The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser

The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser

by Jerome Loving
     
 

When Theodore Dreiser first published Sister Carrie in 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,

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Overview

When Theodore Dreiser first published Sister Carrie in 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 heartbreaking An American Tragedy in 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 Titan paints 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dreiser (1871-1945), author of two of the most famous American novels in the naturalist school, Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, rose from poverty to the top of the literary world, crossing paths with prostitutes and thugs (some of them his own siblings) as well as social reformers and presidents, all of whom informed the seemingly amoral universe of his fiction. It's easy to see why a biographer would be attracted to such rich subject matter. But Loving, biographer of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, has specific goals, which do not include painting a psychologically probing portrait of his subject (although one parenthetical aside suggests that Dreiser may have suffered from bipolar disorder-an intriguing and possibly groundbreaking idea that is dropped immediately). Instead, he races through the details of Dreiser's life in order to find the true antecedents and literary context of Dreiser's work. To do so, Loving turns to that work-whether books or magazine articles-for source material. While this account does the reader the favor of collecting all that material in one place and draws a thorough time line of Dreiser's life, it adds little to our knowledge of a major American writer. 47 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Largely passed over in today's academic surveys of American literature as the unread author of the naturalistic novel Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925), Theodore Dreiser deserves this richly detailed and forthright new biography. This is the first treatment of his life since W.A. Swanberg's biography nearly half a century ago. Loving (Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself) has crafted a readable and lively biography that will undoubtedly revive interest in this major pioneering force in American letters, who stands tall beside Emerson and Whitman for helping to throw off the Victorian chains that bound the early 20th century. Loving concentrates on the years between the world wars, exhaustively investigating aspects of Dreiser's private life that clearly influenced his fiction. For instance, in a truly illuminating section, Loving shows how the misadventures of young Dreiser's sisters and brothers furnish the plot and characters of his first novel, Sister Carrie. He shows, too, how Dreiser's abiding human sympathies and pity soften the otherwise coldly objective storytelling. This study belongs in every library that claims an interest in modern American literature.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A dry, literal, strictly by-the-book new biography of the Hoosier novelist favored by American mythmakers but excoriated by stylists. Less than 15 years after the completion of Richard Lingeman's two-volume Theodore Dreiser (1986, 1990), it's hard to justify another examination of this unlovable naturalist whose public contentiousness obscured his literary achievement. But Loving (English/Texas A&M; Walt Whitman, 1999, etc.) was determined to write a biography "in which this controversial life was put back into the context of his great literary contributions." Indeed, Loving has examined every inch of Dreiser's considerable output and sets each character and plot twist into the framework of the author's long life (1871-1945). It's a tedious scholarly task to pursue the story of this last of 12 siblings born to struggling German Catholic immigrants in Terre Haute, Indiana, who left home to seek his fortune in his late teens and transformed himself from a newspaper hack into a determined, disciplined, and finally, with An American Tragedy in 1925, rich novelist. The lukewarm publication in 1900 of Sister Carrie unceremoniously announced a new kind of American literature, closer to the realism of Balzac and Zola: unsentimental, scathing in its examination of real life (high and low), and resistant to facile moral answers. Dogged throughout his career by criticism that his writing was crude, his view of Social Darwinism ugly and immoral, Dreiser was often caught in the contradiction, notes Loving, between "his activist sympathy for the exploited poor in corporate America and his belief in the survival of the fittest." Overall, the biographer paints a somber portrait of a charmless man whostood by his German roots and hated the British, who could be callous even to friends like long-time supporter H.L. Mencken, and who used women to fulfill an insatiable need for sympathy while exploiting their hard lives to novelistic advantage. Like much of Dreiser's fiction, unlikely to be taken up for sheer reading pleasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520234819
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
03/01/2005
Pages:
528
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Jerome Loving, Distinguished Professor of English at Texas A&M University, is author of Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (California, 1999), Lost in the Customhouse: Authorship in the American Renaissance (1993), and Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story (1986), among other books. He is editor of Frank Norris's McTeague (1995), Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1990), and Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (1975).

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