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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

Sister Carrie in Search of a Publisher

Photograph of Frank Doubleday

Doubleday's distaste for Sister Carrie never waned.

In seeking a publisher for his novel, Dreiser first submitted his manuscript to Harper & Brothers, where an influential friend named Henry Mills Alden served on the editorial staff, but it was rejected within a few weeks. The reasons for rejection, however, appear to have prompted a major revision of the text. Some 40,000 words were removed, partly to quicken the pace, partly to do away with references to sex, partly to blunt the force of the naturalistic thinking. Much of the remaining prose was revised, trimmed, and buffed. What emerged was a different novel, less sexually frank and philosophically bleak. This revised typescript was then submitted to Doubleday, Page & Co., because it had published the writings of Frank Norris, a promising young naturalistic writer, whose novel McTeague had recently caused a stir.

Working as an advisor for Doubleday, Norris was the one who read the Sister Carrie typescript in May 1900 and pronounced judgment on it. He was much taken by the narrative, later calling it "the best novel I had read in M.S. since I had been reading for the firm." Acting on Norris's enthusiasm, the junior partner, Walter Hines Page, promised Dreiser that Sister Carrie would appear under the Doubleday imprint. No contract was signed, but a gentlemen's understanding was reached. In July 1900 Frank Doubleday, the senior partner of Doubleday, Page & Co., returned from a vacation and read Sister Carrie in typescript. Doubleday, however, expressed a strong dislike for the narrative, calling it "immoral" and urging that his firm not publish it. Working through Page, he attempted to persuade Dreiser to withdraw the book, but Dreiser (probably with counsel from Arthur Henry) stood firm and demanded publication. After consulting with a lawyer, Doubleday found that indeed he was committed to putting Sister Carrie into print, but that he was under no obligation to market it strongly.

Henry Mills Alden

Frank Norris

Walter Hines Page

Letters from Arthur Henry

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