Biography of Theodore Dreiser
Thomas P. Riggio
Copyright © Thomas P. Riggio, 2000
Theodore Dreiser (August 27, 1871-December 28, 1945) was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and baptized as Herman Theodore Dreiser. He was the ninth of ten surviving children (three others died as infants) of Säräh Schanab and Johann Dreiser. His father had emigrated from Mayen, Germany in 1844, worked briefly in New England wool mills, and then moved to the Midwest, where large numbers of Germans had settled. He went first to Dayton, Ohio, where he met Sarah, the daughter of a Mennonite family that had come to Ohio from Pennsylvania. Since he was a Roman Catholic and her family was strongly anti-papist, religious tensions forced the couple to elope. When they married in 1851, Sarah was seventeen and Johann twelve years her senior. They moved to Indiana, first to Fort Wayne and then to Terre Haute. Johann became a moderately successful wool dealer and prospered enough to be able to strike out on his own and become the proprietor of a wool mill in Sullivan, Indiana. In 1869 their fortunes changed for the worse when a fire destroyed the mill, leaving Johann with a debilitating injury. The fire, the downturn of the wool industry after the Civil War, and the national economic depression of the early 1870s resulted in long periods of unemployment. As Dreiser recorded in memoirs, the family never recovered financially or psychologically from this economic fall from grace.
Dreiser's childhood coincided with the family's hard times. Consequently, his earliest memories included the joblessness of his father and older siblings, as well as the constant search for economic stability. In his first sixteen years he lived in five different towns in Indiana (as well as in Chicago for a few months), at times relocating only with his mother and the two other younger children, Ed and Claire. As a result, his youth was emotionally unstable, and he had few educational opportunities, which was a special hardship for such a bookish boy. This time was further darkened by the strict Roman Catholic training he received in German American parochial schools, an experience that informed his later critique of Catholicism and deeply influenced his quest for alternative forms of religious experience.
Dawn (1931), an autobiography dealing with his first twenty years, is a classic of German American literature. In it Dreiser gives a vivid picture of his German-speaking, Roman Catholic, downwardly mobile family and offers a moving chronicle of the financial, social, and emotional pressures facing working-class families in the late nineteenth century. He was sensitive to the plight of his mother, who took in boarders, washed clothes for her more prosperous neighbors, and suffered over her inability to feed and clothe her children properly. He often blamed his father for their condition, particularly as Johann often reacted to adversity by turning to prayer and a belief that true happiness was to be found only with God in the afterlife. Dreiser's autobiography presents a somber version of the archetypal bilingual and bicultural experiences of first- and second-generation Americans. He incorporated his memories into some of his best fiction, notably Jennie Gerhardt (1911), in which he modeled the Gerhardt family on the Dreisers in Indiana. In this and other works one finds the themes of the memoirs: the figure of the foreign-born father who fails to understand his children's American ways and loses authority over them; the second generation's rebellion against Old World religious and moral values; the role of the public school in the Americanization process; and the isolated, beleaguered mother who attempts to mediate between traditional values and the emotional needs of her children. Dreiser eventually extended these motifs to his portraits of other American families, such as those of the evangelical preachers in An American Tragedy (1925) and the Quakers in The Bulwark (1946).
Although Dreiser was a serious student, he never finished high school. The conduct of his siblings, especially the sexual adventures of his sisters, entered into his decision to leave school. Depressed over his family's poor social standing in the small northern Indiana town of Warsaw, he decided at age sixteen to seek work in Chicago. There he held a number of nondescript jobs, until he was rescued by a former teacher, Mildred Fielding, who paid his way to Indiana University at Bloomington for one year (1889-90). Another kind of education began when he landed a job as a reporter in Chicago. In June 1892, two months before his twenty-first birthday, he wrote his first news story for the Chicago Globe. Three years later, he abruptly abandoned journalism by walking out of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, where as a space-rate reporter he was being paid, like the garment worker in the city's sweatshops, by the inch.
