A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia

Edited by Keith Newlin    


Perhaps more than most writers, Theodore Dreiser’s reputation has waxed and waned dramatically over the last century. From the 1910s through the 1930s, he embodied for many rebellious modernists an absolute artistic integrity. He was much admired for writing courageously and honestly from the heart of his own experience, for attacking a stifling “puritanism,” and for extending his pity to common men and women in the grip of vast social forces. With the coming of the Cold War and the triumph of a conservative New Criticism, Dreiser often seemed a quaint curiosity whose simple-minded determinism and clumsy style characterized what Lionel Trilling condescendingly termed the “liberal imagination.” With the 1960s, however, a younger generation of critics initiated a Dreiser renaissance that continues to this day. At one time a seeming shoe-in for the Nobel Prize, Dreiser continues to engage readers a half century after his death. Indeed, Dreiser has an international following, with scholars teaching and writing about his work in Algeria, Canada, the Czech Republic, China, Germany, France, Italy, India, Israel, Japan, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. All eight of his novels continue to be reprinted, with new editions of his writing appearing regularly, and there is a lively scholarly community represented by the thirty-three-year-old journal Dreiser Studies and the decade-old International Theodore Dreiser Society. In the United States, Dreiser is widely taught in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms, with Sister Carrie one of the most widely assigned works in courses on the American novel and several of his short stories standards in literature anthologies.

Although there is no lack of books about Dreiser, their very number suggests the need for an encyclopedia. For students and scholars interested in Dreiser, many aids exist: two full-scale biographies—W. A. Swanberg’s Dreiser (1965) and Richard Lingeman’s two-volume Theodore Dreiser (1986, 1990)—a three-volume collection of his letters, a two-volume collection of his letters to H. L. Mencken, and a primary and secondary bibliography, last revised in 1991. The University of Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition has for more than twenty years been issuing scholarly editions of his books, diaries, and unpublished manuscripts. In addition, there are many critical books, monographs, and collections of essays devoted to the man and his works. While Philip Gerber’s Plots and Characters in the Fiction of Theodore Dreiser (1977) is a valuable resource, there has not been, until now, a one-volume guide to the essential Dreiser—his work, his life, and the influences that shaped him.

A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia is necessarily selective. Dreiser lived to be seventy-four and was incredibly prolific over the fifty-three years of his professional life. In addition to his twenty-four books, he published more than 870 magazine and newspaper pieces—stories, poems, essays—the most important of which he collected in such books as Free and Other Stories, Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Twelve Men, Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories, Moods, and A Gallery of Women. At the core of the encyclopedia are entries in an alphabetical sequence on each of his books and short stories and on those magazine and newspaper pieces he collected during his life, with two exceptions. His poems, many of which appeared first in magazines, are treated selectively under the entry for the collection Moods. Of the thirty-eight brief sketches collected in The Color of a Great City, most are treated the same way as the poems, though twelve of the more significant have individual entries. Noteworthy uncollected and posthumously collected works are accorded separate entries, as are major characters in the novels, family members, friends, and other persons important to understanding his work. There are also entries on Dreiser’s publishers, on his major influences, on the places and events important to his life, and on the literary and social contexts of his work. Bold-faced terms within entries refer readers to other entries in the encyclopedia, though frequently mentioned terms—members of Dreiser’s immediate family, H. L. Mencken, Chicago, New York City, Indiana, the characters Carrie Meeber, George Hurstwood, Charles Drouet, Clyde Griffiths, and the titles of his works—are not so marked.

To assist in the further exploration of Dreiser’s work and life, many contributors have added to their entries a list of works for further reading directly related to the topic. To avoid duplication, I have listed several standard works only in the selected bibliography. Readers interested in Dreiser’s thirty-one published short stories should assume the need to consult Joseph Griffin’s The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser’s Short Stories (1985); those interested in his daily routine, the various editions of his diaries; and those interested in a broader understanding of his life, the biographies by Swanberg and Lingeman. Readers seeking publication details for all of Dreiser’s works or wanting to trace his reputation through contemporary reviews should consult, respectively, Theodore Dreiser: A Primary Bibliography and Reference Guide, edited by Donald Pizer, Richard W. Dowell, and Frederic E. Rusch (1991) and Theodore Dreiser: The Critical Reception, edited by Jack Salzman (1972).

Citations within entries have been kept to a minimum. There are no page references for Dreiser’s works, though contributors have generally supplied enough context for readers to locate quotations, which, given the lack of a standard edition of Dreiser’s works, are from the first American book edition or periodical publication. Page references to scholarly or other works are keyed to the list that follows the entry or to the selected bibliography. The few cited works not listed in those places are fully described within the entry. Throughout, a number of frequently cited titles are abbreviated; a list of abbreviations appears at the front of the encyclopedia.

I am pleased that nearly seventy contributors, ranging from well-known and influential Dreiserians to younger scholars just entering the profession, agreed to take part in this project. Their contributions represent a variety of critical approaches and styles of writing; I have sometimes edited entries for consistency, accuracy, and clarity and have occasionally cut matter duplicated elsewhere, but I have tried not to interfere with an individual’s style or approach. A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia therefore represents a cross-section of current Dreiser scholarship in addition to providing the factual information one comes to an encyclopedia to find.

I have incurred many debts in the course of this project, which I acknowledge with pleasure. I wish especially to thank my contributors, who graciously interrupted their other work to make this volume possible. I am deeply grateful not only for their generosity in agreeing to participate in this project but also for their cooperation in meeting deadlines, responding promptly and fully to queries, and making revisions when necessary. For advice, encouragement, and many other courtesies, I am indebted to Thomas P. Riggio, Stephen C. Brennan, and Jerome Loving. For financial support, I am grateful to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, College of Arts and Sciences Summer Initiative Program. I thank my department chair, Christopher Gould, whose tangible support and encouragement greatly aided this project. The staff of the interlibrary loan department of Randall Library, especially Sophie Williams and Madeleine Bombeld, rendered indispensable aid. I thank Gregory Neubauer  for his assistance with proofreading. My greatest debt is to Robin Briggs Newlin, whose patience and encouragement remain beacons in the night.


back from A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, edited by Keith Newlin (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003)