1900. American author, outstanding representative of naturalism, whose novels depict real-life subjects in a harsh light. Dreiser's books were held to be amoral, and he battled throughout his career against censorship and popular taste. Dreiser's first novel, Sister Carrie tells the story of a pretty small-town girl who comes to the big city filled with ambition. She quickly becomes a victim of men, but uses them in turn to become a successful Broadway actress. Meanwhile, George Hurstwood, the married man who has run away with her, loses his hold on life and falls into beggary and suicide. The book was the first masterpiece of the American naturalistic movement in its unwavering presentation of urban life and in its ingenuous heroine, who goes unpunished for her transgressions against conventional sexual morality. See other titles by this author available from Kessinger Publishing.
, Theodore Dreiser's revolutionary first novel, was published in 1900--sort of. The story of Carrie Meeber, an 18-year-old country girl who moves to Chicago and becomes a kept woman, was strong stuff at the turn of the century, and what Dreiser's wary publisher released was a highly expurgated version. Times change, and we now have a restored "author's cut" of Sister Carrie
that shows how truly ahead of his time Dreiser was. First and foremost, he has written an astute, nonmoralizing account of a woman and her limited options in late-19th-century America. That's impressive in and of itself, but Dreiser doesn't stop there. Digging deeply into the psychological underpinnings of his characters, he gives us people who are often strangers to themselves, drifting numbly until fate pushes them on a path they can later neither defend nor even remember choosing.
Dreiser's story unfolds in the measured cadences of an earlier era. This sometimes works brilliantly as we follow the choices, small and large, that lead some characters to doom and others to glory. On the other hand, the middle chapters--of which there are many--do drag somewhat, even when one appreciates Dreiser's intentions. If you can make it through the sagging midsection, however, you'll be rewarded by Sister Carrie's last 150 pages, which depict the harrowing downward spiral of one of the book's central characters. Here Dreiser portrays with brutal power how the wrong decision--or lack of decision--can lay waste to a life. --Rebecca Gleason