Saturday, November 26, 2005

Breaking news from New York...

This just in: AP is reporting details still aren't settled for the ending of the opera "An American Tragedy." Show opens New York, Dec. 2. I won't be there. If any readers attend, we would appreciate a full report. (Send e-mail to to discu$$ payment.) For more info, go to:

The write-up sent to me tells that the opera's composer's father - got that? - really liked "A Place in the Sun", the 1951 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, a movie that is supposed to be based on "An American Tragedy." In my mind, that comparison is similar to a saw-horse and a Kentucky thoroughbred.

I can't recall M. Clift's movie name - I think it was George, not Clyde (the name of the character in the novel). But here's the basic difference: the movie was about Mr. Clift (or George), a personality, a singular presence in the movie's world. But the novel is not singularly about Clyde. Yes, we're tightly linked to Clyde's tragic youth and young adulthood (that's all he gets...). But in a larger sense, Clyde is just a strike-plate, just the dynamic, the engine, if you will that opens up and exposes and pulls us into a much larger world - the world as it existed in the early 20th Century.

Also, keep in mind that a tragedy, in literature, exacts widespread ramifications. To set things right, payback is extensive. Think back to high school English when you had to pretend you were interested in all those words in MacBeth but what you really liked was the witches and stuff like that.

A real tragedy means the columns and pillars of the royal house come tumbling down, with lightening and earthquakes wreaking havoc throughout the kingdom. There's trouble in Denmark, not just with a couple of kids. The movie did not develop nor portray the fundamental systemic, societal misalignments in which Clyde and Roberta are trapped. In the movie, the upper class twits became George's friends. In the novel, they were at best neutral, at worst actually hostile. That distinction is critical. At the end of the novel, the cataclysm of Clyde's decisions and actions reverberate from Albany to Rochester, from Boston to Denver. Hopefully the opera will impose this broad scope. Without such themes and precepts and concepts, it won't be Wagnerian, it'll be "Days of Our Lives." But, on with the show! Maybe the music will be good.

Thanks to one of the AP's best new reporters for sending me the info about the opera. I had seen reference to it a while ago in a Terra Haute, IN, newspaper. But I had forgotten about it and I was very glad to get the update. Also, this reporter sent a very nice note. (Plus, I happen to know she's very pretty.)

I'm still reading The Titan. This post was going to comment on that novel, which I'm enjoying. To be honest, I'm not sure why Dreiser has Frank pursuing so many women for so many pages. It's done masterfully, but it seems overdone. What's the point? OK, so Frank is a moral ingrate, a self-centered egotistical rationalizing womanizer. So far, though, I'm left confused by the deep and swirling descriptions that Dreiser affixes to this behavior.

Maybe a light bulb will go on as I continue...

Now here's a tragedy - I have to go back to work on Monday (just kidding, boss)! I took off all of Thanksgiving week. Very pleasant.

Remember, if you want to get an e-mail notice about posts on this blog, please send your e-mail address to I promise I'll keep it confidential; I won't even give it to John J. McKenty as he sits in his rocking chair keeping track of votes on Chicago's City Council...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Frank and Aileen Are In Chicago - Watch Out...

Hello people. You'll note it's Saturday night. You're thinking: pathetic, the poor fellow is writing this Dreiser blog on a Saturday night. Yup. That's right. And glad to be doing it, too. That's just the kind of insouciance (go ahead, look that one up) a person can assume at the ripe old age of _4!

Anyway, you'll note the title of this post - about Frank and Aileen. That's the Cowperwoods, making their mark in the Windy City and Frank is kicking butt and taking names. This is how The Titan opens.

I'm glad to be back with Dreiser's three dimensional characters; they're almost life like; in fact, you'd think they are real, or were real, since in this early part of the novel the year is 1878.

I have to compare this to the short stories. Sad. Depressing. Morose. Unhappy. Jeez. The thing is, in the novels, Dreiser's characters can have some raucus times. Look at Clyde learning to dance in Tragedy. Or Clyde and his fellow bellhops ordering drinks at dinner after work. Or Frank's parties at his new house in Philadelphia. Or Charles and George at the "resort" in Carrie. No fun in the short stories (at least the ones I read). Mostly, these stories were recountings of a single person, recollective, frustrated, trapped. Yes, they may be well written, but they're not easy to read. And another comment: they're almost too old; in many ways they are dated, with characters stuck in a world that's long gone, and their struggles and challenges are stuck there, too.

Now consider the opening text from Chapter 2 of The Titan:

"The city of Chicago, with whose development the personality of Frank Algernon Cowperwood was soon to be definitely linked! To whom may the laurels as laureate of this Florence of the West yet fall? This singing flame of a city, this all America, this poet in chaps and buckskin, this rude, raw Titan, this Burns of a city! By its shimmering lake it lay, a king of shreds and patches, a maundering yokel with an epic in its mouth, a tramp, a hobo among cities, with the grip of Caesar in its mind, the dramatic force of Euripides in its soul."

Wow. Now that's some writing. Powerful images, dreamlike, burlesque, historical in scope, romantic, classic, modern - all at the same time. That force isn't in the short stories. Also missing are Dreiser's fantastic, weird characters. Consider the introduction to General Van Sickle, Franks' lawyer in The Titan:

"The old soldier, over fifty, had been a general of division during the Civil War, and had got his real start in life by filing false titles to property in southern Illinois, and then bringing suits to substantiate his fraudulent claims before friendly associates." Hey, it's just business. Remember, the General is Frank's lawyer. How can fun things not lie ahead?

Gotta stop. Because, it is Saturday night and I think Lawrence Welk reruns are on soon on our PBS station here in Cincinnati.

