Sister Carrie

( 12 )

Overview

“When a girl leaves home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.” With Sister Carrie, first published in 1900, Theodore Dreiser transformed the conventional “fallen woman” story into a genuinely innovative and powerful work of fiction. As he hurled his impressionable midwestern heroine into the throbbing, amoral world of the big city, he revealed, with brilliant insight, the deep ...
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Overview

“When a girl leaves home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.” With Sister Carrie, first published in 1900, Theodore Dreiser transformed the conventional “fallen woman” story into a genuinely innovative and powerful work of fiction. As he hurled his impressionable midwestern heroine into the throbbing, amoral world of the big city, he revealed, with brilliant insight, the deep and driving forces of American culture: the restless idealism, glamorous materialism, and basic spiritual innocence.

Sister Carrie brought American literature into the twentieth century. This volume, which reprints the text Dreiser approved for publication during his lifetime and includes a special appendix discussing his earlier, unedited manuscript, is the original standard edition of one of the great masterpieces of literary realism.

The driving forces of our culture -- restless idealism, glamorous material seductions and spiritual innocence -- are revealed in Dreiser's transformation of the conventional "fallen woman" story into a genuinely original work of imaginative fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
We do not recommend the book to the fastidious reader, or the one who clings to old-fashioned ideas. It is a book one can very well do without reading. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, May 1907
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553213744
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1982
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REISSUE
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 639,705
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Theodre Dreiser was born into a large and impoverished German American family in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1871. He began his writing career as a reporter, working for newspapers in Chicago. Pittsburg, and St. Louis, until an editor friend, Arthur Henry, suggested he write a novel. The result was Sister Carrie, based on the life of Dreiser’s own sister Emma, who had run off to New York with a married man. Rejected by several publishers as “immoral”, the book was finally accepted by Doubleday and Company, and published–over Frank Doubleday’s strong objections–in 1900.

Numerous cuts and changes had been made in the lengthy original manuscript by various hands, including those of Arthur Henry, Dreiser himself. Later, when given to mythologizing his career, Dreiser was to suggest that the publishing history of Sister Carrie had been one of bowdlerization and suppression only; but the publication of his unedited manuscript by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1981 shows that Dreiser approved and even welcomed Henry’s and Jug’s alterations. (Whether the book was ultimately improved or compromised by their liberal editing is a fascinating and as yet unresolved issue among Dreiser scholars.) Sister Carrie sold poorly, but writers like Frank Norris and William Dean Howells saw it as a breakthrough in American realism, and Dreiser’s career as a novelist was launched.

The Financer
(1912) and The Titan (1914) began his trilogy about the rise of a tycoon, but it was An American Tragedy (1925), based on newspaper accounts of a sensational murder case, which brought him fame. The novel was dramatized on Broadway and sold to Hollywood. Newly influential and affluent, Dreiser visited Russia and was unimpressed, describing his observations in the skeptical Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928). In later years, however, he became an ardent (through unorthodox) Communist, writing political Treatises such as America Is Worth Saving (1941) His artistic powers on the wane, Dreiser moved to Hollywood in 1939 and supported himself largely by the sale of film rights of his earlier works. He dies there, in 1945, at the age of seventy-four.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

THE MAGNET ATTRACTING: A WAIF AMID FORCES

WHEN CAROLINE Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterized her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.

To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a few hours—a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister's address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.

When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility. The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counselor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear? Unrecognized for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.

Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class—two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest—knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly.

And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoiter the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject—the proper penitent, groveling at a woman's slipper.

"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts in Wisconsin."

"Is it?" she answered nervously.

The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. For some time she had been conscious of a man behind.

She felt him observing her mass of hair. He had been fidgeting, and with natural intuition she felt a certain interest growing in that quarter. Her maidenly reserve, and a certain sense of what was conventional under the circumstances, called her to forestall and deny this familiarity, but the daring and magnetism of the individual, born of past experiences and triumphs, prevailed. She answered.

He leaned forward to put his elbows upon the back of her seat and proceeded to make himself volubly agreeable.

"Yes, that is a great resort for Chicago people. The hotels are swell. You are not familiar with this part of the country, are you?"

"Oh, yes, I am," answered Carrie. "That is, I live at Columbia City. I have never been through here, though."

"And so this is your first visit to Chicago," he observed.

All the time she was conscious of certain features out of the side of her eye. Flush, colorful cheeks, a light moustache, a gray fedora hat. She now turned and looked upon him in full, the instincts of self-protection and coquetry mingling confusedly in her brain.

"I didn't say that," she said.

