Read The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser by Jerome Loving Online


When Theodore Dreiser first published Sister Carrie in 1900 it was suppressed for its seamy plot, colloquial language, and immorality—for, as one reviewer put it, its depiction of "the godless side of American life." It was a side of life experienced firsthand by Dreiser, whose own circumstances often paralleled those of his characters in the turbulent, turn-of-the-centuryWhen Theodore Dreiser first published Sister Carrie in 1900 it was suppressed for its seamy plot, colloquial language, and immorality—for, as one reviewer put it, its depiction of "the godless side of American life." It was a side of life experienced firsthand by Dreiser, whose own circumstances often paralleled those of his characters in the turbulent, turn-of-the-century era of immigrants, black lynchings, ruthless industrialists, violent labor movements, and the New Woman. This masterful critical biography, the first on Dreiser in more than half a century, is the only study to fully weave Dreiser's literary achievement into the context of his life. Jerome Loving gives us a Dreiser for a new generation in a brilliant evocation of a writer who boldly swept away Victorian timidity to open the twentieth century in American literature.Dreiser was a controversial figure in his time, not only because of his literary efforts, which included publication of the brutal and heartbreaking An American Tragedy in 1925, but also because of his personal life, which featured numerous sexual liaisons, included membership in the communist party, merited a 180-page FBI file, and ended in Hollywood. The Last Titan paints a full portrait of the mature Dreiser between the two world wars—through the roaring twenties, the stock market crash, and the Depression—and describes his contact with important figures from Emma Goldman and H.L. Mencken to two presidents Roosevelt. Tracing Dreiser's literary roots in Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and especially Whitman, Loving has written what will surely become the standard biography of one of America's best novelists....

Title : The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser
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ISBN : 9780520234819
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 528 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser Reviews

