Sister Carrie shocked the public when Doubleday, Page and Company published it in 1900. In fact, it was so controversial, it almost missed being printed at all. Harpers refused the first copy, and the book went to Frank Doubleday. After the Doubleday printers typeset the book one of the partners’ wives read it and so strongly opposed its sexual nature that the publisher produced only a few editions.
In addition to the book’s theme of sexual impropriety, the public disliked the fact that Theodore Dreiser presented a side of life that proper Americans did not care to acknowledge. Even worse, Dreiser made no moral judgements on his characters’ actions. He wrote about infidelity and prostitution as natural occurrences in the course of human relationships. Dreiser wrote about his characters with pity, compassion, and a sense of awe.
While the book appalled Americans, the English appreciated it. William Heinemann published an English version of the book in 1901. While the book sold well in England, Sister Carrie did not enjoy much success in the United States, even though B. W. Dodge & Co. had reprinted it. In order to make ends meet Dreiser worked at other literary jobs. In 1911, when the magazine where he was employed stopped publication and he was out of work, he began to write nonstop to complete his next novel, Jennie Gerhardt. Critics liked Jennie Gerhardt so much that they began to reconsider the merits of Sister Carrie. A new edition of Sister Carrie was published, and it became Dreiser’s most successful novel.