"Oh," he answered, in a very pleasing way and with an assumed air of mistake, "I thought you did."

Here was a type of the traveling canvasser for a manufacturing house—a class which at that time was first being dubbed by the slang of the day "drummers." He came within the meaning of a still newer term, which had sprung into general use among Americans in 1880, and which concisely expressed the thought of one whose dress or manners are calculated to elicit the admiration of susceptible young women—a "masher." His suit was of a striped and crossed pattern of brown wool, new at that time, but since become familiar as a business suit. The low crotch of the vest revealed a stiff shirt bosom of white and pink stripes. From his coat sleeves protruded a pair of linen cuffs of the same pattern, fastened with large, gold plate buttons, set with the common yellow agates known as "cat's-eyes." His fingers bore several rings—one, the ever-enduring heavy seal—and from his vest dangled a neat gold watch chain, from which was suspended the secret insignia of the Order of Elks. The whole suit was rather tight-fitting, and was finished off with heavy-soled tan shoes, highly polished, and the gray fedora hat. He was, for the order of intellect represented, attractive, and whatever he had to recommend him, you may be sure was not lost upon Carrie, in this, her first glance.

Lest this order of individual should permanently pass, let me put down some of the most striking characteristics of his most successful manner and method. Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing. A strong physical nature, actuated by a keen desire for the feminine, was the next. A mind free of any consideration of the problems or forces of the world and actuated not by greed, but an insatiable love of variable pleasure. His method was always simple. Its principal element was daring, backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex. Let him meet with a young woman once and he would approach her with an air of kindly familiarity, not unmixed with pleading, which would result in most cases in a tolerant acceptance. If she showed any tendency to coquetry he would be apt to straighten her tie, or if she "took up" with him at all, to call her by her first name. If he visited a department store it was to lounge familiarly over the counter and ask some leading questions. In more exclusive circles, on the train or in waiting stations, he went slower. If some seemingly vulnerable object appeared he was all attention—to pass the compliments of the day, to lead the way to the parlor car, carrying her grip, or, failing that, to take a seat next her with the hope of being able to court her to her destination. Pillows, books, a footstool, the shade lowered; all these figured in the things which he could do. If, when she reached her destination he did not alight and attend her baggage for her, it was because, in his own estimation, he had signally failed.

A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There is an indescribably faint line in the matter of a man's apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not. Once an individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from her. There is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own. This line the individual at her elbow now marked for Carrie. She became conscious of an inequality. Her own plain blue dress, with its black cotton tape trimmings, now seemed to her shabby. She felt the worn state of her shoes.

"Let's see," he went on, "I know quite a number of people in your town. Morgenroth the clothier and Gibson the dry goods man."

"Oh, do you?" she interrupted, aroused by memories of longings their show windows had cost her.
At last he had a clue to her interest, and followed it deftly. In a few minutes he had come about into her seat. He talked of sales of clothing, his travels, Chicago, and the amusements of that city.

"If you are going there, you will enjoy it immensely. Have you relatives?"

"I am going to visit my sister," she explained.

"You want to see Lincoln Park," he said, "and Michigan Boulevard. They are putting up great buildings there. It's a second New York—great. So much to see—theaters, crowds, fine houses—oh, you'll like that."

There was a little ache in her fancy of all he described. Her insignificance in the presence of so much magnificence faintly affected her. She realized that hers was not to be a round of pleasure, and yet there was something promising in all the material prospect he set forth. There was something satisfactory in the attention of this individual with his good clothes. She could not help smiling as he told her of some popular actress of whom she reminded him. She was not silly, and yet attention of this sort had its weight.

"You will be in Chicago some little time, won't you?" he observed at one turn of the now easy conversation.

"I don't know," said Carrie vaguely—a flash vision of the possibility of her not securing employment rising in her mind.

"Several weeks, anyhow," he said, looking steadily into her eyes.

There was much more passing now than the mere words indicated. He recognized the indescribable thing that made up for fascination and beauty in her. She realized that she was of interest to him from the one standpoint which a woman both delights in and fears. Her manner was simple, though for the very reason that she had not yet learned the many little affectations with which women conceal their true feelings. Some things she did appeared bold. A clever companion—had she ever had one—would have warned her never to look a man in the eyes so steadily.

"Why do you ask?" she said.

"Well, I'm going to be there several weeks. I'm going to study stock at our place and get new samples. I might show you 'round."

"I don't know whether you can or not. I mean I don't know whether I can. I shall be living with my sister, and—"

"Well, if she minds, we'll fix that." He took out his pencil and a little pocket note-book as if it were all settled. "What is your address there?"

