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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

Doubleday, Page & Co. and Beyond

Photograph of William Heinemann

The British publisher received a copy of Sister Carrie from Frank Norris. Impressed with the novel, Heinemann wanted to publish the work for his Dollar Library of American Fiction, whose price per volume was fixed at four shillings (equivalent to the American dollar). The current length of the novel was too long to print and sell at that price, so Arthur Henry was enlisted to "abridge" Sister Carrie for this edition.

After a round of blue-pencilling meant to remove the last objectionable features from the text, Sister Carrie was published on 8 November 1900. Frank Norris sent out some 127 review copies; the notices were mixed. Some reviewers complained about the unpleasantness of the story, calling it depressing and pessimistic, but others praised the skillful realism and noted the power of the themes and characters. Without support from its publisher, however, Sister Carrie was a flop. Only 456 copies were sold, netting Dreiser a paltry $68.40 in royalties.

A British edition appeared in 1901 from the firm of Heinemann; this text was abbreviated by Arthur Henry in order to make the book conform to the length restrictions of Heinemann's "Dollar Library of American Fiction." Reviews in the British press were generally favorable, though not as positive as Dreiser would later claim. In 1907 Dreiser himself arranged for a reprint of Sister Carrie by the firm of B. W. Dodge and Co., a remainder house in which he had a financial stake. This republication brought the novel to the attention of new readers and reviewers and prepared the way for a second reprint, this one by Harper and Brothers in 1912--an irony, since Harpers had rejected the novel originally in 1900. In the years after 1912, as Dreiser published more fiction and rose to a prominent position in American letters, Sister Carrie became a famous novel. The story of its suppression by Doubleday was a rallying point for forward-looking intellectuals and a paradigm for the suppression of artistic freedom by the forces of puritanism and Comstockery.

Doubleday, Page & Co., 1900-1905

Heinemann's Dollar Library, 1901

Dodge & Co., 1907

Harper & Brothers, 1911-1912

Dreiser on the Publication History of Sister Carrie

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