Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser

JEROME LOVING
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 528
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnmtc
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Last Titan
    Book Description:

    When Theodore Dreiser first publishedSister Carriein 1900 it was suppressed for its seamy plot, colloquial language, and immorality-for, as one reviewer put it, its depiction of "the godless side of American life." It was a side of life experienced firsthand by Dreiser, whose own circumstances often paralleled those of his characters in the turbulent, turn-of-the-century era of immigrants, black lynchings, ruthless industrialists, violent labor movements, and the New Woman. This masterful critical biography, the first on Dreiser in more than half a century, is the only study to fully weave Dreiser's literary achievement into the context of his life. Jerome Loving gives us a Dreiser for a new generation in a brilliant evocation of a writer who boldly swept away Victorian timidity to open the twentieth century in American literature. Dreiser was a controversial figure in his time, not only because of his literary efforts, which included publication of the brutal and heartbreakingAn American Tragedyin 1925, but also because of his personal life, which featured numerous sexual liaisons, included membership in the communist party, merited a 180-page FBI file, and ended in Hollywood.The Last Titanpaints a full portrait of the mature Dreiser between the two world wars-through the roaring twenties, the stock market crash, and the Depression-and describes his contact with important figures from Emma Goldman and H.L. Mencken to two presidents Roosevelt. Tracing Dreiser's literary roots in Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and especially Whitman, Loving has written what will surely become the standard biography of one of America's best novelists.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92911-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. ONE Hoosier Hard Times
    (pp. 1-24)

    Since her marriage in 1851, Sarah Schänäb Dreiser had given birth almost every seventeen or eighteen months. Twelve years younger than her husband, this woman of Moravian-German stock had eloped with John Paul Dreiser at the age of seventeen. If the primordial urge to reproduce weren’t enough to keep her regularly enceinte, religious forces were. For Theodore Dreiser’s father, a German immigrant from a walled city near the French border more than ninety percent Catholic, was committed to propagating a faith his famous son would grow up to despise. Sarah’s parents were Mennonite farmers near Dayton, Ohio, their Czechoslovakian ancestors...

  6. TWO A Very Bard of a City
    (pp. 25-46)

    When dreiser returned to chicago in the summer of 1887, he found a city that stretched north and south for twenty-four miles along Lake Michigan and westward from the lake over almost ten miles of potential and half-completed development. Cable cars already served this urban frontier while New York City, its rival, still depended on horse-drawn public transportation. The cable car system was almost single-handedly the work of Charles Tyson Yerkes, the “Cable Czar” who became the model for Frank Algernon Cowperwood in Dreiser’s “Trilogy of Desire”—of whichThe Financier(1912) andThe Titan(1914) brought that most appropriate...

  7. THREE This Matter of Reporting
    (pp. 47-69)

    The taylor street living arrangement lasted barely more than a month, for Claire proved to be neither housekeeper nor cook. Ed moved to the nearby home of the DeGoods, whose daughter he was seeing, and Theo followed soon after. Claire subsequently relocated to a rooming house on Ogden Place. The brothers shared a room for a dollar-fifty a week and paid twenty-five cents apiece for whatever meals they ate with the family. Dreiser continued working with the Corbin Company, another installment collection agency, a job he had found about the time the Flourney Street household had broken up. But he...

  8. FOUR Survival of the Fittest
    (pp. 70-94)

    Although dreiser didn’t know it for certain as his train from St. Louis pushed through Indiana to the northwest corner of Ohio (“over the Clover Leaf route”), he had begun a journey whose final destination would be New York. By the time he left St. Louis in early March of 1894, the attraction of that “great and glowing centre” of America had been well planted by his brother Paul. He could not have known that he was also within four or five years of, not journalistic success, but literary greatness. Writing to a friend from his Sullivan days, he drew...

  9. FIVE Editorial Days
    (pp. 95-114)

    Dreiser drops almost completely from sight between December 1894 and September 1895. Decades later he completed two autobiographical volumes,DawnandNewspaper Days, but these followed his life only through 1894. Although he had plans for two more volumes, he never wrote them. What little we know about this missing period comes from an unpublished fragment titled “A Literary Apprenticeship,” which may have been the start of the third volume and which he apparently began some years after finishingNewspaper Days. In it he states that he still worked for theNew York Worldbetween January and “late February or...

  10. SIX The Writer
    (pp. 115-139)

    Dreiser became a magazine writer. It has been said that after “fixing up other fellows’ articles” for two years, he was more than prepared to write his own.¹ In fact, it was mainly his own articles he had “fixed up” in writing most of the copy forEv’ry Month, and there he had learned to write—to entertain and educate. He couldn’t have come of age as a freelance magazinist at a more propitious time, for the country was at the height of its transition from human brawn to mechanical power as it approached the twentieth century, and there was...

  11. SEVEN Sister Carrie
    (pp. 140-163)

    Fresh from a summer on the banks of the maumee, Dreiser took out a piece of yellow paper and changed the course of American letters. As a result, he is called the “Father of American Realism,” but that academic saw ignores, of course, the pioneering work of Walt Whitman, whose fifth edition of his indefatigable book was privately published in the year of Dreiser’s birth. The next edition ofLeaves of Grass, and essentially the last, came under fire by Anthony Comstock and his New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, which even attempted to have Whitman’s book banned...