She fumbled her purse which contained the address slip.

He reached down in his hip pocket and took out a fat purse. It was filled with slips of paper, some mileage books, a roll of greenbacks. It impressed her deeply. Such a purse had never been carried by any one attentive to her. Indeed, an experienced traveler, a brisk man of the world, had never come within such close range before. The purse, the shiny tan shoes, the smart new suit, and the air with which he did things, built up for her a dim world of fortune, of which he was the center. It disposed her pleasantly toward all he might do.

He took out a neat business card, on which was engraved Bartlett, Caryoe & Company, and down in the left-hand corner, Chas. H. Drouet.

"That's me," he said, putting the card in her hand and touching his name. "It's pronounced Drew-eh. Our family was French, on my father's side."

She looked at it while he put up his purse. Then he got out a letter from a bunch in his coat pocket.

"This is the house I travel for," he went on, pointing to a picture on it, "corner of State and Lake." There was pride in his voice. He felt that it was something to be connected with such a place, and he made her feel that way.

"What is your address?" he began again, fixing his pencil to write.

She looked at his hand.

"Carrie Meeber," she said slowly. "Three hundred and fifty-four West Van Buren Street, care S. C. Hanson."

He wrote it carefully down and got out the purse again. "You'll be at home if I come around Monday night?" he said.

"I think so," she answered.

How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. Here were these two, bandying little phrases, drawing purses, looking at cards, and both unconscious of how inarticulate all their real feelings were. Neither was wise enough to be sure of the working of the mind of the other. He could not tell how his luring succeeded. She could not realize that she was drifting, until he secured her address. Now she felt that she had yielded something—he, that he had gained a victory. Already they felt that they were somehow associated. Already he took control in directing the conversation. His words were easy. Her manner was relaxed.

They were nearing Chicago. Signs were everywhere numerous. Trains flashed by them. Across wide stretches of flat, open prairie they could see lines of telegraph poles stalking across the fields toward the great city. Far away were indications of suburban towns, some big smoke-stacks towering high in the air.

Frequently there were two-story frame houses standing out in the open fields, without fence or trees, lone outposts of the approaching army of homes.

To the child, the genius with imagination, or the wholly untraveled, the approach to a great city for the first time is a wonderful thing. Particularly if it be evening—that mystic period between the glare and gloom of the world when life is changing from one sphere or condition to another. Ah, the promise of the night. What does it not hold for the weary!

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Table of Contents

I. The Magnet Attracting: A Waif Amid Forces 1
II. What Poverty Threatened: Of Granite and Brass 8
III. Wee Question of Fortune: Four-Fifty a Week 12
IV. The Spendings of Fancy: Facts Answer with Sneers 20
V. A Glittering Night Flower: The Use of a Name 30
VI. The Machine and the Maiden: A Knight of To-day 35
VII. The Lure of the Material: Beauty Speaks for Itself 45
VIII. Intimations by Winter: An Ambassador Summoned 53
IX. Convention's Own Tinder-box: The Eye That Is Green 59
X. The Counsel of Winter: Fortune's Ambassador Calls 64
XI. The Persuasion of Fashion: Feeling Guards O'er Its Own 71
XII. Of the Lamps of the Mansions: The Ambassador's Plea 78
XIII. His Credentials Accepted: A Babel of Tongues 85
XIV. With Eyes and Not Seeing: One Influence Wanes 92
XV. The Irk of the Old Ties: The Magic of Youth 98
XVI. A Witless Aladdin: The Gate to the World 107
XVII. A Glimpse Through the Gateway: Hope Lightens the Eye 113
XVIII. Just Over the Border: A Hail and Farewell 120
XIX. An Hour in Elfland: A Clamour Half Heard 124
XX. The Lure of the Spirit: The Flesh in Pursuit 134
XXI. The Lure of the Spirit: The Flesh in Pursuit 141
XXII. The Blaze of the Tinder: Flesh Wars with the Flesh 144
XXIII. A Spirit in Travail: One Rung Put Behind 153
XXIV. Ashes of Tinder: A Face at the Window 162
XXV. Ashes of Tinder: The Loosing of Stays 165
XXVI. The Ambassador Fallen: A Search for the Gate 169
XXVII. When Waters Engulf Us We Reach for a Star 178
XXVIII. A Pilgrim, an Outlaw: The Spirit Detained 186
XXIX. The Solace of Travel: The Boats of the Sea 194
XXX. The Kingdom of Greatness: The Pilgrim Adream 204
XXXI. A Pet of Good Fortune: Broadway Flaunts Its Joys 210
XXXII. The Feast of Belshazzar: A Seer to Translate 217
XXXIII. Without the Walled City: The Slope of the Years 228
XXXIV. The Grind of the Millstones: A Sample of Chaff 234
XXXV. The Passing of Effort: The Visage of Care 241
XXXVI. A Grim Retrogression: The Phantom of Chance 249
XXXVII. The Spirit Awakens: New Search for the Gate 257
XXXVIII. In Elf Land Disporting: The Grim World Without 263
XXXIX. Of Lights and of Shadows: The Parting of Worlds 271
XL. A Public Dissension: A Final Appeal 280
XLI. The Strike 286
XLII. A Touch of Spring: The Empty Shell 299
XLIII. The World Turns Flatterer: An Eye in the Dark 306
XLIV. And This Is Not Elf Land: What Gold Will Not Buy 313
XLV. Curious Shifts of the Poor 320
XLVI. Stirring Troubled Waters 331
XLVII. The Way of the Beaten: A Harp in the Wind 340
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2000

