“‘Hm,’ he half groaned, clearing his throat. ‘Gee!’”

I begin by borrowing a line from Theodore Dreiser, the master himself, before setting out to consider the first of many issues that Dreiser’s extraordinary career poses— that of the relationship of style to art. It was his friend and early champion H. L. Mencken who once remarked that Dreiser had “an incurable antipathy to the mot juste” but that ain’t the half of it. Theodore Dreiser also had an aluminum ear (one down from tin), an unfailing penchant for the purple, an oafish wit, and the literary tact and lightness of touch of a rhinoceros. Who but Dreiser, in Sister Carrie, could cap a brief description of workers returning home on a winter’s night in Chicago by saying that the crowd was “a spectacle of warm-blooded humanity”? Only Dreiser, in An American Tragedy,...

 
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