Sister Carrie: Biography: Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1871. He was the ninth of ten surviving children and his early years were marked by his parents’ financial insecurity. He is famed as a novelist, but was also a poet, playwright, essayist and writer of short stories. He studied for one year at the University of Indiana, from 1889 to 1890, with the assistance of a former teacher and after several different jobs began work as a reporter. He is regarded as one of the great American naturalist-realists and his influences include Thomas Hardy, Honore de Balzac and Herbert Spencer.
With the support of his wife, Sara, whom he married in 1898, and his friend Arthur Henry, Dreiser began writing his first novel, Sister Carrie in the late 1890s. This was published in 1900 by Doubleday in the midst of controversy. Frank Norris was a great supporter of this work, but Doubleday wanted to renege on a verbal agreement to publish it as it was now thought of as an immoral work. Finally, Doubleday published as agreed but did little to promote sales. Norris persevered and an altered version was published in England, to strong reviews.
After suffering depression and writer’s block, thought to be caused by the publication row of Sister Carrie, Jenny Gerhardt (1911) marks Dreiser’s return to novel writing and this was followed by two instalments of a trilogy, The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914). The third novel, The Stoic, was published posthumously in 1947. Dreiser continued to write prolifically, including The Genius (1915), and began a relationship in 1919 with Helen Richardson, whom he married in 1944. After living with her in Los Angeles, and continuing the writing of The Bulwark (1946), he went to work in New York where he completed An American Tragedy (1925). It is with this novel that he received his due critical and popular acclaim.
Throughout most of his writing career, Dreiser battled against censorship from Sister Carrie onwards. Even An American Tragedy, which was widely accepted by the literary establishment and the reading public, was cause for a court battle. His left-wing political beliefs may be seen to have colored his writing and his interest in politics in the United States and the Soviet Union was made concrete when he joined the Communist Party in 1945 (five months before his death). He died in California in 1945.