    The 1900 American Mind

    This is the story of a young woman plagued by desire for a success she cannot fully understand or enjoy and the rather happenstance way she comes by it. The story is told with keen and absorbing psychological insight, but a psychology characterisitic of the period and Dreiser's ideas on Realism and what that entails. As an added bonus, the reader is given endless insight into the lifestyle, biases, expectations, and social rules of life in 1900's America: a bonus worth reading for. It is essential as well to read to the last sentence of the novel in order to fully appreciate Dreiser's world view and learn the fates of his characters.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Beautiful Book

    It is obvious that Dreiser understood the motivations of humans, by the mind and heart. My two favorite things about the book are that, one, you truly are on a journey with the characters as their personalities and situations morph with every chapter, and two, it is such a wonderful take on human life and perspective and how, sometimes, no matter what you say or don't say, what you do, or don't do, fate unravels itself in funny, unexpected ways. Simply ingenious, probably my second favorite book ever.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2000

    Underrated Author Sparks Interest!!

    Fascinating reading for someone unfamiliar with the 'zeitgeist' of America in 1900. This story captures a time when things were growing here and gives a historical window into the timeframe it encompasses. Carrie becomes her own woman, but she is not 'self-made' she is a product of her two lovers assistance and resolve. This was an interesting look into the life of a woman at this time. Not unlike Chopin's Awakening in that it chronicles an woman who asserts her independence!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2014

    Carre

    Walks in and curls into a ball.

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  • Posted December 14, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    No doubt about, this is one really good yarn.  It kept my intere

    No doubt about, this is one really good yarn.  It kept my interest throughout as the story unraveled.  A bit of a soap opera in parts, but you can't beat it for a great story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2007

    A reviewer

    Sister Carrie is a tragic story by Theodore Dreiser of a girl who learns that materialism is an empty pursuit that only leads to unfulfilled dreams. The reader first meets Carrie as she travels from a small town to the endless ocean of possibilities that is Chicago. The book follows her ascent of the social ladder from poor factory worker in Chicago to respected actress in New York. The prose is filled figurative language and interesting diction and syntax, which make it easy to become absorbed in. The novel focuses on Carrie¿s emotional development rather than on plot development. This can make the plot slow at times, but teaches the reader the value of emotions and morals in a character. To those with loose morals, Sister Carrie may seem hypercritical as Dreiser condemns even the smallest moral infraction. The book does present insights about human nature including that because humans act on emotion they continually repeat their mistakes and compound their misfortunes. The first story of its kind, Sister Carrie ushered in a period of great American writing about the problems of the times, including the plight of the poor, materialism, social obligations, and others. The characters of Sister Carrie can be seen throughout literature in slightly different forms. The girl corrupted by the city, the idiotic wealthy who pay more than things are worth, and the naïve middle class constantly chasing wealth have become fixtures of American literature. Sister Carrie is at times hysterical, and at other times tear jerking, but it is the mixture that teaches valuable lessons and makes it a classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2006

    Brilliant

    I have just finished reading Sister Carrie, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is probably, and I am speaking as a someone from Europe, one of the best American novels ever written. The end is outstanding. A must.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Great low cost classic.

    These paperback 'Thrift Editions' from Dover publications are a great way to collect classic titles at low prices!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    never mistake richness for happiness

    In my opinion, Sister Carrie is a book of a young girl who mistakes richness for succsess and happiness. Carrie learned her lesson in the end when she was left all alone. Worst days for mr. hurstwood who killed himself because he was left broke and all the better days were gone. What Mr. hurstwood once had, dissapeared the day he cheated on his wife with Carrie.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2010

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