TWO DREISERS by Ellen Moers
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For Theodore Dreiser, ""man was a mechanism, undevised and uncreated, and a badly and carelessly driven one at that."" This was the deterministic philosophy popular in the later nineteenth century, propounded by Spencer and Huxley, glimpsed earlier in the romances of Balzac, and elaborately dramatized in the naturalistic fictions of Zola and the Goncourt brothers. Aside from Frank Norris, Dreiser was the first to look at American society, materialism, and individual struggles as a welter of forces--biological, psychological, historical--""operated through man and outside him."" Not surprisingly, his heroes and heroines, his Clydes and Carries, are, as Miss Moers suggests in her stylish and brilliant study, really the forerunners of what we today call juvenile delinquents, and beyond that folk parables of the industrial age, or rather of the age where pastoral and urban, town and city values were still in transitional stages. Thus he bridges two worlds, ""our own and the past,"" just as in Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, the two masterworks which make up Miss Moers' discussion, he presents characters drawn to and overwhelmed by the ""Aladdin-like enchantments of American life, "" a dilemma that inescapably mirrored his own life as well. Miss Moers has much scholarly material on neglected aspects of Dreiser's formative years, principally the Broadway of the 1890's, but it is her dynamic and rather elegant portrait of this brooding, volatile, and stumbling genius that makes her book so unique.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1969
Publisher: Viking