Sister Carrie.pdf

Sister Carrie.pdf


This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

"In restoring Dreiser's masterpiece, the editors of the Pennsylvania Edition have given us more than a literary curiosity; like art historians cleaning a da Vinci fresco, they have uncovered the original glowing with an ancient newness."-Richard Lingeman, The Nation "No work of such historical repute ... has ever been republished with such major change... The 'new' novel ... will probably become the accepted standard."-Herbert Mitgang, New York Times "The 'restored' Sister Carrie ... is in many ways a different book, fuller, less cruel, more recognizably Dreiser's own work."-Alfred Kazin, New York Review of Books


Theodore Dreiser, one of the principal exponents of naturalism in American literature, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, into a large family of German ancestry. He endured a rootless upbringing as his parents moved their ten children to different towns in search of employment. Along the way Dreiser received an erratic education in various parochial and public schools; he read voraciously from an early age and was largely self-taught. He began his writing career in 1892 as a cub reporter for the Chicago Daily Globe, an experience he recalled in A Book About Myself (1922; republished as Newspaper Days in 1931), and later wrote for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Pittsburgh Dispatch. His years as a journalist proved instrumental in developing the exhaustively detailed style that is the hallmark of his fiction. In 1894 Dreiser arrived in New York City and became editor of Ev'ry Month, a moderately successful literary magazine. Encouraged by a publishing colleague, he turned out short stories and entertained thoughts about writing a novel.

In October 1899 Dreiser inscribed two words—'Sister Carrie'—on a clean sheet of paper and proceeded to compose a breakthrough work that propelled American literature into the twentieth century. 'I have found a masterpiece . . . it must be published,' said Frank Norris, a reader for Doubleday, Page and Company, to whom Dreiser submitted the manuscript. (The firm had just brought out Norris's novel McTeague, another unretouched picture of American life.) Despite the strong objections of senior partner Frank Doubleday, who detested the book and refused to promote it, Sister Carrie was published on November 8, 1900. The reviews were violently adverse, and the novel sold poorly. Genteel readers perceived the unsparing story of Caroline Meeber's rise to riches as a direct affront to the standards by which respectable Americans claimed to live.

'Ultimately, what shocked the world in Dreiser's work was not so much the things that he presented as the fact that he himself was not shocked by them,' observed Robert Penn Warren.

The commercial failure of Sister Carrie forced Dreiser to abandon fiction temporarily, and over the next decade he occupied editorial positions on several popular magazines. With the encouragement of H. L. Mencken, one of his most persistent defenders and promoters, Dreiser eventually resumed writing. His second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, was both a commercial and a popular success when it appeared in 1911, though many regarded this frank story about the sexual experiences of a young girl as a threat to moral standards. After its publication Dreiser pledged all of his creative energy to literature, writing The Financier (1912), a story about the rise of an unscrupulous tycoon, which became the first book in a trilogy that included The Titan (1914) and The Stoic (1947).

Dreiser's next novel, The 'Genius' (1915), a highly autobiographical work portraying the artist as Nietzschean superman who lives beyond conventional moral codes, was threatened with censorship. The successful campaign to save it from suppression proved a pivotal victory in the fight for American literary freedom. During this period Dreiser also wrote two engaging memoirs, A Traveler at Forty (1913) and A Hoosier Holiday (1916); a compendium of philosophical essays, Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1920); two volumes of drama, Plays of the Natural and the Supernatural (1916) and The Hand of the Potter (1919); as well as several collections of short stories, sketches, and articles, including Free and Other Stories (1918), Twelve Men (1919), and The Color of a Great City (1923).

The publication of An American Tragedy in 1925 established Dreiser as the foremost American novelist of his time. Based on newspaper accounts of a sensational murder case, the work was dramatized on Broadway and sold to Paramount Pictures, which released a film version in 1931. Yet afterward Dreiser virtually abandoned the novel as an art form. He composed two books of poetry, Moods, Cadenced and Declaimed (1926) and The Aspirant (1929). He also wrote Chains (1927), a second volume of short stories, and A Gallery of Women (1929), a collection of biographical sketches. Dawn, another work of autobiography, came out in 1931.

Dreiser became increasingly preoccupied with philosophical and political issues during the last two decades of his life. Two volumes of essays, Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928) and Tragic America (1932), reflect his growing involvement with socialism. America Is Worth Saving (1941), the last book Dreiser published during his lifetime, announced his complete conversion to Communism. In 1944, the year before his death, he was honored with an Award of Merit by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Theodore Dreiser died of a heart attack at his home in Hollywood on December 28, 1945. His two last novels, The Bulwark (1946) and The Stoic (1947), appeared soon afterward, along with The Best Short Stories of Theodore Dreiser (1947).

Several works drawn from Dreiser's unpublished papers and diaries appeared in later years, notably Letters of Theodore Dreiser (1959), Theodore Dreiser: A Selection of Uncollected Prose (1977), American Diaries, 1902-1926 (1982), and An Amateur Laborer (1983). Three volumes of his early journalism were also issued posthumously: Selected Magazine Articles of Theodore Dreiser (1985), Journalism, Volume One (1988), and Theodore Dreiser's 'Heard in the Corridors' Articles and Related Writings (1988).

'Dreiser more than any other man, marching alone, usually unappreciated, often hated, has cleared the trail from Victorian timidity and gentility in American fiction to honesty and boldness and passion of life,' concluded Sinclair Lewis.

