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Theodore Dreiser

1871-1945

American novelist, a pioneer of naturalism in American literature

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Theodore Dreiser

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1933
Born August 27, 1871
Terre Haute, Indiana
Died December 28, 1945 (aged 74)
Hollywood, California
Occupation Novelist
Spouse(s) Sara White
Parents Sarah and John Paul Dreiser

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.[1]

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 Early life

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 older brother.

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 Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Israel Zangwill, John Burroughs, and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field,Thomas Edison, and Theodore Thomas[2]. Other interviewees included Lillian Nordica,Emilia E. Barr, Philip Armour and Alfred Stieglitz[3]. 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 divorced.[4]

 Literary career

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 Jones.)

He was a witness to a lynching in 1893 and wrote the short story, " Cracker," which appeared in Ainslee's Magazine in 1901.[5]

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."[6] 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.[7]

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.


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