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American author, outstanding representative of naturalism, whose novels
depict real-life subjects in a harsh light. Dreiser's novels were held
to be amoral, and he battled throughout his career against censorship
and popular taste. This started with SISTER CARRIE (1900). It was not
until 1981 that the work was published in its original form. Dreiser's
principal concern was with the conflict between human needs and the
demands of society for material success.
Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. His
parents were German immigrants whose marriage resulted in thirteen
children. Because his father was often ill and unemployed, the family
struggled against poverty throughout Dreiser's childhood. In rebellion
against his father's obsessive religiosity, Dreiser left home at fifteen
for Chicago. There, after three years of menial jobs, he found work as a
newspaper reporter. While Dreiser churned out hackwork for various
periodicals, he was reading the deterministic philosophy of Herbert
Spencer and the novels of Honore de Balzac, who believed in the
evolutionary doctrine that life is a struggle in which instinctive human
desires are often in conflict with conventional morality.
"A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No
matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There
is an indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which
somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who
are not. Once an individual has passed this faint line on the way
downward he will get no glance from her. There is another line at which
the dress of a man will cause her to study her own." (from Sister
Theodore Dreiser was born in Sullivan, Indiana, the ninth of ten
children. His parents were poor. In the 1860s his father, a devout
Catholic German immigrant, had attempted to establish his own woolen
mill, but after it was destroyed in a fire, the family lived in poverty.
Dreiser's schooling was erratic, as the family moved from town to town.
He left home when he was 16 and worked at whatever jobs he could find.
With the help of his former teacher, he was able to spend the year
1889-1890 at Indiana University. Dreiser left after only a year. He was,
however, a voracious reader, and the impact of such writers as
Hawthorne, Poe, Balzac, Herbert Spencer, and Freud influenced his
thought and his reaction against organized religion.
In 1892 Dreiser started to write for the Chicago Globe, and moved to a
better position with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1898 he married
Sara White, a Missouri schoolteacher, but the marriage was unhappy.
Dreiser separated permanently from her in 1909, but never earnestly
sought a divorce. In his own life Dreiser practised his principle that
man's greatest appetite is sexual - the desire for women led him to
carry on several affairs at once. His relationship with Yvette Szekely
Eastman is recorded in Dearest Wilding by Yvette Eastman (1995) - she
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