By the way, if you would be interested in an e-mail notice telling when there is a new post on this blog, send me your e-mail address and I will notify you and I will keep all e-mails confidential. Unless, of course, you are an associate of General Van Sickle and the Cook County prosecutor is looking for you... But surely there aren't people like the General any more are there? Send your e-mail to:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Today's New York TIMES

I liked the article in today's New York Times about the man in New Mexico who purchased, for his spouse, the complete set of the Penguin Classics Library. That's 1082 books. The seller: The price: $7989.50 + free shipping. I went to Amazon's site to see if any of Dreiser's works are within that set. Just one: "Sister Carrie."

Sorry I've not made a post here in a few days. I'm still reading the short stories. OK, no excuse for not writing anything. But, to be honest, I'm just not moved to write by these stories. On the bus this morning I almost I finished one - "Will You Walk Into My Parlour?" - which had potential and I wanted to give it a thumbs up. Finally finished it at lunch. In many ways, it is a good story; but I thought the end petered out - that, after 70 pages!

Why isn't anyone writing any responses? No one reading any novels? Anyone planning to attend the Dreiser commemorative at the community college in New York in June, 2006? I plan on being there.

Keep in touch...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some comments on Sister Carrie

1. Carrie likes nice stuff - clothes, jewelry, furniture, houses. She's not a "material girl" in the way we think of that term now, i.e., gathering stuff seemingly just for stuff's sake or measuring a person's value just by how much stuff she or he owns. Rather, Carrie likes nice stuff compared to being being destitute, having nothing, or barely enough to scrape by even after working 50 hours a week. After living with Drouett, Carrie passes some of her peers from the shoe factory, a job she lost to sickness. She compares her nice clothes (from Drouett) with the threadbare, unflattering garments the shopgirls are wearing. She doesn't want to revert to that condition. The world's a nicer place when your clothier is Ann Taylor or LL Bean rather than Dollar General or the Salvation Army thrift store. Carrie is torn about her relationship and dependence on Drouett, but she can't bear the thought of slipping back to a marginal existence under brutal employment. Would you? The desire and struggle for comfort is a critical drive with Drieser's characters; sometimes, it's all-consuming and it skews direction and blinds choices. For Carrie, a pathway opened up. She looked for an alternative, there wasn't any.

2. George Hurstwood's fate is interesting, and I don't think entirely plausible. As noted, he manages a bar/nightclub called Hanna & Hoggs and it is one of the places in Chicago. In Chicago, George is the man about town: he's at the theatre, the clubs, the restaurants, he's a glad-hander, he's generous, he's gracious and handsome and sends flowers and buys people drinks. But after moving to New York, George falters, his life slips into a slow, irreversible decline. Why? Why couldn't he become a first-class schmoozer like in Chicago? Some questions: Just what did George do prior to getting his manager's job? Did he just luck into that? He didn't own H&H. Apparently whatever his resume, it wasn't much good in New York. (Of course, there is the matter of the stolen $10,000 - but he did return most of that...) George is attractive and successful in Chicago just because he was lucky? External to such fortunate placement he was a loser. Not sure what all this means, or if it's entirely realistic.

3. Final comment on Carrie - she was completely unformed as a character. She was pushed and pulled with little resistance. She didn't think for herself. She sat in her rocking chair. Obviously, this was deliberate on Dreiser's part. I liken her to a stem cell - she could become anything, but there was very little to set her in one direction or another.

If you have any thoughts on Hurstwood's demise, I hope you'll respond.

[Still reading the short stories...]

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sister Carrie (cont.)

Well, hello again, and this will be "part two" of my very quick summary of "what happens" in Sister Carrie. After the summary, I want to make some comments.

My last post introduced the relationship between Carrie and Mr. Drouett. (Oh, importantly, I have to report that I had to take my copy of Carrie back to the library. So, my summary here is from memory. A few details may escape me...) Carrie and Drouett's was an important "friendship." But even more important is the relationship between Carrie and George Hurstwood.

George is Drouett's friend. Actually, George is friends with many people, many important people in Chicago. George is a playah. He manages a cool bar - referred to as a "resort", by Dreiser - called Hannah & Hoggs, a place well known to many of Chicago's movers and shakers. This place, actually this placement of George is important. It defines him and the form given to him by his standing as the manager is critical. Later he abandons his post with H & Hs when he and Carrie flee to Montreal and then New York City. George never recovers.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Drouett introduces George and Carrie, who casts a spell over George. Carrie is mildly interested. George thinks that Carrie and Drouett are married. That's one difficulty. Another is the fact that George is married; but this is not a happy example of "'til death do us part." In fact, George abandons his spouse, family, job, reputation, connections, everything he has, to run off with Carrie, whom he almost kidnaps in the night, under the pretense that Drouett is ill. Oh, and there is also a crime committed. In a series of great scenes George tricks Carrie and they leave Chicago, eventually residing in New York City. Once there, do they live happily ever after? Yeah, right. They do okay for a few years, i.e., George does OK. Carrie mostly sits around. But then George's business is sold and his life starts a downward spiral. He never recovers. Carrie has to find work. She gets a series of small parts in various theatrical productions. This modest start becomes the opportunity for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps, kind of a Horatio Alger success. She goes to the top; George sinks.

Well, dear reader, if you've read Sister Carrie, please pardon this brief summary that has left out all of Dreiser's masterful characterization, dynamics, psychology, tension, friendships, commentary, history and insight. I only present it in order to make a few comments on this remarkable tale of people and cities and work and economics and the way it was in 1900.

So where are the comments? Next post.

Very quickly, I have to return to the book of short stories that I referenced a few postings ago. I'm still reading it. Again, they are OK, not the best, not the worst. I'm going to try to finish them. Why, you ask? Don't have an answer for that.

Have a good weekend!