As a journalist, Dreiser never came close to realizing his dream of having his own by-line, a column the public would read because his name appeared above it. But he showed enough talent to get decent assignments--as drama critic, special feature writer, investigative reporter--for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the St. Louis Republic, and the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Dreiser found material for his later fiction in his observations as a big-city reporter in the 1890s. He was adept at writing special feature stories, in which he was able to experiment with local color settings, dialogue, and character sketches. He was known even then as, in the words of one editor who knew him, "a writing machine." Naturally, he was encouraged by his fellow newspapermen to write fiction. He wrote poetry; he worked on a script for a comic opera called "Jeremiah I," of which only a fragment survives; and he began to experiment with short stories. He continued to educate himself, as did another famous autodidact, Benjamin Franklin, by reading widely in fiction, science, natural history, and philosophy.
After a brief stint on the World, Dreiser went to work in the office of Howley, Haviland & Co.--a music production firm that published the popular songs of his brother, Paul Dresser, remembered today mainly as the author of the Indiana state song, "On the Banks of the Wabash." Dreiser became the editor of the company's publication, Ev'ry Month, which billed itself as "The Woman's Magazine of Literature and Popular Music." As editor, he wrote reviews, editorials, and a "Reflections" column. In all these forms he expressed for the first time his ideas about books, social problems, art, and philosophy. His columns reflected his general reading in world literature, particularly the writing of the High Romantics and Victorians; among the authors who had a special impact on him were the naturalist thinkers, such as Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Thomas Huxley, as well as the novelists Thomas Hardy and Honoré de Balzac.
In 1897 Dreiser left Ev'ry Month and spent the next three years as a free lance writer for national magazines such as Munsey's Metropolitan and Harper's Monthly. For O. S. Marden's Success he interviewed the celebrities of his day: among others, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Marshall Field, William Dean Howells, and Philip Armour. For other magazines he wrote articles on a wide range of subjects: America's fruit growing industry, the meatpacking business in Chicago, modern art, the making of stained glass windows, and the photography of Alfred Stieglitz. He continued to experiment with poetry and fiction. His early short stories--"Nigger Jeff," "Butcher Rogaum's Door," and "The Shining Slave Makers"--are still readable today and reflect both urban and rural life in the last decade of the century.
In 1898 Dreiser married Sara Osborne White, a schoolteacher from Missouri, whom he had met when he covered the 1893 Columbian Exposition as a reporter for the St. Louis Republic. With her encouragement and that of his friend Arthur Henry, a novelist and former editor of the Toledo Blade, Dreiser began writing his historic first novel, Sister Carrie. Among other sources for the novel was the story of his sister Emma's affair with L. A. Hopkins, a married man who had run off with funds embezzled from his Chicago employer. In the pages of what is now considered the first great urban novel in America, Dreiser mixed philosophical speculations about the nature of existence together with scenes that presented much of the gritty details of city life. As even his first reviewers understood, Dreiser at the age of twenty-nine had created in George Hurstwood one of the most memorable characters in American literature.
The Doubleday company published Sister Carrie under protest on November 8, 1900. It is perhaps the most famous story in American publishing history. Frank Doubleday had been on a business trip to Europe when his firm accepted the book on the strong recommendation of one of its editors, the novelist Frank Norris. Norris convinced the company's junior partner, Walter Hines Page, that he should offer Dreiser a contract--a document that was discussed but not drawn up at the time. Norris wrote privately to Dreiser that Sister Carrie "was the best novel I have read in M. S. since I have been reading for the firm," and that "it pleased me as well as any novel I have read in any form, published or otherwise." When Doubleday returned and read the new work, he strongly disagreed with Norris. Moreover, he protested. He considered the book "immoral" because of its depiction of a "fallen" woman as a success story. He tried very hard to abort the verbal agreement, but Dreiser refused to take the book to another publisher. It was rumored (but later denied by Doubleday) that Mrs. Doubleday was the person most adamant in her opposition to the novel. Over the years Dreiser developed the incident into a legendary story of censorship and "puritanical" repression, and the book became a symbol of literary freedom for an entire generation.
