Theodore Dreiser

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Theodore Dreiser (August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945) was an American writer, best known for his debut novel, Sister Carrie (1900), a harsh depiction of American society "overtly antagonistic to capitalism's degrading force."[1] According to Roger W. Smith, former bibliographer of Dreiser Studies, "he was an atrocious stylist":

Dreiser’s plots are often soap opera-ish. He never mastered let alone learned even the fundamentals of English prose. Characters like Sondra Finchley seem like crude embodiments of a social class or an ideal, not real. Dreiser was accused (rightly) of plagiarism and he lifted whole chunks of one his best novels, An American Tragedy, out of newspaper accounts and trial transcripts. Some of his nonfiction works (his essays or Dreiser Looks at Russia) border on the inane or are inaccurate. His philosophy was muddle-headed and his opinions often misguided, hateful, and injurious. He wasted years on pseudo-scientific and philosophical speculations which, when finally published posthumously, proved to be unreadable. His prose poetry does not deserve serious critical consideration. Even his so-called classics (e.g., Sister Carrie) have, in my opinion, patches of tepid characterization and weak writing. Besides being an atrocious stylist, Dreiser can be criticized as a writer on architectonic grounds. He seems a blunderer or groper in practically all respects as a writer.[2]

Dreiser was an atheist[3] as well as a Communist, who wrote that "through its attainment of Socialism," the Soviet Union "has given the greatest example in history of the heights of achievement that can be reached by a free people with faith in itself and in all the progressive forces of humanity."[4] In 1928, he visited the Soviet Union, returning to give the New York Times a glowing account, even defending Stalin's purge of Trotsky.[5]

When prominent American liberals like John Dewey objected to the show trials that followed, Dreiser was among those who signed an open letter in support of Stalin's Great Terror, reaffirming "their faith in the Soviet Union, their confidence in the Soviet government, and their friendship for the Soviet people."[6] In 1938 he said President Franklin Roosevelt used the ideas of Karl Marx, classifying him with Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.[7]

When the Soviet Union joined Nazi Germany in the Hitler-Stalin pact for the joint invasion of Poland, partitioning Eastern Europe between them, Dreiser was among the "prominent Americans" named by the Communists "who would write effective brochures explaining and defending the peace policy of the Soviet Union and answering the arguments of the enemy." In 1940, he gave a speech (later reprinted as a pamphlet), "U.S. Must Not Be Bled for Imperial Britain," broadcast on CBS on behalf of the Communist front American Peace Mobilization.[8] In early 1941, he wrote a book arguing that the U.S. should not aid England in its war against Hitler.[9]

Dreiser was also a virulent anti-Semite and admirer of Hitler.[10] New York, he wrote, is a "kike's dream of a ghetto"; Jews are not "pure Americans" and "lack integrity."[11]

Notes

  1. Katherine Kearns, Nineteenth-Century Literary Realism: Through the Looking-Glass (Cambridge University Press, 1996) ISBN 0521496063, p. 265, n. 23
  2. Roger W. Smith, Biography: Dreiser's Life, Dreiser Online
  3. "Religion: Atheist's Oath," Time, August 20, 1928
  4. Theodore Dreiser, "Request to Become a Communist," The Daily Worker, July 30, 1945, reprinted in Albert Fried, Communism in America: A History in Documents (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) ISBN 0231102356, pp. 348-350
  5. "DREISER HOME, SEES SOVIET AIMS GAINING; Author Thinks Principles of Government Will Spread Even to This Country. BUT IN A DIFFERENT FORM He Declares There Is No Bread-Line or Unemployment in Russia-- Deplores Coal Strike Here," The New York Times, February 22, 1928, p. 9. Cf. Frederic E. Rusch and Donald Pizer (Eds.), Theodore Dreiser: Interviews (University of Illinois Press, 2004) ISBN 0252029437, pp. 168-170
  6. Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 304-305
  7. "Says Roosevelt Uses Karl Marx's Ideas; Theodore Dreiser Adds That So Do Hitler and Stalin," The New York Times, August 22, 1938
  8. Donald Pizer, Theodore Dreiser, a primary bibliography and reference guide, p. 55 (Schoenberg Center, University of Pennsylvania). Cf. "Dreiser Views Aid to Britain As Another American Tragedy Novelist Believes That 'Americans Are Suckers'," The Washington Post, November 10, 1940, p. 18; W.H. Schippen, Jr., "Dreiser Says England Seeks to Drag U.S. in European War," Washington Evening Star, November 10, 1940, p. A3
  9. Theodore Dreiser, America Is Worth Saving (New York: Modern Age Books, 1941)
  10. Robert H. Elias, ed., Letters of Theodore Dreiser: A Selection, vol. 2 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), pp. 405, 650–52; Richard Tuerk, “The American Spectator Symposium Controversy: Was Dreiser Anti-Semitic?” Prospects 16 (1991), pp. 367–89; Louis Harap, Creative Awakening: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1900-1940s, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987) ISBN 0313253862, pp. 128-132.
  11. Alan M. Dershowitz, Chutzpah (Simon and Schuster, 1992) ISBN 0671760890, p. 113
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