, he dies there in 1945. READ MORE

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