Since Dreiser refused to give in to the pressure, Doubleday's lawyer advised the company to publish the novel or risk losing its good name. An "agreement to publish" was drawn up and signed by Dreiser and Doubleday. The firm, however, did nothing to promote the sale or distribution of Sister Carrie. Working for the fledgling author behind the scenes, Norris wrote to English publishers in an attempt to market the book, and in 1901 a truncated version of the novel was published by William Heinemann. It was received with considerable critical acclaim by the English reviewers. It was this British edition that in fact established the international reputation of the novel.
Attempting to put the Doubleday incident behind him, Dreiser began a second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, which he started to write on January 6, 1901, less than two weeks after the death of his father. It tells the story of a German American girl compelled by economic forces to support her family by entering the larger American world of her lover, Lester Kane, the son of a wealthy Irish immigrant. Dreiser based the character of Jennie in part on his sister Mame, Lester on her husband Austin Brennan, and Jennie's father was modeled after Dreiser's own father, who, like Old Gerhardt in the novel, disowned one of his daughters after she had become pregnant outside the bounds of marriage.
Within five months Dreiser had written forty chapters of the novel. Then began a severe writer's block that virtually halted his career as a novelist until 1910. The inability to write was the result of an extended nervous breakdown, brought on, Dreiser later claimed, by the suppression of Sister Carrie.
Dreiser's disability lasted nearly three years, after which he recovered enough to seek employment in editorial jobs with the New York Daily News, the publishers Street and Smith, and the magazine Broadway. In 1904 he wrote an account of his crisis that remained in manuscript until the Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition published it as An Amateur Laborer (1983). By 1907 he had worked his way up to become editor-in-chief of the prestigious Delineator, an organ of the Butterick Company, which specialized in women's fashions. In the meantime Sister Carrie was enjoying an underground reputation, particularly after the Dodge Company reissued it in 1907. Dreiser continued at Butterick until 1910, when a platonic infatuation with the seventeen-year-old daughter of one of his associates cost him his job. With the encouragement of his friend, the critic H. L. Mencken, Dreiser returned to his writing desk and completed Jennie Gerhardt. Once again he had become a full-time writer. He made up for lost time with a burst of creative energy that resulted in the publication of fourteen books between 1911 and 1925.
Dreiser's life changed dramatically in this period. In 1912 he took his first trip to Europe as the guest of the British publisher Grant Richards and wrote about his adventures there in A Traveler at Forty (1913). Shortly after, he separated from his wife, moved into the artistic community developing in Greenwich Village, and began the life-long practice of what he called "varietism," a term he used to describe his habit of being sexually involved with more than one woman at the same time.
Dreiser had close relations with the liberal thinkers and artistic avant-garde of the 1910s. He associated with leading political radicals like Max Eastman, Daniel DeLeon, and Floyd Dell; supported the birth-control movement of Margaret Sanger; befriended the anarchist Emma Goldman; and wrote for leftist journals such as The Masses, as well as for magazines with more purely aesthetic goals, like Seven Arts. Dreiser was eclectic in his interests, and although generally progressive in his social thought, he was too eccentric and independent a thinker to fit into any one ideological mode.
After 1911, H. L. Mencken became the most visible publicist on the American scene, and his reviews in the Smart Set promoted Dreiser as America's greatest living realist. Despite such support, the threat of censorship haunted Dreiser for over two decades. Publishers often refused to print manuscripts as Dreiser wrote them. Editors substantially cut both fiction and non-fiction before publication. For example, the Century Company severely truncated the original text of A Traveler at Forty, omitting over forty chapters and diluting many of the sequences that did appear in print.
Censorship was not limited to publishers and editors. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice caused The "Genius" (1915), an autobiographical novel, to be removed from the bookshelves, precipitating a court battle that lasted for years before the book was finally reissued in 1923. Dreiser faced other challenges during the period of the first World War, when his German name caused critics to attack his "barbaric naturalism" and unconventional writing style as representative of "a new note in American literature, coming from the 'ethnic' element of our mixed population."
