Jennie Gerhardt

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University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992 - Fiction - 577 pages
2 Reviews
Jennie Gerhardt was Theodore Dreiser's second novel and his first true commercial success. Today it is generally regarded as one of his three best novels, along with Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. But the text of Jennie Gerhardt heretofore known to readers is quite different from the text as Dreiser originally wrote it. In the tradition of the University of Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition, James L. W. West III has recaptured the text as it was originally written, restoring it to its complete, unexpurgated form. As submitted to Harper and Brothers in 1911, Jennie Gerhardt was a powerful study of a woman tragically compromised by birth and fate. Harpers agreed to publish the book but was nervous about its subject matter and moral stance. Jennie has an illegitimate child by one man and lives out of wedlock with another - but Dreiser does not condemn her for her behavior. As a requirement for publication, Harpers insisted on cutting and revising the text. Although Dreiser fought against many of the cuts and succeeded in restoring some material, Harpers shortened the text by 16,000 words and completely revised its style and tone. These changes ultimately transformed Jennie Gerhardt from a blunt, carefully documented work of social realism to a touching love story merely set against a social background. Passages critical of organized religion and of the institution of marriage were reduced and altered. Perhaps most important, Jennie's point of view - her innate romantic mysticism - was largely edited out of the text. As a consequence, the central dialectic of the novel was skewed and the narrative thrown out of balance.
 

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User Review  - krbrancolini - LibraryThing

Decades before he became the acclaimed author of "An American Tragedy," Theodore Dreiser wrote two controversial novels based on the lives of his older sisters, Emma and Mame. The first of these ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Myhi - LibraryThing

Dreiser's stories are pretty much the same, even though using different names/cities. And they all are... somehow dramatic works, ending pretty bad. As I was young enough to spend the time... tried ... Read full review

Contents

The Composition and Publication of Jennie Gerhardt
421
Map
461
Editorial Principles
485
Textual Tables
499
Editorial Emendations
538
Textual Notes
557
Alternate Version
573
Copyright

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About the author (1992)

Theodore Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the twelfth of 13 children. His childhood was spent in poverty, or near poverty, and his family moved often. In spite of the constant relocations, Dreiser managed to attend school, and, with the financial aid of a sympathetic high school teacher, he was able to attend Indiana University. However, the need for income forced him to leave college after one year and take a job as a reporter in Chicago. Over the next 10 years, Dreiser held a variety of newspaper jobs in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and finally New York. He published his first novel, Sister Carrie in 1900, but because the publisher's wife considered its language and subject matter too "strong", it was barely advertised and went almost unnoticed. Today it is regarded as one of Dreiser's best works. It is the story of Carrie, a young woman from the Midwest, who manages to rise to fame and fortune on the strength of her personality and ambition, through her acting talent, and via her relationships with various men. Much of the book's controversy came from the fact that it portrayed a young woman who engages in sexual relationships without suffering the poverty and social downfall that were supposed to be the "punishment" for such "sin." Dreiser's reputation has increased instrumentally over the years. His best book and first popular success, An American Tragedy (1925), is now considered a major American novel, and his other works are widely taught in college courses. Like Sister Carrie, An American Tragedy also tells the story of an ambitious young person from the Midwest. In this case, however, the novel's hero is a man who is brought to ruin because of a horrible action he commits - he murders a poor young woman whom he has gotten pregnant, but whom he wants to discard in favor of a wealthy young woman who represents luxury and social advancement. As Dreiser portrays him, the young man is a victim of an economic system that torments so many with their lack of privilege and power and temps them to unspeakable acts. Dreiser is also known for the Coperwood Trilogy - The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and the posthumously published The Store (1947). Collectively the three books paint the portrait of a brilliant and ruthless "financial buccaneer." Dreiser is associated with Naturalism, a writing style that also includes French novelist Emile Zola. Naturalism seeks to portray all the social forces that shape the lives of the characters, usually conveying a sense of the inevitable doom that these forces must eventually bring about. Despite this apparent pessimism, Dreiser had faith in socialism as a solution to what he saw as the economic injustices of American capitalism. His socialist views were reinforced by a trip to the newly socialist Soviet Union, and in fact, Dreiser is still widely read in that country. There, as here, he is seen as a powerful chronicler of the injustices and ambitions of his time. Dreiser officially joined the Communist Party shortly before his death in 1945.

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