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Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser(August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945) was
an American novelist and journalist. He pioneered the naturalist school
and is known for portraying characters whose value lies not in their moral
code, but in their persistence against all obstacles, and literary situations
that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency.
Dreiser was born in Terre
Haute, Indiana, to Sarah and John Paul Dreiser, a strict Catholic family.
John Paul Dreiser was a German immigrant and Sarah was from theMennonite farming
community near Dayton,
Ohio; she was disowned for marrying John and converting to Roman
Catholicism. Theodore was the twelfth of thirteen children (the ninth of the
ten surviving). The popular songwriter Paul
Dresser (1859–1906) was his
From 1889 to 1890, Theodore attended Indiana
University before dropping out.[citation
needed]. Within several years, he was writing for the Chicago
Globenewspaper and then the St.
Louis Globe-Democrat. He wrote several articles on writers such as Nathaniel
Dean Howells, Israel
Burroughs, and interviewed public figures such as Andrew
Edison, and Theodore
Other interviewees included Lillian
E. Barr, Philip
Armour and Alfred
After proposing in 1893, he married Sara 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 work colleague, but were never formally
His first novel, Sister
Carrie (1900), tells the
story of a woman who flees her country life for the city (Chicago)
and falls into a wayward life. It sold poorly, but it later acquired a
considerable reputation. (It was made into a 1952 film by William
Wyler, which starred Laurence
Olivier and Jennifer
He was a witness to a lynching in
1893 and wrote the short story, " Cracker," which appeared in Ainslee's
Magazine in 1901.
His second novel, Jennie
Gerhardt, was published in 1911. Many of Dreiser's subsequent novels
dealt with social inequality. His first commercial success was An
American Tragedy (1925),
which was made into a film in 1931 and again in 1951. In 1892, when Dreiser
began work as a newspaperman he "began 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 "many forms of
murder for money...the young ambitious lover of some poorer girl...(for) a
more attractive girl with money or position...it was not always possible to
drop the first girl. What usually stood in the way was pregnancy." Dreiser
claimed to have collected such stories every year between 1895 and 1935. The
murder in 1911 of Avis Linnell by Clarence
Richesonparticularly caught his attention. By 1919 this murder was the
basis of one of two separate novels begun by Dreiser. The 1906 murder of Grace
Brown by Chester
Gillette eventually became the
basis for An American Tragedy.
Though primarily known as a novelist, Dreiser published his first collection
of short stories, Free
and Other Stories in 1918.
The collection contained 11 stories. A particularly interesting story, "My
Brother Paul", was a brief biography of his older brother, Paul Dresser, who
was a famous songwriter in the 1890s. This story was the basis for the 1942
romantic movie, "My Gal Sal".
Other works include The "Genius" and Trilogy
of Desire (a three-parter based
on the remarkable life of the Chicago streetcar tycoon Charles
Tyson Yerkes and composed of The
Financier (1912), The
Titan (1914), and The
Stoic). The latter was published posthumously in 1947.
Because of his depiction of then-unaccepted aspects of life, such as sexual
promiscuity, Dreiser was often forced to battle against censorship.