Dreiser wrote prolifically through all this turmoil. It is worth noting that although he is remembered primarily for his novels, he wrote in many genres. In fact, of his twenty-seven published books only eight are novels--and two of these, The Bulwark and The Stoic (1947), were published posthumously. Besides journalism, which he wrote throughout his life, he published volumes of poetry [Moods, Cadenced and Disclaimed (1928), Moods, Philosophical and Emotional (1935)]; short stories [Free and Other Stories (1918), Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories (1927)] ; plays [Plays of the Natural and Supernatural (1916), The Hand of the Potter (1918)]; travel books [A Traveler at Forty, A Hoosier Holiday (1915), Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928)]; autobiographies [Newspaper Days (1922), Dawn (1931)]; philosophical essays [Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1919)]; social criticism [Tragic America (1932), America is Worth Saving (1941)]; character sketches [Twelve Men (1919), A Gallery of Woman, 2 volumes (1929)]; and The Living Thoughts of Thoreau (1939).
Although much of this writing has received scholarly attention, Dreiser's novels remain the focus of critical inquiry and the main source of his reputation. His first novels, Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt, portray women who battle poverty and the conventional prejudices of society. Dreiser turned to a very different subject for his next novel: the career of an American financier, Frank Algernon Cowperwood, a character based on the Philadelphia and Chicago traction magnate Charles T. Yerkes. Dreiser decided that he needed a trilogy to explore this figure, and it came to be called "The Trilogy of Desire." The first book, The Financier (1912), was followed by The Titan (1914), but Dreiser had difficulty completing the third book and was still working on the final chapter of The Stoic when he died in 1945. The trilogy is generally considered to be among the finest historical novels in America.
The head of the censor reared up once again when Dreiser's publisher, Harper and Brothers, decided that The Titan would be too risky to publish, due in large part to the depiction of Cowperwood's promiscuous sexuality. Fearing a repeat of the Sister Carrie incident, Dreiser withdrew the book and signed on with the English publisher, the John Lane Company. His experiences with censorship led him to become a leading spokesman --in articles, interviews, and correspondence--for the idea that the artist in America was limited severely by conservative conventions that had a crippling effect on all creative expression. He wrote on this theme classically in his essay "Life, Art, and America" (1917).
All the controversies surrounding Dreiser's novels did not sell books; they enjoyed critical esteem rather than high sales. Dreiser's distrust of publishers, born of his mistreatment at the hands of Doubleday, kept him constantly embattled in contractual disputes. To make ends meet, he repeatedly turned out minor work for the magazines, and he wasted considerable energies on money-making schemes, such as writing film scripts, most of which were unsuccessful. His road was made considerably easier after 1917 when he met Horace Liveright, a publisher who supported the kind of writing Dreiser wanted to do and, with great patience, endured his distrust of publishers. Nevertheless, the war years and the poor sales of his books took its toll on him.
By 1919, he was at a low point financially and mentally. Then he met Helen Patges Richardson, whose grandmother was a sister of Dreiser's mother. She was young, strikingly beautiful, and set on pursuing a career as an actress in Hollywood. When she appeared one day at the door of his apartment, they immediately began a stormy twenty-five year relationship that survived periods of separation, estrangement, and many romantic affairs on Dreiser's part. In 1919 he traveled to Los Angeles with Helen, settled in a small bungalow to write, and watched her walk off each day to work in films that are now footnotes in motion-picture history. In the charged atmosphere of Hollywood Dreiser tried to write The Bulwark, the story of a Quaker family whose children and traditional values are exposed to the corrupting forces of modern American life. He did not get much writing done, however, partly because he spent himself in attempts to cash in on the big money offered in Hollywood for movie scripts.