  • Carl Rollyson
    2018-09-26 03:25

    Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), one of the giants of American literature, has been blessed with the best of biographers. Dorothy Dudley's 1932 "Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free" captured her subject live, to so speak, and "contains material available nowhere else," Jerome Loving acknowledges in his new biography of the man, "The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser" (University of California Press, 525 pages, $34.95). Robert H. Elias got to know Dreiser in the late 1930s, and in 1948 published the first scholarly biography, "Theodore Dreiser: Apostle of Nature."These early pioneering efforts came to fruition in W.A. Swanberg's "Dreiser" (1965). The biographer of William Randolph Hearst, Swanberg was no literary critic. How, then, to deal with the literary aspects of Dreiser's life? In the "Author's Note and Acknowledgments," Swanberg announced:This book is intended solely as biography, not criticism. There have been many analyses of Dreiser's works, but no attempt to study the whole man. Not even during his busiest writing years was he exclusively a writer, being always a self-taught philosopher with strong views about society. He collided repeatedly with American culture, religion and politics. For a quarter-century he waged a violent battle against the censorship of art, and his works, if not his words, had a large share in the victory. Indeed, Dreiser was a fighter incarnate, always battling something; his compulsion toward social criticism and mystic philosophy so overmastered him that he all but abandoned creative writing. If his prejudices and contradictions were awesome, the mature Dreiser represents in extreme enlargement the confusions of the era after 1929 when intellectuals everywhere sought a better society, and when thinkers more competent than he proved as mistaken as he. But Dreiser was, in the extreme sense, an original. There has been no one like him. He deserves study simply as one of the most incredible of human beings, a man whose enormous gifts warred endlessly with grievous flaws.For many literary biographers, a subject's written work is, in the main, the life, and the point is to show how the work and the life are of a piece. Swanberg suggests that Dreiser's writing can be treated separately - indeed it is so treated in numerous works of literary criticism that do not deal with the "whole man." But how, a literary biographer might ask, can there be a "whole man" in a biography that does not interpret the subject's writing?To say that there were periods when Dreiser did not write does not seem a very convincing argument, since all authors - even the most prolific - have periods when they do not write. Other authors have been just as involved in the political and social issues of their age as Dreiser, yet have also created unique personalities for themselves that surely are located, in important ways, in their writing. Why should Dreiser be any different? Has Swanberg simply ducked the issue of literary biography altogether?Enter Jerome Loving with a literary biography that reaches Dreiserian heights as he recounts the fraught publication of "Sister Carrie" (1900) and carefully analyzes the language Dreiser employs to describe Hurstwood's harrowing descent from manager of a saloon to the derelict whose life disintegrates when Carrie abandons him. Mr. Loving's account of Dreiser's own breakdown after his publisher refused to stand by the novel has the same relentless drive: At one point, Dreiser became a day laborer and was roused out of his depression only after his brother Paul lent him money, allowing Dreiser slowly to write himself to recovery.Just as impressive is Mr. Loving's account of "An American Tragedy" (1925), Dreiser's other masterpiece, the story of Clyde Griffths's murder of his pregnant sweetheart so that he can marry a high-society girl. Although often deemed determinist, Dreiser's work is suffused with a wonder about the human spirit and the circumstances that seem to conspire against it. What is striking about Clyde is his sense of aspiration - and Dreiser's dismay that it should become so twisted.To simply write of such characters in moralistic terms would have outraged Dreiser, a lapsed Catholic, who rejected his devout father's belief in the God of everlasting judgment. Dreiser yearned to believe in the self-made man, yet everywhere saw the American dream of individual distinction crushed by society and organized religion. The power of his work, though, is ultimately spiritual: He ended his life as a Quaker, exhorting everyone to find his own way to God - or what Dreiser liked to call "the Creative force."No matter the virtues of Mr. Loving's biography, he does not have the field to himself. Richard Lingeman's two-volume biography (1986, 1990) presented Dreiser as a great American character. Dreiser's fights against censorship, his attacks on the manners and morality of the time, his willingness to engage in political issues - not only his Communist Party activities and staunch defense of the Soviet Union, but his visit to the striking miners in Harlan County, Ky. - show how he wanted to integrate literature and life. The vigor of Dreiser's mind and body had to find an outlet in public action. His words had to be tied to actions, Mr. Lingeman argues.Dreiser's mistress (later his second wife, Helen) called him a "great man." She had in mind, it seems, his capacity to move people, to make them suffer along with his characters and himself. Dreiser's appeal grew out of his ability to be both vulnerable and resolute. He was not a handsome man, but he had a hold over many women because there was something in him that needed mothering and nurturing even as he evinced a power that controlled the lives of his lovers. He empathized with both the "little" man and the tycoon, Charles Yerkes, on whom he based Frank Cowperwood, the hero of his trilogy, "The Financier," "The Titan," and "The Stoic."There is a relentlessness in Dreiser's fiction that runs parallel to his passionate life. He amasses mountains of detail when describing his characters, providing a social fabric for their lives that meshes with his keen awareness of how his own character was caught up with the fate of his country. By packing his biography with a similarly dense set of particulars, Mr. Lingeman did homage to a writer who remains important in American fiction's effort to encompass and appraise American identity. But it is Swanberg who continues to haunt Mr. Loving, who decries his predecessor's penchant for never missing an opportunity to "characterize his subject as suspicious, superstitious, contentious, lecherous, greedy, and egotistical." Yet Mr. Loving's literary approach has its own downside: Lest he prove a Swanberg, he feels duty-bound to discuss even minor Dreiser works in tedious detail. Swanberg, by contrast, seems not to have wanted to remind the reader of what it means to examine a literary text, to submerse oneself in the writer's style. When Dreiser is divorced from his words, Swanberg is free to reconstitute and dramatize his subject's life without competition from the very text ("Sister Carrie") on which the biographer actually relies:In "Carrie" for the first time of importance, Dreiser translated his own experience into the desperate, hopeless yearnings of his characters. Ev'ry Month [the magazine he edited] had held him in a tight little strait-jacket. His magazine articles were pot-boilers conforming to editors' wishes. Now the reluctant conformist was free to write as he pleased about life as he saw it. He let himself go far, far into unconformity, apparently not realizing the extent of his divagation, but surely there was unconscious rebellion against the restraints that had curbed him for four years. Although he had read Hardy with admiration and he was not forgetting Balzac, what came out of his pen was pure Dreiser tinctured with Spencer and evolution. He was simply telling a story much as he had seen it happen in life. ... He wrote with a compassion for human suffering that was exclusive with him in America. He wrote with a tolerance for transgression that was as exclusive and as natural. His mother, if not immoral herself, had accepted immorality as a fact of life. Some of his sisters had been immoral in the eyes of the world. In his own passion for women he was amoral himself, believing that so-called immorality was not immoral at all but was necessary, wholesome and inspiring, and that the conventional morality was an enormous national fraud.To cite passages in the novel itself to support what Swanberg says would have the effect of fragmenting his narrative, calling a halt to it in favor of addressing a text - which, no matter how smoothly done, cannot quite rectify the damage that is done to narrative values.Such is the power of W.A. Swanberg, possessed of a novel-like energy that his rival Mr. Loving dare not acknowledge it in his own formidable biography. Like Mr. Lingeman's account, Mr. Loving's book may continue to illuminate Swanberg's account, even as it does Dreiser's own writing. But only Swanberg stands alone.

