Theodore Dreiser Revisited (Twayne's United States Authors Series)

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9780805739664: Theodore Dreiser Revisited (Twayne's United States Authors Series)
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In his life and in his work Theodore Dreiser was nothing if not genuinely American. True to the American dream, he overcame a childhood characterized largely by its impoverishment - material, social, educational, and emotional - to attain a large measure of success. The territory of his novels is often the territory of his childhood: life unadorned in the great industrial cities of early modern America.
In Theodore Dreiser Revisited, Philip Gerber argues that Dreiser's life "is woven ... inextricably into his novels." Like Dreiser, many of his characters struggle to escape their meager, often shabby existences, but generally with much less success than their creator. Dreiser identified with the ordinary man and woman of the early twentieth century. He depicted their position as the tiniest of cogs in the colossal American industrial machine with unflinching realism, making him a herald of literary naturalism.
In this revised and expanded edition of his earlier effort, Gerber places Dreiser at the very brink of the naturalist tradition. He traces the influence of its progenitor, Emile Zola, on the short-lived American writers Stephen Crane and Frank Norris, and shows Dreiser to be the only American writer of note to pursue the naturalist course after Crane's and Norris's deaths. In setting this course Dreiser would ultimately secure a lasting place for himself in the canon of American literature. But in his own day, especially early in his career, the world view he expressed in his books led to controversy and censorship.
Dreiser saw the human condition as a lonely and fragile one in which men and women are easily overwhelmed by the forces that surround them: the destructive effects of capitalism, greed, materialism, and lust on the individual are all laid bare in his novels. The frankness with which he conveyed this idea disturbed his early readers and led to the condemnation of his first and now highly regarded novel, Sister Carrie, published in 1900. It was not until 1925, with the publication of Dreiser's masterpiece, An American Tragedy, that his contemporaries seemed ready to reward him with resounding praise.
Since Dreiser's death in 1945, and particularly in the 25 years since Twayne's first edition of Theodore Dreiser was published, criticism of his novels has burgeoned. Gerber has added several chapters to this new edition that assess the evolution of Dreiser scholarship. Despite the abundance of biographical, textual, and bibliographic material now available, Gerber expects promising research to continue in several areas now just beginning to be explored: Dreiser's portrayals of women, among the first in American fiction to allow female characters a sexual life, self-interest, and ambition without dismissing them as immoral; the artistry of his writing style, long considered nonexistent; and the psychoanalytic implications of his work. Meanwhile, Dreiser's keen observation of the American experience, begun with the publication of Sister Carrie at the opening of the twentieth century, remains relevant to the casual reader and the scholar alike.

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