The Pathetic Individual

Perfection of the life or perfection of the art? The imperatives of art being what they are, Yeats thought that the writer could not have both. With the completion of Richard R. Lingeman's two-volume biography of Theodore Dreiser, it seems evident that Dreiser was fated to attain neither.

Born in 1871 in Indiana, Dreiser managed at best a patchwork education, supported himself by journalism, and tried his hand at fiction. His apprentice work was undistinguished, but the success of Sister Carrie (1900), a work of naturalistic determinism, made Dreiser a new force to reckon with in the literary world. His early life to 1907 was covered in the first volume of this biography—Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City, 1871-1907 (1986). In the present volume Lingeman concludes his project with a massively detailed account of Dreiser's mature years.

In 1908, when Volume II commences, Dreiser was 37, married to Sara White and a respected editor of the Delineator, a ladies' magazine in New York. The appointment was short-lived, however, as he was fired over a scandalous love affair with Thelma Cudlipp, a girl much younger than himself. Purchasing a defunct magazine (the Bohemian), Dreiser tried to support himself in publishing, failed, and resumed freelance journalism and fiction. These are the years of his major novels: Jennie Gerhardt (1911), The Financier...

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