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Sister Carrie (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

When small-town Carrie Meeber arrives in 1890s Chicago, she cannot know what awaits. Callow, beautiful, and alone, she experiences the bitterness of temptation and hardship even as she sets her sights on a better life. Drawn by the seductive desire to rise above her social class, Carrie aspires to the top of the acting profession in New York, while the man who has become obsessed with her gambles everything for her sake and draws near the brink of destruction.

Dreiser’s first ...

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Sister Carrie (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

When small-town Carrie Meeber arrives in 1890s Chicago, she cannot know what awaits. Callow, beautiful, and alone, she experiences the bitterness of temptation and hardship even as she sets her sights on a better life. Drawn by the seductive desire to rise above her social class, Carrie aspires to the top of the acting profession in New York, while the man who has become obsessed with her gambles everything for her sake and draws near the brink of destruction.

Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie (1900) was inspired by the life of one of his sisters, who had eloped to New York with a disreputable lover. Its sympathetic depiction of Carrie’s love affairs shocked its publisher, whose grudging efforts won few initial readers until the book’s successful re-publication in 1907. Today it resonates with Dreiser’s clear-sighted understanding of life in the increasingly mercantile world of the big city, and with his belief in the domination of fate over free will. Particularly in the unflinching tragedy of its final chapters, the novel broke new ground in American fiction for its gritty realism and for the character of Carrie, who begins “a half-equipped little knight” and becomes a truly modern woman.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593082260
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 12/1/2005
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 117,820
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Herbert Leibowitz is the editor and publisher of Parnassus: Poetry in Review. His books include Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography and Hart Crane: An Introduction to the Poetry. He is currently writing a critical biography of William Carlos Williams.

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Read an Excerpt

From Herbert Leibowitz’s Introduction to Sister Carrie

Since its publication in 1900, Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, has incited two kinds of controversy: moral and artistic. When Dreiser submitted his book to the respectable publishing firm of Doubleday, Page and Co., it was initially met with enthusiasm. Serving as a reader, the novelist Frank Norris strongly recommended that the book be acquired. Walter Page also admired the novel. But when Mrs. Doubleday read the manuscript, she argued vehemently that it was an immoral work and urged her husband Frank not to publish it. Why? Because the author did not punish Carrie, a kept woman, with death or disgrace, as the wages of sin deserved, but rewarded her with success in the theater and material comfort. Mrs. Doubleday would not have been swayed by the blunt judgment of an interviewer for the New York Herald in 1907: Sister Carrie “reverses the canting code of the cheap novelist—the woman transgresses, but the man pays.” A disinterested judge might construe Carrie’s failed pursuit of happiness as a harsh fate, but to the custodians of conventional morality that argument countenanced exposing vulnerable young women like Carrie to a life of vice. Even in the wake of the Gilded Age’s sensational scandals—the Beecher-Tilton trial, in which influential Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher was accused of adultery with one of his parishioners, and the murder of the distinguished architect Stanford White by Harry Thaw, a jealous husband—sex was a taboo subject for novelists, to be treated, if at all, obliquely. To his credit, Dreiser stubbornly refused to bow to the publisher’s pressure either to withdraw the novel or tamper with its moral vision. When the company’s legal department advised that Doubleday, Page was contractually bound to publish Sister Carrie, it did so—albeit in a stingy edition of 1,000 plus copies. Norris, however, managed to send the novel to reviewers across the country, so it was read, mainly by writers. In 1901 the British publisher William Heinemann published Sister Carrie to widespread acclaim, and by 1907, after B. W. Dodge and Company reprinted the novel in a substantial edition, Dreiser’s American readership had also grown.

In affluent periods like the 1950s, the book’s reputation dropped because critics savagely attacked Dreiser’s artistry, often measuring his flaws against the subtle art of Henry James. Where James was a cynosure of formal innovation and complex presentation of consciousness, Dreiser played the omniscient author in a ponderous didactic style, they grumbled, seldom allowing his characters’ traits and choices to unfold organically from the dramatic action. They considered it a blunder to announce in the early chapters of Sister Carrie that his protagonist would never find happiness. Moreover, where James’s prose was intricate and radiant as spun gold, Dreiser’s was pedestrian and maudlin. Dreiser was the inferior novelist.

Such charges would not have fazed the author. Sister Carrie, he remarked in a 1907 New York Times interview, was “intended not as a piece of literary craftsmanship, but as a picture of conditions done as simply and effectively as the English language will permit.” Indeed, during times of depression, when the country was wracked with social and economic conflict, bringing hardship and ruin in its wake, Dreiser’s novels moved readers because they brilliantly demonstrated the human costs of an unregulated system that enabled “the high and the mighty” to flourish while a huge segment of the population struggled merely to subsist. Dreiser understood that the dirty secret of American society was class—not only its injustices and injuries, but the dreams of power and money, status and fame that it inspired. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to ignore his detractors’ misgivings or to dispute Dreiser’s occasional clumsiness: his tedious repetitions of words and motifs, his fondness for pontificating about women’s emotional makeup, and the banality of some of his images—for example, he describes Carrie several times as a wisp in a vast sea.

