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Sister Carrie (1900) is a novel by Theodore Dreiser about a young country girl who moves to the big city where she starts realizing her own American Dream, first as a mistress to men that she perceives as superior, and later becoming a famous actress. It has been called the "greatest of all American urban novels."
Characters Caroline Meeber, a.k.a. Carrie, a young woman from rural Wisconsin; the protagonist. Minnie Hanson, Carrie's dour elder sister who lives in Chicago and puts up Carrie on her arrival. Sven Hanson, Minnie's husband, of Swedish extraction and taciturn temperament. Charles H. Drouet, a buoyant traveling salesman Carrie meets on the train to Chicago. George W. Hurstwood, a well-to-do, sophisticated man who manages Fitzgerald and Moy's resort. Lola Osborne, a chorus girl Carrie meets during a theatre production in New York, who encourages Carrie to become her roommate.
Julia Hurstwood, George's strong-willed, social-climbing wife. Jessica Hurstwood, George and Julia's daughter, who shares her mother's aspirations to social status. George Hurstwood, Jr, George and Julia's son. Mr. and Mrs. Vance, a wealthy merchant and his wife, who live in the same building as Hurstwood and Carrie in New York City. Robert Ames, Mrs. Vance's cousin from Indiana, a handsome young scholar whom Carrie regards as a male ideal.
Publication history and response At the urging of his journalist friend Arthur Henry, Dreiser began writing his manuscript in 1899. He frequently gave up on it but Henry urged him to continue. From the outset, his title was Sister Carrie, though he changed it to The Flesh and the Spirit while writing it; he restored the original name once complete. Dreiser had difficulty finding a publisher for Sister Carrie. Doubleday & McClure Company accepted the manuscript for publication but it was withdrawn after the publisher's wife declared it too sordid. Dreiser insisted on publication and 1,008 copies were printed on November 8, 1900. The book was not advertised and only 456 copies sold. However, Frank Norris, who was working as a reader at Doubleday, sent a few copies to literary reviewers.
Between 1900 and 1980, all editions of the novel were of a second altered version. Not until 1981 did Dreiser's unaltered version appear when the University of Pennsylvania Press issued a scholarly edition based upon the original manuscript held by The New York Public Library. It is a reconstruction by a team of leading scholars to represent the novel before it was edited by hands other than Dreiser's. In his Nobel Prize Lecture of 1930, Sinclair Lewis said that "Dreiser's great first novel, Sister Carrie, which he dared to publish thirty long years ago and which I read twenty-five years ago, came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Whitman". In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Sister Carrie 33rd on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2013, Black Balloon Publishing released Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, a new version of Sister Carrie annotated by Tumblr literary critic Clementine the Hedgehog.
Style and genre Theodore Dreiser is considered one of America’s greatest naturalists, notable because he wrote at the early stages of the naturalist movement. Sister Carrie was a movement away from the emphasis on morals of the Victorian era and focused more on realism and the base instincts of humans.
Sister Carrie went against social and moral norms of the time, as Dreiser presented his characters without judging them. Dreiser fought against censorship of Sister Carrie, brought about because Carrie engaged in affairs and other “illicit sexual relationships” without suffering any consequences. This flouted prevailing norms, that a character who practiced such sinful behavior must be punished in the course of the plot in order to be taught a lesson. Dreiser has often been critiqued for his writing style. In 1930 Arnold Bennett said, “Dreiser simply does not know how to write, never did know, never wanted to know.” Other critics called his style “vulgar,” “uneven,” “clumsy,” “awkward,” and “careless.” His plotlines were also decried as unimaginative, critics citing his lack of education and claiming that he lacked intellectualism.
However, Alfred Kazin—while criticizing Dreiser’s style—pointed out that Dreiser’s novels had survived and remained influential works. Michael Lydon, in defense of Dreiser, claims that his patience and powers of observation created accurate depictions of the urban world and the desires and ambitions of the people of the time. Lydon said that Dreiser’s intent was to focus on the message of Sister Carrie, not on its writing style.
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