Theodore Dreiser's Political Writings

Lead Research Organisation: University of Winchester
Department Name: Faculty of Arts


While the political resonance of Theodore Dreiser's literary output has influenced its critical reception, the considerable political writing produced by Dreiser (1871-1945) throughout his career has been comparatively neglected. Dreiser produced political writing over a period of more than half a century, in various forms: magazine articles, interviews, essays, letters, speeches, and at length in three books, Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928), Tragic America (1931) and America is Worth Saving (1941). Always individualistic if habitually attracted to the left, Dreiser's political writings provide an idiosyncratic perspective on major controversies in the USA and internationally during the first half of the twentieth century, from anti-racism to birth control, from the redistribution of wealth to war resistance, as well as an illuminating parallel to the literary work for which he is best known. With the exception of a few reprinted excerpts, all of this material is long out of print. It has never been collected, nor systematically studied. The core aim of this research is to make available a representative selection of this material, providing authoritative texts and putting it in its historical contexts.
The edition of Dreiser's Political Writings will be divided into five chronologically organised chapters, which will outline a trajectory in Dreiser's political thinking, starting with progressive-era concerns with taxation reform, anti-racism, suffragism, and the curbing of corporate power, and ending with his attempts to reconcile anti-fascist with anti-war sentiments during World War II, culminating in a 1945 essay entitled 'Interdependence', in which, he argued, a month after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that only solidarity between individuals across lines of cultural difference could save civilization. Chapters two to four fill in the trajectory between these moments: Dreiser's engagement with Greenwich Village radicals such as Max Eastman and Emma Goldman in the 1910s and 1920s; the complex relationship with the USSR and communism that ensued upon his visit to Russia in 1927 to report to Americans on the Russian 'experiment' a decade after the 1917 Revolution; and more than a decade of agitating on specific causes, from the Scottsboro Boys to international peace, women's rights to prohibition, from the right of labour to organise, to the reform of US economic institutions.
While the historical importance of these issues is clear, many of them, especially those to do with gender, 'race', corporate power, and imperialism, continue to resonate in the contemporary world. The edition is contracted to the University of Illinois Press with the applicant as sole editor, as part of the ongoing Dreiser Edition. I will advance a further, more detailed understanding of the historical significance of Dreiser's political writing in conference papers by invitation of the International Theodore Dreiser Society at the 2007 American Literature Association Annual Conference, at the 2007 annual conference of the British Association for American Studies, and in an academic essay for publication in American Quarterly or the Journal of American Studies.


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Description Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) is a well-known and studied American novelist, most famous for the novels 'Sister Carrie' and 'An American Tragedy'. This project has brought to light Dreiser's political writing, making available material that was previously censored, unpublished, or long out of print.
As well as publishing this material. my volume of Dreiser's Political Writings includes an introduction and four historical essays, situating the corpus of Dreiser's political writing in four historical periods, suggesting its connections with his literary and philosophical work, and outlining its development over time.
At one level, the volume is the record of this literary figure's engagement with half a century of American and world history, from the Cuban war of independence in 1898 to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one that demonstrates the diversity of strands on the American left. At another level, as my commentaries demonstrate, Dreiser's ideas and perspectives have much contemporary relevance, in particular through his rejection of conventional ideas about political solidarity, and his exploration of ways of generating progressive action based on bridging individual differences.
Exploitation Route The Edition of Dreiser's Political Writings is aimed at providing the tools by which researchers can engage with the diversity and depth of Dreiser's political engagements.
This is leading to a re-evaluation of Dreiser's novels, and awaits further investigation on its own philosophical and political terms.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description My work has initiated a turn in the study of American literature to address Dreiser's political writings, both in their own right, and in approaching his published fiction. Hence my edition of the Political Writings is cited by Peter Mallios (University of Maryland) in his paper "Theodore Dreiser and the Presidential Election of 1912," (American Literature Association Annual Conference, 2013); and in Roark Mulligan's edition of Dreiser's novel 'The Titan' (forthcoming, Winchester University Press, 2015), and elsewhere.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural