Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie was the first real book I've ever read in English. Needless to say, the combination of Dreiser being way over my head, my limited English skills and only so much patience an 11-year-old would have with a dictionary, I soon enough started getting distracted by the afternoon episodes of Duck Tales, and therefore my memory of this book has long been just a bit fuzzy. It was ready to shake up the moral standards of its time with the unacceptable storyline: a young poor provincial woman Carrie Meeber comes to Chicago, gets disillusioned with "honest" overworked poverty, and before you know it, shacks up with first one man, then another (a married one, at that), and far from being suitably punished for such an immoral approach to life becomes a successful celebrated actress rolling in riches. She instead is a moderately-talented, practical and a bit selfish young woman longing for the beauty of life which to her quite circumscribed middle-class mind consists of comfortable life in pretty clothes and beautiful apartment, surrounded by everything that glitters but is not necessarily gold. And yet Carrie does not need idealization or overwrought characterization to feel so real and alive through the pages of Dreiser's novel. And, unlike her almost-contemporaries Anna Karenina, Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary, Carrie does not pay the price of death for daring to live the life that does not conform to the pre-defined ideal; instead, she thrives - even if it in Dreiser's wistful vision does not live up to any high standards: Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. No, it's the idea of a big city - Chicago and New York - in the world just shaking off the confines of small towns in the agricultural society, the allure of fast life, of industry, of loud sounds and bright colors and frenzy of crowds of people, all in the several square miles of the vortex of human life, so beckoning and yet so coldly cruel. And so in Dreiser's description you can't help but feel both the alluring call and the warning caution of the fascinating world, still so new in those times, so fresh, so dangerous and so inevitable. --------- There was something about this book from over a century ago that continued to speak to me through the years, to fascinate me, to make me think and feel and experience things it needed me to.
Book Review 3 out of 5 stars to Sister Carrie, one of the greatest American novels of true realistic cum naturalistic tone, published in its final form in 1900 by Theodore Dreiser. All details were painfully described when it came to what was going on in their lives. People wanted to know what was going on all over the city, the country and the world. But if you want to know how things were during the 1870s - 1890s in American life, this book will show you. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world.
And as a woman I am interested in categorizing male authors according to their handling of women characters. And yet something about this book leaves one unsatisfied, a little deceived, a little cheated, with a distinct feeling of 'isn't there more?' She wanted pleasure, she wanted position, and yet she was confused as to what these things might be. Carrie never acts out of her own conviction in any goals, always, inevitably letting circumstances coerce her into action when all other avenues which allow her to maintain a glamorous, hassle-free existence have been exhausted. In addition, the novel seems like a mild indictment of the fatal lure of the big city with its frenetically-paced industrial hubs, jam-packed shopping districts and flourishing neighborhoods, the deceptive grandeur with its promise of wealth and social relevance to the starry-eyed, penniless newcomer that remains only ever that - a promise. Not all women are as lucky as Carrie, pretty enough to attract the attentions of rich men, willing to fund her wardrobe and house her, and eventually the stage. That Carrie was created by a male novelist in 1900 remains an impressive fact though.
There are two versions of Theodore Dreiser's book. 80 years later, the "Pennsylvania Edition" of the book came out. I think it magnificently portrays both human behavior and the reality of life in the 1890s of America as the nation moved from an agrarian existence toward urbanization. The book focuses on three people: Carrie Meeber(actress), Charles Drouet(salesman) and George Hurstwood(familyman?,manager?). This is a book that portrays reality. This book lies at the forefront of American Naturalism. That is exactly how Dreiser's book affects me .....but through words. Each voice fit the character, the dialog, the words. This book is not just about one woman and her determination to make her own life. I really, really liked this book.
Whether it be the tinkle of a lone sheep bell o'er some quiet landscape, or the glimmer of beauty in sylvan places, or the show of soul in some passing eye, the heart knows and makes answer, following. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel." To me this books speaks deeply: I must always warn myself against such blind strivings of the human heart.
In the words of Edmund Wilson, "Dreiser commands our respect; but the truth is he writes so badly that it is almost impossible to read him." Sister Carrie is a bad book. No, I mean Sister Carrie is simply bad writing. In large part, I blame the boredom on Dreiser's evident belief that "the common type of mind" (340) is merely a bundle of instincts and impressions. This common type apparently can't think for herself, so Dreiser's narrator has to do all the thinking for her.
I'll be the first to acknowledge that, as stylists go, Dreiser is among the least accomplished of major American novelists. Sister Carrie is brilliant because few if any authors can capture atmosphere or character as well as Dreiser, and in this novel, he is at his wisest and most perceptive.
While Dreiser certainly illustrates the precept of naturalist fiction to show the harshness of existence in the plight of Hurstwood, that HE dies in the end, as opposed to Carrie, I find slightly unusual for a novel of the time.