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Sister Carrie
"A Strangely Strong Novel
in a Queer Milieu"
Curated by Nancy M. Shawcross
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
University of Pennsylvania

Dreiser's Apprenticeship

Photograph of Dreiser
Pittsburgh, ca. 1894

Taken at the time when Dreiser was shuttling among various city papers from Chicago to St. Louis to Pittsburgh to Toledo

Before publishing his first novel, Dreiser's apprenticeship in writing comprised a menagerie of short-term assignments and positions with newspapers and magazines from St. Louis to New York. His first reporter's job came in 1892 with the Chicago Daily Globe, considered one of the weakest of the Chicago papers at the time. But the Globe's less-than-premiere status afforded the inexperienced writer the opportunity to prove himself. He parlayed his few months of work at the Chicago Daily Globe into a position at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a morning Republican paper that was the biggest in town. At one point Dreiser was assigned the "hotel beat," which meant interviewing visiting celebrities. After returning to the city room one night, having just interviewed the theosophist Annie Besant, he was called away to cover a triple murder. Still dressed in his rented evening clothes, Dreiser arrived at the scene of the crime to find the bloody corpses of a mother and her two children who had been brutally murdered by her husband, the children's father. This dichotomy between wealth and poverty, between appearance and reality, between prospects and hopelessness informs Sister Carrie.

The life of the newspaperman in Dreiser's time was itself filled with poverty, lasciviousness, and corruption, as were many of the events that a reporter covered. At first naïve, Dreiser quickly learned the ropes and the realities of urban America, but invariably his ideals or vision or personal pride created rifts between himself and management. Freedom--or what appeared to be freedom--to write works to his own plan drove Dreiser not only to seek the editorship at Ev'ry Month but also to pursue creative writing, such as poetry. After departing Ev'ry Month in September 1897, Dreiser wrote scores of articles for all manner of publications, always hoping that he could find a measure of financial freedom to write his first novel. Among these works came material that would latter be incorporated into Sister Carrie, which he began in earnest in the fall of 1899.

Ev'ry Month, July 1898

Munsey's Magazine, January 1898

Cosmopolitan, April 1898

Cosmopolitan, July 1898

Demorest's Family Magazine, January 1899

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1900

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