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"The Game as It Is Played"

Essays on Theodore Dreiser


Donald Pizer

The Game as It Is Played comprises the best of Donald Pizer’s essays on Theodore Dreiser. Pizer, one of Dreiser’s principal critics over the past forty years, is especially concerned in establishing the distinctive nature and quality of Dreiser’s naturalism in many of these essays. From one of Dreiser’s earliest short stories to his acknowledged masterpiece, An American Tragedy, Pizer demonstrates that in Dreiser’s hands naturalism is not the blunt instrument it is usually assumed to be but rather a powerful tool for the rendering of a complex view of the human condition. In addition, the essays explore several of the more controversial areas of Dreiser scholarship, including his late conversion to communism, his anti-Semitism, and the text of Sister Carrie.


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Dreiser’s Career


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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