DREISER by W.A. Swanberg
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This is the one any future biographers will have to consult. Up to now, the Elias' biography of 1948 and the Matthiessen biography of 1951 have been the standard general sources on the life of Dreiser. The first suffered from an almost embarrassed reticence about Dreiser's personal life probably traceable to the hordes of still-living Dreiser paramours-for-a-day as well as the mistress with the most seniority who got him to the altar just before the last gun was fired. The Matthiessen was a partisan portrait and it was more of a literary critique than a total assessment. Mr. Swanberg has spread out a detailed and documented story of a long life and embattled literary career. Add to this a complete mapping of where Dreiser's truly mind-boggling libido led him and you have the sort of biography capable of attracting readers who haven't read (and won't read) Dreiser's novels-- it certainly adds flavor to the footnotes. The man was incredible on almost too many counts to list: his style was execrable but creative in content; he shook the reading public of his day with its first exposure to realism in Sister Carrie, and this after editing a trio of lacy ladies' magazines; he courted publishers as assiduously as he wooed women-- and always gave both a rough time, trusting neither and repaying good faith with constant infidelity; his artistic integrity was unshakeable, his political commentary irresponsible, his love of mankind in the abstract all encompassing and his treatment of friends and lovers egomaniacally brutal. Other biographers have only succeeded in making him seem as dull as some of his own non-fiction. Mr. Swanberg has succeeded in energizing an agonizingly contradictory man as well as the literary world in which he lurked rather than moved and the era in which he wrote.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1965
Publisher: Scribners