Theodore Dreiser Additional Biography


Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was virtually the first widely recognized American writer whose background lacked connection with the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment; his father was a Catholic emigrant from Germany, and Theodore grew up, with nine siblings, in a relatively impoverished, strictly religious family. Dreiser rejected his father’s religion; he maintained a sympathy for the poor and various relations with his brothers and sisters (including the writer of very popular songs, such as “My Gal Sal,” Paul Dreiser), a number of whom provided him with prototypes for his fictional characters. Leaving his Indiana home at fifteen to go to Chicago, Dreiser was fascinated with the raw and vital city, where he worked at a variety of jobs, pausing to spend one term at Indiana University before beginning a career as a journalist.

From Chicago this career took him to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and New York, where he eventually became established as a successful magazine editor. In 1908 he married his first wife; the marriage lasted until her death in 1941, with many problems, some of them reflected in stories such as “Free” and “Chains.” Although his journalistic experiences had given him potential material and writing practice, Dreiser was late in turning to fiction; his first short story was not completed until he was twenty-eight, but having begun, he went on to write other stories and have his first novel, Sister Carrie, appear in 1900. While Sister Carrie, in which the heroine loses her virtue and survives, unrepentant, was in effect suppressed by its publisher because of its unconventional morality, Dreiser was launched upon his career as a writer of fiction.

Subsequent financial troubles, a partial mental breakdown, marital problems not unrelated to Dreiser’s apparent constitutional aversion to monogamy, and continual attacks by the literary, moral, and economic establishments, rather than permanently halting this career, provided it with raw material. With the appearance of his novel An American Tragedy, Dreiser, at fifty-four, finally achieved significant financial success and wide acceptance, although his difficult personality, sexual varietism, drinking, anti-Semitism, and communist sympathies kept him involved in controversy. Near the end of his life he both developed an interest in Eastern mysticism and joined the Communist Party. He died in 1945.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, into a family of German Americans. His father, John Paul Dreiser, was a weaver by trade, and from the time of his entry into the United States (in 1846), he had worked westward in an attempt to establish himself. He induced Sarah Schanab (later shortened to Shnepp), the daughter of an Ohio Moravian, to elope with him, and they settled near Fort Wayne. John Paul became the manager in a woolen mill and soon amassed enough funds to build his own mill in Sullivan, Indiana. In 1870, the year before Theodore’s birth, the mill burned, John Paul was seriously injured, Sarah was cheated out of the family property by unscrupulous “yankee trickery,” and...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201205-Dreiser.jpg Theodore Dreiser Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Theodore Dreiser began his writing career as a journalist, and his novels incorporate journalistic content and technique. By relying heavily on real experience, Dreiser was able to represent the longings of Americans, especially young, urban Americans, who, like himself, wanted success but often experienced failure. His father had been a skilled weaver, but by the time Dreiser was born, the ninth of ten children, his father had failed, and the family lived in poverty, moving from house to house, city to city. On one occasion the family was humiliated and forced to move when one of Dreiser’s unmarried sisters became pregnant. Although his father was unable to support the family, he attempted to maintain a rigid Catholic morality that was out of touch with the experiences of Dreiser and his siblings. It was from these experiences that Dreiser drew the materials for novels, such as Sister Carrie, Jenny Gerhardt, and An American Tragedy.

In The “Genius,” Dreiser took his own experiences as a struggling artist and fictionalized them, creating a portrait of an artist, a realist painter, who is torn between financial and artistic success. In The “Genius,” as in all Dreiser novels, characters desire money and happiness—they desire the American Dream, but their struggles to maintain happy relationships or to gain wealth are thwarted. Dreiser was fascinated by wealth and by people who had money, which led him to write three novels, The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic, about a millionaire, Frank Cowperwood.

While Dreiser attempted to capture the human condition in all of his novels, it is in Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy that he demonstrates his greatest power as a realist. This power derives from two strengths: Dreiser’s sympathetic portrayal of characters who would not normally be considered sympathetically and his detailed description of the environment in which these characters existed. In giving voice to characters who had never before been represented (often poor people who live and act in ways more representative of reality than of literary and moral convention) Dreiser became a model for many twentieth century writers who employed fiction as a means to communicate their experiences.


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Dreiser looms as an important figure in pre-1920 American literature because his controversial novels contained powerful messages, and because he stood firmly against attempts by censors to ban his views. Dreiser broke with the literary traditions of the early 1900’s, writing realistic fiction in which his characters often violate society’s code of moral behavior but are not always punished for their transgressions. His battles over censorship began with Sister Carrie (1900), reached a crescendo with The “Genius” (1915), and continued sporadically throughout his life.

Sister Carrie went against the grain of the genteel tradition in which fiction always taught a moral lesson, with...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (DRI-sur), born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, is one of the most puzzling figures of twentieth century American literature. No other major author has survived so much hostile criticism, nor has any other author of his stature displayed so much paradoxical thinking. Yet despite his inconsistencies and blunders, Dreiser’s position is unshakable. His influence on the naturalistic American novel has been enormous; moreover, there is in his writing a peculiar power and honesty that is not to be found anywhere else.

The son of a desperately poor and narrowly religious family, Dreiser developed intense feelings about poverty and social restraint that are manifest in all of his...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was the twelfth of thirteen children born to John Paul Dreiser and Sarah Schnepp Dreiser. John Paul Dreiser, a weaver, had come from Mayhen, Germany, in the mid-1840’s, settling in New England. After several years, he moved to a German community in Indiana, where he met Sarah, the daughter of a Mennonite farmer. Because Dreiser was unable to find work in this community, he and Sarah eloped to Dayton, Ohio, but returned to Fort Wayne, Indiana, before their first child was born.

At first, the elder Dreiser tried to build a secure life for his family, establishing his own woolen mill at Sullivan, Indiana, in 1867. Unfortunately, the mill burned to the ground just when it was starting to...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In all of his works, Dreiser portrayed society realistically. His observations of life taught him that human destiny is often affected by accidents of fate and by deep human yearnings or drives—particularly the drives toward money and sex. Yet Dreiser never felt that people are totally at the mercy of these forces, with no will of their own, even though individuals who are emotionally strong by nature seem more successful in coping with fate and drives than those who are passive or weak. Dreiser treated all of his characters with sympathy, however, proving himself to be a man of compassion.


Theodore Dreiser, a prominent American author and journalist, was born on August 27, 1871 in the rural town of Terre Haute, Indiana. He grew...

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Theodore Dreiser was a prominent American author and journalist born on August 27,1871, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He grew up in a poor farm...

(The entire section is 195 words.)


Theodore Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871. He was the twelfth of thirteen children of John, a German immigrant,...

(The entire section is 478 words.)


Theodore Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871. Dreiser’s father, John Paul, fled to America from Germany to avoid...

(The entire section is 369 words.)