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DREISER, Theodore (1871-1945)

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DREISER, Theodore Herman Albert (1871-1945), American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. Dreiser was born in Sullivan, Ind., on Aug. 27, 1871. He became a reporter for the Chicago Daily Globe (1892), was dramatic editor and traveling correspondent for the Saint Louis Globe Democrat (1892-93), and traveling correspondent for the St. Louis Republic (1893-94). His career as a novelist began in 1900 with Sister Carrie, which he wrote in the intervals between work for var ious magazines. Public outcry against the novel for its realistic treatment of sexual problems caused the publisher to withdraw it from public sale. Dreiser continued writing, and he was managing editor (1906-7) of Broadway Magazine and editor in chief of Butterick publications (1907-10). By the time Dreiser's second novel, Jenny Gerhardt, was published in 1911, his work had found influential supporters, including the British novelists H. G. Wells and Hugh Seymour Walpole, and he was able to devote himself entirely to literature. His writings continued to excite controversy. In The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914), he drew harsh portraits of a type of ruthless businessman. In The "Genius" (1915), he presented a study of the artistic temperament in a mercenary society. This novel increased his influence among young American writers, who acclaimed him leader of a new school of social realism. Real fame, however, did not come to Dreiser until 1925, when his An American Tragedy had great popular success. The novel, based on an actual murder case and concerned with the efforts of a weak young man to rise from pious poverty into glamorous society, was dramatized and made into a motion picture. Although some critics regarded his style as clumsy and plodding, Dreiser was generally recognized as an American literary pioneer. The American writer Sinclair Lewis hailed Sister Carrie as "the first book free of English literary influence." Toward the end of his career, Dreiser, a member of the U.S. Communist party, worked to promote his political views. He had visited the Soviet Union and, in Dreiser Looks at Russia(1928), offered a sympathetic portrait of it. His last novels, The Bulwark and The Stoic, appeared posthumously, in 1946 and 1947; in 1983 his autobiographical An Amateur Laborer was published. His other works include Plays of the Natural and Supernatural (1916), A Hoosier Holiday (1916), Twelve Men(1919), A Book About Myself (1922), The Color of a Great City (1923), Moods (verse, 1926), Chains (1927), A Gallery of Women (1929), Dawn (1931), Tragic America (1932), and America Is Worth Saving (1941). He died in Hollywood, Calif., on Dec. 28, 1945.


Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.

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