THEODORE DREISER: An American Journey 1908-1945 by Richard Lingeman

THEODORE DREISER: An American Journey 1908-1945

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this earnest, often lumbering conclusion to volume I (1986) of his Dreiser biography, Lingeman (Small Town America; 1980) traces how his hero ardently pursued and finally achieved money, fame, and gorgeous women. In the years traced here, Dreiser began as a married, comfortably entrenched managing editor of a women's magazine, only to lose both his job and marriage because of an infatuation with an 18-year-old beauty. From 1911 to 1915, he returned to the novel, which he had abandoned after his frustrations with Sister Came, by writing in rapid succession Jennie Gerhardt, The Financier, The Titan, and The ""Genius"". Then, for the next decade, he was buffeted by poverty (76 rejections of his work in 1918 alone), anti-German sentiment in WW I America, writer's block, querulous publishers, and die-hard smut-hounds before An American Tragedy eased his money woes and indisputably established his reputation as America's major realistic novelist. Lingeman's scrupulously researched biography excels in describing how the 1925 masterpiece of ""terror and desire, death and dreams"" resulted from Dreiser's meditations on the real-life Chester Gillette murder case and his feverish desires for sex and success. Yet he also lets Dreiser's breathtaking promiscuity distract him from detailing equally important aspects of the novelist's life, including his often contentious friendship with H.L. Mencken, his influence on later American writers, and his embrace of communism in old age. He eloquently concludes that the novelist's ""profound loneliness"" gave him ""sympathy with the outsiders looking in, those who didn't belong, who desires the light and warmth inside the walled city,"" but this seems a wholly inadequate explanation for Dreiser's compulsive womanizing. A compassionate, if sometimes clumsy, biography that should be supplemented by W.A. Swanberg's Dreiser (1965), a more vivid and concise, though apologetic, life of the literary titan.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1990
Publisher: Putnam