Dreiser's Russian Diary

Overview

Theodore Dreiser's Russian Diary is an extended record of the American writer's travels throughout the Soviet Union in 1927-28. Dreiser was initially invited to Moscow for a week-long observance of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. He asked, and was granted, permission to make an extended tour of the country.

This previously unpublished diary is a firsthand record of life in the USSR during the 1920s as seen by a leading American cultural figure. It is a valuable ...

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Overview

Theodore Dreiser's Russian Diary is an extended record of the American writer's travels throughout the Soviet Union in 1927-28. Dreiser was initially invited to Moscow for a week-long observance of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. He asked, and was granted, permission to make an extended tour of the country.

This previously unpublished diary is a firsthand record of life in the USSR during the 1920s as seen by a leading American cultural figure. It is a valuable primary source, surely among the last from this period of modern history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In October 1927, Theodore Dreiser was invited to come to the U.S.S.R. to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Revolution as a guest of the state. His diary of this two-months-and-a-bit trip to Moscow twice, Leningrad and then on to Nizhni-Novgorod, Kharkov, Rostov, Tiflis, Yalta and Odessa was held up at the Russian border, and no wonder. It starts out submissively enough, with reports of plays and factories visited, of functionaries questioned, all typed out by the American expatriate Ruth Epperson Kennell, who was Dreiser's secretary and lover while in Russia. But Dreiser's dismay over the subjugation of the individualand the intellectualto the masses started to sour him. By the time he returns to Moscow and interviews Nikolai Bukharin, director of the Third International, he is testier: "Now in the street there is a street cleaner of very low intelligence. Do you mean to say that his position in society is the same as yours. I'll die but I'll get this out of him." Even greater truculence is suggested in the sections appended after the trip in his own hand. "Mr. Hughes introduces comfort into Russia. Real flowers. The central house toilet. It makes me suggest a national toilet day for Russia." Faced with the Depression later, Dreiser, like other American intellectuals, would praise the Soviet system. What's ironic and a little sad is that at the time of his visit, with the Red Terror and the worst famines of the '20s behind them, the NEP in swing and before either the five-year plans or Stalin's retributions were firmly established, the Soviet Union was experiencing the most humane moment of its early history. Photos. Oct.
Library Journal
Dreiser, a leading voice in the American naturalist movement Sister Carrie, An American Tragedy, visited the Soviet Union during the winter of 1927-28 at the invitation of the fledgling Soviet government to report on celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. He kept a diary recording his reactions as well as personal conversations with important figures such as actor/director Konstantin Stanislavsky and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Ruth Kennell, an American expatriate and Dreiser's secretary on the trip and later his lover, worked tirelessly to transcribe events and edit the manuscript. As a result, the book is polished. Editors Riggio and West English, Univ. of Pennsylvania contend that the more Dreiser saw of the Soviet Union, the more the journal evolved into a political invective against the Communist experiment. His diary makes fascinating reading and is an important addition to the scant collection of firsthand accounts of the early Soviet regime. Highly recommended.-Diane G. Premo, Rochester P.L., N.Y.
Booknews
The previously unpublished record of the American writer's travels throughout the Soviet Union in 1927-28. During his stay in Russia, Dreiser based himself in Moscow, but also traveled extensively<-->to Leningrad, throughout Georgia, and the Ukraine. Everywhere he recorded his impressions and his discussions with those he met. He hired an American-born secretary, Ruth Kennell, whose transcriptions capture Dreiser's discussions with such notable figures as Nikolai Bukharin, Sergei Eisenstein, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Karl Radek, Archbishop Platon, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
Notes on Theodore Dreiser's two-month 192728 tour of the Soviet Union that provided the material for the book Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928).

Its title notwithstanding, much of this "diary" was penned by American-born Ruth Epperson Kennell, then living in Russia. As Dreiser's secretary (and lover), she kept notes that Dreiser reviewed and annotated at the time, and later edited. Together, they describe visits to places as varied as the Hermitage, the State Circus, the Czar's Village ("the worst palace I have ever seen," says Kennell in Dreiser's voice), a candy factory, an "electro- mechanical" plant, and a coal mine. In addition to chatting with Communist bureaucrats (questioned with terrier-like tenacity, as he tries to expose failings in the system), Dreiser converses with people ranging from Sergei Eisenstein and Konstantin Stanislavski to a woman who, mistaking the author and his entourage for an inspection commission, complains of dampness in her walls. Although Kennell includes comments to please people at VOKS (the government cultural agency to whom, without telling Dreiser, she supplied a duplicate of most of her portion of the diary), much here will be interesting to scholars—particularly when read in conjunction with Dreiser's 1928 volume and with Kennell's own book on the trip. En route to Russia, Dreiser speculates that after a revolution "the miraculous will become the real," and, indeed, he is determined to see the "real" Russia. At times, perhaps, the experiences become a bit too real, as Dreiser grouses about unreliable trains, mediocre food, and seemingly ever-present filth. By the end of the tour he has seen enough reality to say (per Kennell-Dreiser), "My one desire is to get out of here as quickly as possible and back to America."

The editors, Riggio (English/Univ. of Connecticut) and West (English/Pennsylvania State Univ.), have prepared a volume that is primarily for those interested in Dreiser or in the USSR of the 1920s.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812280913
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Series: The University of Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction 1
Editorial Principles 20
Dreiser's Russian Diary 23
Map and Itinerary 24
En Route 25
Moscow 57
Leningrad 139
Return to Moscow 179
Through Russia 197
Farewell 279
Dreiser's Farewell Statement 287
Emendations 293
Index 295
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