Essays on Theodore Dreiser
PIZER_book.indd 1 09/08/13 4:06 PM PIZER_book.indd 2 09/08/13 4:06 PM Theodore Dreiser wrote little literary criticism, and what he did write is both little known and not highly rated. Throughout his career, Dreiser published book reviews and philosophical essays, but seldom exhibited in either form an interest in or capacity for literary criticism of the highest order. By “criticism of the highest order,” I mean criticism that contains a coherent body of belief expressed with conviction. Too often, however, Dreiser’s reviews merely reflect his like or dislike of a specific kind of writing, and too often his philosophical essays careen into an impenetrable fuzziness. A notable exception to this generalization is the very brief essay “True Art Speaks Plainly,” which Dreiser published in an obscure Philadelphia journal in February 1903.1 Dreiser wrote “True Art Speaks Plainly” at a crucial moment in his career. Although his first novel, Sister Carrie, published in November 1900, had been praised by reviewers for its power and honesty, it had also been attacked for its lapses in taste. The criticism that especially irked Dreiser was that which warned the reader about the unpleasant subject matter and amoral tone of the novel. Something of the character of this criticism can be suggested by a sampling of comments from American reviews of late 1900 and early 1901: “a gloomy story,” “not a book to be put in the hands of every reader indiscriminately,” “the story is not one to put into the hands...
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