His time in California, nevertheless, was not altogether fruitless. While there he began to focus on a story that was rooted in a type of sensational crime that he believed characterized American life. He first observed these crimes as a young reporter in 1892, and he continued to take notes on such cases for years. They consisted of murders in which the motive is not personal hatred but the desire of a socially marginal man to escape from a romantic entanglement in order to marry another woman who brings with her upper-class position and wealth. Dreiser had a brilliant insight into this condition: such an aspiration "was really not an anti-social dream as Americans should see it, but rather a pro-social dream. [The defendant] was really doing the kind of thing which Americans should and would have said was the wise and moral thing for him to do had he not committed a murder. His would not ordinarily be called the instinct of a criminal; rather, it would be deemed the instinct of a worthy and respected temperament."
Dreiser began experimenting with this story, as well as researching certain cases that seemed to fit his scenario. By 1922 he had written twenty chapters of a novel, but shortly after he realized that they constituted a false start. His research led him to the Chester Gillette murder of Grace Brown in 1906, an upstate New York case that had been given extensive coverage in the newspapers. The Gillette-Brown trial sparked his imagination enough for him to leave Helen and return to New York, where he felt the atmosphere was more suited to the mood he wanted to capture in the novel. There the story took hold of him again. He isolated himself for nearly a year in a Brooklyn apartment, where Helen joined him until he finished the book in 1925. A huge manuscript, it was cut by editors nearly in half before it was published by Horace Liveright in two volumes as An American Tragedy (1925).
Although the novel was a critical and commercial success (in fact, Dreiser's only best-seller), he was not yet finished battling such literary vice crusaders as the Watch and Ward Society. The novel was banned in Boston, where the sale of the book led to a trial and an appeal that dragged on in the courts for years. This, however, was now an isolated instance. Dreiser seemed finally to have won over even his most severe critics, many of whom were now applauding the book as the Great American Novel. Dreiser soon sold the motion picture rights; the first film version appeared in 1931, followed in 1951 by a remake entitled A Place in the Sun. For the first time Dreiser could afford to live something of the high life he had desired since his youth. He moved into a fashionable Rodin Studios apartment at 200 West 57th Street, across from Carnegie Hall. There he held open house gatherings on Thursday evenings at which he entertained famous and talented celebrities from every walk of life. In addition, he built a country home at Mount Kisco, in upstate New York, which he called Iroki (Japanese for "the spirit of beauty").
By the late 1920s Dreiser had become famous as an old warrior in the battles for literary freedom in America, a war that in fact had been won by this point. Despite his new-found security, he championed an array of public causes in the last two decades of his life. Although the Great Depression and the threat of American involvement in another World War were strong stimulants to social activism, this was not a new direction for Dreiser. He had always prided himself on being what he called "radically American," which for him had included his freedom to defend the rights of speech of socialists, anarchists, and other radical groups who had criticized American capitalist values.
A dramatically new phase of Dreiser's activism began in 1927, when the Soviet government invited him to be present at the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution in Moscow. He agreed to go upon condition that he be allowed to extend his stay and tour the Soviet Union to see what he called the "real, unofficial Russia." He arrived as an American "individualist," eager to question the reality of an ostensibly humane economy that claimed to have abolished social hierarchies. He left not totally convinced of the value of the new experiment, but when he returned to America in 1928 to find the first breadlines he had seen since 1910, he was outraged and began to compare the efforts of the Russians to what he perceived to be the neglect of an American government controlled by monied interests.
The personal significance the Russian program eventually came to have for Dreiser appeared in a muted way in the first newspaper articles he wrote after returning to America in early 1928. He speculated in the New York World that in the new Russia it might "be possible to remove that dreadful sense of social misery in one direction or another which has so afflicted me in my life in America ever since I have been old enough to know what social misery is." This aspect of his feelings about Russia emerged more powerfully in the 1930s, a decade in which Dreiser was one of many American intellectuals whose idealization of the Soviet Union was stimulated by the economic breakdown and social malaise of the Depression years.