  12. EIGHT Down Hill and Up
    (pp. 164-190)

    The doubleday fiasco wasn’t the only reason for Dreiser’s low mood. His nervous breakdown had been looming for the last decade. Essentially, he never fully recovered from his mother’s death. He had recreated her inSister Carrie, to the extent that Carrie is a dreamer destined to be disappointed. But by now Dreiser had generalized the idea of her tragic existence into the belief that all life was slated for disappointment. How could it be otherwise? There might be order on the cosmic level, but surely not on the human, where change ultimately meant disappointment and death to the individual....

  13. NINE Return of the Novelist
    (pp. 191-216)

    Dreiser found mencken at a time when he was losing others. Paul, of course, his ever reliable brother, had died. And even though Dreiser used Arthur Henry’s contributions in theDelineatorfrom time to time, their friendship too had all but died. His 1908 meeting with Mencken also coincided with the loss of another longtime friend and soul mate. Peter Mc- Cord died November 10 of pneumonia in Newark, where he was living with his wife and two children and working as an artist and cartoonist for theEvening News. He was only thirty-eight, a year older than Dreiser. They...

  14. TEN Life after the Titanic
    (pp. 217-244)

    Thetitanicdisaster took the lives of several American millionaires, including the namesake for John Jacob Astor, worth $150 million according to the initial Associated Press report of April 16, 1912. Another millionaire with a now famous name to go down into history this way was Benjamin Guggenheim, worth $95 million. Just a year earlier he had abandoned his wife and children for a mistress in Paris and was on his way back to America to pay them a visit. The report also listed (erroneously) Colonel Washington Roebling of Brooklyn Bridge fame, allegedly worth only $25 million, but the engineer...

  15. ELEVEN The Genius Himself
    (pp. 245-270)

    In the summer of 1915, Dreiser threw a party for Edgar Lee Masters at his Tenth Street apartment upon the publication ofSpoon River Anthology. Its gallery of characters features “Theodore the Poet,” who

    . . . watched for men and women

    Hiding in burrows of fate amid great cities,

    Looking for the souls of them to come out,

    So that you could see

    How they lived, and for what.¹

    Among the guests for the August 5 reception was Franklin Booth, whose impressionistic pen-and-ink sketches illustrated magazines ranging from theMassestoLadies’ Home JournalandGood Housekeeping. This fellow...

  16. TWELVE Back to the Future
    (pp. 271-296)

    Withthe “Genius”in limbo throughout 1917 and America edging closer and closer to war, Dreiser’s anger with his country’s puritanical ways mounted steadily. His anti-British attitude hardened, and the socialist views that would formalize by the 1930s took root during the war years (by their end, for example, he favored state control of public utilities), and the treatment ofThe “Genius”by the Anglo-American literary establishment as one more German atrocity still rankled. Mencken, who had gone to Europe at the end of 1916 for several weeks to report on the war, returned home the following spring to anti-German...

  17. THIRTEEN An American Tragedy
    (pp. 297-324)

    In the summer of 1906, Grace (“Billy”) Brown drowned on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County, New York. Less than two years later Chester E. Gillette was electrocuted for her murder in Auburn Prison, following a sensational trial that was graphically reported in theNew York Worldand elsewhere. This was the basis for the story of Clyde Griffiths and Roberta Alden that Dreiser, the failed screenwriter, brought back from Hollywood, the tale he would struggle with, sometimes desperately, for the next three years, trying to breathe life and meaning back into these grim facts of death. Dreiser later claimed...

  18. FOURTEEN Celebrity
    (pp. 325-353)

    Dreiser had been writing poems and publishing them occasionally in magazines since the 1890s, when he supposedly had a book of them in press somewhere. In 1926 Boni & Liveright brought outMoods: Cadenced and Declaimed. The idea behind the title came, indirectly at least, from Dreiser’s early reading of Emerson. “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads,” the transcendentalist wrote in the essay “Experience,” “and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.” In other words, one’s...

  19. FIFTEEN Tragic America
    (pp. 354-381)

    In 1930, at the start of the nation’s long economic ordeal, Dreiser looked every day of his fifty-eight years. His slightly jowly face and graying hair in faint retreat from the top of his head suggested a certain fatigue, while the steely gray eyes revealed, in spite of his cast, the same old alertness to his surroundings. In most pictures of the time, his smile is nothing more than a broken grin, as if to suggest wariness but not trepidation. His shoulders had become somewhat rounded as his original height of six feet, one and a quarter inches shrank almost...

  20. SIXTEEN Facing West
    (pp. 382-402)

    As America inched closer to war, Dreiser warmed himself once again in the California sun. Instead of working onThe Bulwark, now a couple of years overdue at Simon and Schuster, he dived back into his scientific studies, embarking this time on a quest that was decidedly religious. Perhaps like Melville at the end of his life inBilly Budd, this last American titan struggled to reconcile good and evil in the world. For Dreiser was the last great American writer of Melvillean dimensions who had been born in an essentialist world and grown up with the crosscurrents of Darwinism....

  21. SELECTED WORKS OF THEODORE DREISER
    (pp. 403-406)
  22. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 407-410)
  23. NOTES
    (pp. 411-462)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 463-480)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 481-481)
  26. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 482-513)