But Dreiser’s faults, though noticeable and annoying, count for little when weighed against his strengths: among them his psychological acumen (he grasps the elemental force of self-interest and illusion—he calls it “Elfland”—that drives people’s lives), and the sturdy structure he devises for Sister Carrie (Carrie rises from poor, unformed waif to theatrical celebrity, while her lover, Hurstwood, falls from prosperous tavern manager to beggar and suicide). Despite chapter headings that spell out explicitly, as in a popular melodrama, the war between desire and conscience, flesh and spirit, Dreiser refuses to accept William Dean Howells’s bromide that American novelists should focus on “the smiling aspects of life.”

Beautiful factory girls from down-at-heels families do not in Dreiser’s novels defend their virtue and then at the curtain marry the handsome scion of a rich industrialist and live happily ever after. Morality, in Sister Carrie, consists of shades of gray. Dreiser is a sober, uncompromising realist.

Above all, Dreiser excels at anatomizing the pathologies and inequities of American life—in particular, the profound gulf between rich and poor. Like his contemporary, the pioneering social worker Jane Addams, he deplored the fact that a small number of people accumulated enormous wealth, while the vast majority of citizens lived in abject poverty, working long hours at dangerous, soul-killing jobs for meager pay. When Carrie is hired by a shoe factory, at a salary of $4.50 a week, to stamp holes in uppers, she recoils from being a cog in the machine, one of several nondescript “clattering automatons.” The prospect of a future shackled to dull routine demoralizes her. It does not take her long to notice and envy the conspicuous consumerism on a grand scale that surrounds her in Chicago (and later in New York): “the magnificent residences, the splendid equipages, the gilded shops, restaurants, resorts of all kinds; . . . the flowers, the silks the wines.” For Carrie, Chicago’s Vanity Fair, with its array of showy goods, promises unimaginable satisfactions. For Dreiser—and this is the solemn major theme of Sister Carrie—money confers neither freedom nor spiritual contentment. Sister Carrie is the fictional complement to Thorstein Veblen’s sociological classic The Theory of the Leisure Class and the American cousin of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 113 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(37)

4 Star

(29)

3 Star

(23)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(16)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 105 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 26, 2010

    A character study that is still relevant today.

    After having read this book, it's interesting to read it's summary here on bn.com. I found there to be much more depth to the story and the theme more along the lines of "the impact of materialism on one's character" than fate vs. free-will. From my perspective, Carrie went from being innocent, to greedy/self-absorbed and finally to one aware of their own insignificance within the world. This is by no means an uplifting book, but it is definitely relevant today. Many of the attitudes depicted among the characters here are quite prolific in our society today, although with a bit of modernity. The corrosive selfishness and denial present throughout the story are just as damaging in our lives today.

    Dreiser, with his simple language and direct story-telling, made it very easy for me to sympathize and subsequently criticize the various characters. Many shades of grey make the characters very real and reminiscent of those we know today. Aside from the emotional draw to the characters, I found their overall presence to be convincing and realistic. Not once did I find myself thinking that these could not have been "real" people either today or "back then."

    There were moments where the story did slow down a bit and I was left wondering "what next?" Then the next turn came and I was further engaged. Overall, the story keeps a decent pace and I found this to be an enjoyable read. Dreiser does a nice job of tying up loose ends at the end, although it does feel a bit like an afterthought.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2008

    a good read!

    Read this my freshman year in high school, and really enjoyed it. Dreiser gives a lot of detail throughout the story and gives you an insight into a woman's life in the late 1980s. This story is a good example that shows fame and wealth isn't everything.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2012

    American Classic

    Dreiser took realism a step further with his socially provocative and politicized writing. "Sister Carrie" shocking in its day is now a deeply satisfying read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    I liked it.

    The writing style took me a few pages to get used to. Or perhaps in keeping with that style, I should say, I found the style of writing to be at first encounter a bit more out of fashion than one might have anticipated.

    The story was engaging, though a bit melodramatic. Good read, all in all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Many Errors

    Errors in punctuation, verbage, syntax. It's as though it had been transcribed by one unaccustomed to the English language. Try for a better transcription.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    this is a terrible edition

    This edition has a bunch of typos, misformattings, etc. The worst part is that I e-mailed Barnes and Noble about a refund and to ask to have it removed, but they're pretty terrible in dealing with this kind of thing.

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  • Posted October 3, 2011

    Highly recommended

    One of the best books ever written, Sister Carrie is a great study of a timeperiod, but more importantly, of human character. While it is an older book it's very fresh and does not feel antiquated. Drieser is an amazing author. Not to be missed.

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  • Posted July 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Sister Carrie

    Although the book was about carrie making her the focus, it often left and went to Hurstwwod. His constant battles with doing the right thing gave the emotional of sorrow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2006

    Less is more

    A lot of what is written in this book is unnecessary. Do we really need to know the make of the clothing the peole wear. The only thing left out was the price. This reads more like a catlog and street guide to Chicago than it does a story. Take out half of the descriptions and there would be a much more effective novel.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2003

    Boring

    This book is very boring and too dramatic. An example of it being too dramatic is when Carrie looks for work in the beginning. She is just so emotional when she is rejected by employers. It got a little better after that, but it was still boring.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 13, 2010

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