Dreiser wrote little fiction in the 1930s. He devoted much of himself to political activities. A partial list provides an idea of the range of his social interests: he fought for a fair trial for the Scottsboro Boys, young African Americans unfairly accused of rape in Alabama; he contributed considerable time to the broadly-based political and literary reforms sponsored by the American Writer's League; he spoke out against American imperialism abroad; he attacked the abuses of the financial corporations; he went to Kentucky's Harlan coal mines, as chairman of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, to publicize the wrongs suffered by the striking miners; he investigated the plight of tobacco farmers who were cheated by the large tobacco companies; he spoke on behalf of several antifascist organizations and attended an international peace conference in Paris; he became an advocate in America for aid to the victims of the Spanish Civil War.
Dreiser attempted to collect his thoughts and research on the social problems of the day in Tragic America. This volume of over four hundred pages is an argument against the organizations that Dreiser felt were responsible for the lack of economic equity in American society. Gathering together a large amount of raw data, he focused his attack on large corporations, religious and educational institutions, the depositories of wealth, and the leisure class in the United States. In 1932, he thought he had found a vehicle for his views in the American Spectator, a new journal whose editorial board included Eugene O'Neill and George Jean Nathan. Dreiser withdrew after a year, protesting that the magazine was too literary and not concerned enough with the vital social issues of the day.
Before he left, he became embroiled in a public debate with the author Hutchins Hapgood on the question of what Hapgood felt were anti-Semitic remarks Dreiser and the other editors made in an "Editorial Conference (with Wine)" article in May 1933. Always contentious, Dreiser responded angrily with a combination of Zionist remarks and ethnic slurs which haunted him for the rest of his days. He believed, he said, that the Jews should establish a national homeland and that they should otherwise assimilate completely into American life. In listing the unassimilated characteristics of American Jews, he used racial stereotypes that convinced many that he was either anti-Semitic or, at the least, totally insensitive to the events occurring in Europe at the time. Although he publicly retracted his statements, he never could redeem himself completely.
Besides politics, Dreiser's other passion in the 1930s was a scientific-philosophical study for which he gathered information from various sources. He went to famous scientific laboratories such as the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; he read in physics, biology, chemistry, and philosophy; he discussed the organization of matter with Jacques Loeb of the Rockefeller Institute and with such kindred spirits as John Cowper Powys and George Douglas; he employed researchers to investigate the latest sciences and pseudo-sciences and to collect data that supported his mechanistic view of existence; and he began to organize these materials into essays with titles like "The Myth of Individual Thinking," "The Force Called Illusion," and "The Emotions." Dreiser died before completing his book, selections of which were later published as Notes on Life (1977). Although the text he left behind suggests his book would not have revolutionized modern philosophy, this work is an important key to understanding Dreiser's thought in the last two decades of his life.
Dreiser left New York in 1938 and permanently settled in California, where he lived his final years with Helen Richardson, whom he married in 1944. For many readers today, the most important work of his last seven years are his last two novels, The Bulwark and The Stoic. Although the literary quality of these books is not equal to that of the novels he wrote between 1900 and 1925, they reflect the final stages of his thinking and, in a sense, help us to understand more fully the implications of his earlier works. In their time, however, they were seen as the product of an author who had outlived his literary generation.
Readers in the 1940s knew Dreiser as much through his public statements as through his creative writing. His political views, although not always popular, were not atypical among intellectuals before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In early 1941 he responded to the prospect of American involvement in the European war with America is Worth Saving, in which he argued against coming to the aid of English imperialists and against the prospect of putting money into the pockets of wealthy Americans who would profit from war. In these years, Dreiser's infatuation with the Russian social regime reached its apogee. He aligned himself with radical political groups and supported many of the goals of the Communist Party. Until Hitler invaded Russia, Dreiser had feared that if Americans went to war against Germany, they would also fight the Russians. His public statements, therefore, expressed the ideals of such organizations as the Committee for Soviet Friendship and American Peace Mobilization.
