Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Columbus. Medium-sized industrial city in southern Ohio in which the novel opens. Jennie, the daughter of a German immigrant laborer, and her mother seek employment in the city’s “principal hotel.” While working there, she meets and is subsequently seduced by, a U.S. senator, whose illegitimate child she bears.


*Cleveland. Northern Ohio city to which most of Jennie’s family moves after she gives birth to a child and her father moves to Youngstown in search of employment. The members of the family see Cleveland as a place of superior opportunity—a good place “to seek a new start.” While working as a domestic in Cleveland, Jennie meets Lester Kane, a member of a wealthy and influential Cincinnati family.


*Chicago. Illinois city to which Lester takes Jennie as his mistress. They initially live in a North Side apartment near Lake Michigan; later they live in an old eleven-room house in South Hyde Park. Lester oversees the Chicago portion of his family’s growing carriage empire. During the years they spend together in Chicago, Jennie grows more comfortable with wealth, and her relationship with Lester deepens. At the same time, the fact that they remain unmarried becomes a scandal in their Chicago social circle and causes a conflict within the Kane family. After Lester leaves Jennie to marry a wealthy widow, Jennie lives in “a simple cottage in...

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Jennie Gerhardt Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dreiser, Theodore. Jennie Gerhardt. Edited by James L. W. West III. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Reclaims Dreiser’s original intentions for the novel. Includes informative introduction, explanatory notes, a map, illustrations of pages from Dreiser’s manuscript, and other useful materials.

Hapke, Laura. “Dreiser and the Tradition of the American Working Girl Novel.” Dreiser Studies 22, no. 2 (Fall, 1991): 2-19. Uses social history to discuss the situation Jennie Gerhardt and her five million historical contemporaries faced struggling to survive in low-paying jobs.

Lingeman, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City, 1871-1907 and Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey, 1908-1945. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986, 1990. The standard biography offers information on the writing and biographical context of Jennie Gerhardt in volume 1 and information on its revision, publication, and critical reception in volume 2.

Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976. The section on Jennie Gerhardt establishes information about the novel’s sources and composition. Gives biographical details suggesting that Jennie was modeled after Dreiser’s sister Mame. Valuable discussion of structure, characterization, and themes.

West, James L. W., III, ed. Dreiser’s “Jennie Gerhardt”: New Essays on the Restored Text. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. A collection giving historical background and new interpretations of the novel in its restored version.