Preface to the Third Edition
A Note on the Text
The Text of Sister Carrie
Appendix: Passages Cut by Dreiser and Arthur Henry in the Typescript Version of Sister Carrie
Backgrounds and Sources I
Photograph of Emma Dreiser
Chicago Mail·He Cleaned Out the Safe
Chicago Tribune·Clerk and Cash
Chicago Mail ·A Woman in the Case
Chicago Mail·A Dashing Blonde
Chicago Tribune·Hopkins Is Sorry
Theodore Dreiser·[Sisters and Suitors]
Theodore Dreiser·[Downfall in the City]


From Herbert Leibowitz’s Introduction to Sister Carrie 

         Since its publication in 1900, Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, has incited two kinds of controversy: moral and artistic. When Dreiser submitted his book to the respectable publishing firm of Doubleday, Page and Co., it was initially met with enthusiasm. Serving as a reader, the novelist Frank Norris strongly recommended that the book be acquired. Walter Page also admired the novel. But when Mrs. Doubleday read the manuscript, she argued vehemently that it was an immoral work and urged her husband Frank not to publish it. Why? Because the author did not punish Carrie, a kept woman, with death or disgrace, as the wages of sin deserved, but rewarded her with success in the theater and material comfort. Mrs. Doubleday would not have been swayed by the blunt judgment of an interviewer for the New York Herald in 1907: Sister Carrie “reverses the canting code of the cheap novelist—the woman transgresses, but the man pays.” A disinterested judge might construe Carrie’s failed pursuit of happiness as a harsh fate, but to the custodians of conventional morality that argument countenanced exposing vulnerable young women like Carrie to a life of vice. Even in the wake of the Gilded Age’s sensational scandals—the Beecher-Tilton trial, in which influential Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher was accused of adultery with one of his parishioners, and the murder of the distinguished architect Stanford White by Harry Thaw, a jealous husband—sex was a taboo subject for novelists, to be treated, if at all, obliquely. To his credit, Dreiser stubbornly refused to bow to the publisher’s pressure either to withdraw the novel or tamper with its moral vision. When the company’s legal department advised that Doubleday, Page was contractually bound to publish Sister Carrie, it did so—albeit in a stingy edition of 1,000 plus copies. Norris, however, managed to send the novel to reviewers across the country, so it was read, mainly by writers. In 1901 the British publisher William Heinemann published Sister Carrie to widespread acclaim, and by 1907, after B. W. Dodge and Company reprinted the novel in a substantial edition, Dreiser’s American readership had also grown.

In affluent periods like the 1950s, the book’s reputation dropped because critics savagely attacked Dreiser’s artistry, often measuring his flaws against the subtle art of Henry James. Where James was a cynosure of formal innovation and complex presentation of consciousness, Dreiser played the omniscient author in a ponderous didactic style, they grumbled, seldom allowing his characters’ traits and choices to unfold organically from the dramatic action. They considered it a blunder to announce in the early chapters of Sister Carrie that his protagonist would never find happiness. Moreover, where James’s prose was intricate and radiant as spun gold, Dreiser’s was pedestrian and maudlin. Dreiser was the inferior novelist.

Such charges would not have fazed the author. Sister Carrie, he remarked in a 1907 New York Times interview, was “intended not as a piece of literary craftsmanship, but as a picture of conditions done as simply and effectively as the English language will permit.” Indeed, during times of depression, when the country was wracked with social and economic conflict, bringing hardship and ruin in its wake, Dreiser’s novels moved readers because they brilliantly demonstrated the human costs of an unregulated system that enabled “the high and the mighty” to flourish while a huge segment of the population struggled merely to subsist. Dreiser understood that the dirty secret of American society was class—not only its injustices and injuries, but the dreams of power and money, status and fame that it inspired. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to ignore his detractors’ misgivings or to dispute Dreiser’s occasional clumsiness: his tedious repetitions of words and motifs, his fondness for pontificating about women’s emotional makeup, and the banality of some of his images—for example, he describes Carrie several times as a wisp in a vast sea.

      But Dreiser’s faults, though noticeable and annoying, count for little when weighed against his strengths: among them his psychological acumen (he grasps the elemental force of self-interest and illusion—he calls it “Elfland”—that drives people’s lives), and the sturdy structure he devises for Sister Carrie (Carrie rises from poor, unformed waif to theatrical celebrity, while her lover, Hurstwood, falls from prosperous tavern manager to beggar and suicide). Despite chapter headings that spell out explicitly, as in a popular melodrama, the war between desire and conscience, flesh and spirit, Dreiser refuses to accept William Dean Howells’s bromide that American novelists should focus on “the smiling aspects of life.”

Beautiful factory girls from down-at-heels families do not in Dreiser’s novels defend their virtue and then at the curtain marry the handsome scion of a rich industrialist and live happily ever after. Morality, in Sister Carrie, consists of shades of gray. Dreiser is a sober, uncompromising realist.

Above all, Dreiser excels at anatomizing the pathologies and inequities of American life—in particular, the profound gulf between rich and poor. Like his contemporary, the pioneering social worker Jane Addams, he deplored the fact that a small number of people accumulated enormous wealth, while the vast majority of citizens lived in abject poverty, working long hours at dangerous, soul-killing jobs for meager pay. When Carrie is hired by a shoe factory, at a salary of $4.50 a week, to stamp holes in uppers, she recoils from being a cog in the machine, one of several nondescript “clattering automatons.” The prospect of a future shackled to dull routine demoralizes her. It does not take her long to notice and envy the conspicuous consumerism on a grand scale that surrounds her in Chicago (and later in New York): “the magnificent residences, the splendid equipages, the gilded shops, restaurants, resorts of all kinds; . . . the flowers, the silks the wines.” For Carrie, Chicago’s Vanity Fair, with its array of showy goods, promises unimaginable satisfactions. For Dreiser—and this is the solemn major theme of Sister Carrie—money confers neither freedom nor spiritual contentment. Sister Carrie is the fictional complement to Thorstein Veblen’s sociological classic The Theory of the Leisure Class and the American cousin of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


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