The accolades from the literary establishment that he had sought most of his life came to him late. In 1944 he traveled for the last time to New York to receive the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. They cited Sister Carrie, Twelve Men, and An American Tragedy as his greatest books. There were other signs of recognition. He sold the movie rights to Sister Carrie, which was made into a film with Jennifer Jones as Carrie and Lawrence Olivier as Hurstwood. Another movie, My Gal Sal, was a popular version of Dreiser's story of his brother Paul, who had composed the hit song of that name. The aging writer laughed at the portrait of himself in the film, a scene showing the young Theodore in Indiana breaking into tears over some minor incident.
In July 1945, five months before his death, Dreiser made his last dramatic gesture of public protest by joining the Communist Party. He had been considered by Earl Browder, the leader of the Party in the 1930s, to be too ideologically independent to be a card-carrying member. But in the public statement he issued in 1945, he tried to sum up his reasons for his decision: "Belief in the greatness and dignity of Man has been the guiding principle of my life and work. The logic of my life and work leads me therefore to apply for membership in the Community Party." While this action did nothing to increase his popularity with the general public, he was at the time of his death generally recognized as the greatest realist-naturalist in American literary history--and among the best novelists in world literature. Moreover, his many feuds with censors and conventional publishers gained him a legendary reputation as an advocate for freedom of expression. These judgments have sustained the test of time.
His strength clearly ebbing, Dreiser died of heart failure on December 28, 1945, before completing the last chapter of The Stoic. The book reflected his late interest in Hinduism, which, like his earlier attraction to Quakerism, centered on the mystical element in its system of belief. The book was published with an appendix by Helen Dreiser that outlined the novelist's plans for the ending. Services were held at Forest Lawns' Church of the Recessional, where Dreiser's friend John Howard Lawson paid homage to him for his writing and for his lifelong struggle for a more equitable society. Another friend, Charlie Chaplin, read from Dreiser's poem "The Road I Came."
Dreiser was buried in Hollywood's Forest Lawn Cemetery on January 3, 1946.Oh space!
Toward which we run
Or from which we retreat
Yet that promises to bear us
Oh, what is this
That knows the road I came?
For a commemorative service in 1947, H. L. Mencken wrote a eulogy in which he stuck by the argument that he had been making for over thirty-five years: despite Dreiser's flaws as a stylist, "the fact remains that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped."
BibliographyBiographies and Collections of Letters
Dreiser, Helen. My Life With Dreiser. Cleveland: World, 1951.
Dudley, Dorothy. Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free. New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1932.
Elias, Robert H. Theodore Dreiser: Apostle of Nature. New York: Knopf, 1949; revised, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970.
_____, ed. Letters of Theodore Dreiser. 3 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959.
Lingeman, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City, 1871-1907. New York: Putnam, 1986.
_____. Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey, 1908-1945. New York: Putnam, 1990.
Matthiessen, F. O. Theodore Dreiser. New York: Sloane, 1951.
Riggio, Thomas P., ed. Dreiser-Mencken Letters: The Correspondence of Theodore Dreiser & H. L. Mencken, 1907-1945. 2 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.
Swanberg, W. A. Dreiser. New York: Scribner's, 1965.
General Critical Studies
Eby, Clare Virginia. Dreiser and Veblen: Saboteurs of the Status Quo. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.
Gerber, Philip. Theodore Dreiser. New York: Twayne, 1964; revised as Theodore Dreiser Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Lehan, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: His World and His Novels. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.
Mencken, H. L. "Theodore Dreiser." In his A Book of Prefaces. New York: Knopf, 1917.
Moers, Ellen. Two Dreisers. New York: Viking, 1969.
Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976.
Salzman, Jack, ed. Theodore Dreiser: The Critical Reception. New York: David Lewis, 1972.
Trilling, Lionel. "Reality in America." In his The Liberal Imagination. New York: Viking, 1950.
Warren, Robert Penn. Homage to Theodore Dreiser. New York: Random House, 1971.