  • Michael
    2018-09-30 22:34

    Excellent biography of a fascinating, though sometimes loathsome, person. I hadn't known much about Dreiser, but thought that An American Tragedy, Sister Carrie, and The "Genius" were all excellent novels. The author takes the reader through all phases of Dreiser's life, from his upbringing through his work as a journalist, magazine editor, and novelist. I also hadn't realized the wide breadth of Dreiser's writing, as he also wrote short stories, plays, travel books, autobiographies and philosophical texts. The author shows how Dreiser's writing was motivated by his passion for social justice and his antipathy toward Victorian standards of sexual conduct.The author gives Dreiser his due as a writer and does not gloss over the negatives, such as his continuing unfaithfulness, his anti-Semitism, his rocky relationships with friends and lovers and his membership in the Communist Party. The book is well-organized, readable, flows well and is never boring or tedious. My only complaint was that it ended rather suddenly, without any real attempt to summarize Dreiser's life and accomplishments, or place them in a historical perspective. It is still an excellent biography and I highly recommend it.

  • Joshua Buhs
    2018-09-24 22:27

    I;m not sure I get the title--the only time Dreiser was a Titan seems to be from the publication of An American Tragedy in 1925 to the stock market crash of 1929, which disappeared half his wealth, although he remained powerful throught he 1930s, just less so. This biography does a few things well. It really shows the institutional ways Victorian morality was estbalished in the 20th century, and the culture against which Dreiser was reblling--and that a lot of his rebellion now is hard to see, because he won, his stylistic penchant for colloquial language, for instance, and prose, now common. How Henry Miller stands in many ways as his successor. The ebbs and flows of his relationship with H L Mencken. The book shows Dreiser as extremely confident, even vain. It is less successful--or I am indifferent to--other aspects. I don't really care how much of Dreiser's writing was indebted to the transcendentalists. It hints at how his many sexual relationships, which he championed as the loosening of conventional morality, came at the expense of the women who were used and abused--without much standing in this new america, but never really deals with this important topic. It also ignores the religious angle--dismissing Dreiser's interest in Fort in a few terse sentences as his inexplicable penchant for lesser authors. (Cf. Zanine). The end of his life is given a short shrift, Loving obviously embarassed by Dreiser's more speculative side, although this was definitely an outgrowth of his interest in transcendentalism. He bumps up against Dreiser's anti-semitism, but like the gender stuff, does not really go into depth. Still, engaging and smoothly written, going nicely back and forth between Dreiser's life and what he wrote.

  • James
    2018-10-04 02:37

    After obsessively reading Dreiser's early works last year (Sister Carrie, Financier, Titan, Jennie Gerhardt) I needed to confirm my suspicions of his own story as patterns and themes were apparent across his characters and plots. And, of course, I wanted to compare his parallel path to mine of growing up in Warsaw, Indiana within a Germanic family, moving to Chicago then New York and beyond. Maybe that's why I recognized influences. (Of course our paths are not the same as I am certainly not approving of the womanizing and don't plan to join the Communist party anytime soon....)

  • Jeff
    2018-10-18 01:32

    A perfectly competent biography, but fell a little flat with me. I was expecting a bit more sizzle - a little more sex, a little more bitterness (that one coffee-throwing incident notwithstanding).

  • Chris Schaffer
    2018-10-10 21:43

    I liked his books but he was an over-sexed, communist leaning creep.