Read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser Online


When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.'The tale of Carrie Meeber's rise to stardom in the theatre and George Hurstwood's slow decline captures the twin poles of exuberance and exhaustion in modern city life as neWhen a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.'The tale of Carrie Meeber's rise to stardom in the theatre and George Hurstwood's slow decline captures the twin poles of exuberance and exhaustion in modern city life as never before. The premier example of American naturalism, Dreiser's remarkable first novel has deeply influenced such key writers as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, and Joyce Carol Oates. This edition uses the 1900 text, which is regarded as the author's final version....

Title : Sister Carrie
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ISBN : 9780393960426
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 580 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Sister Carrie Reviews

  • Nataliya
    2019-06-22 08:15

    Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie was the first real book I've ever read in English. I was 11, my mother just bought me a brand-spanking-new English dictionary, and my school librarians finally let me roam the section of the library where normally kids were not allowed to wreck havoc in on their own. Awed by the idea of a big book in a language I just started to somewhat understand, I reached for it, just missing the much more age-appropriate Treasure Island - but then why'd you think I'd ever want to follow rules?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.And so I read it again with a set of grown-up eyeballs, sans dictionary this time, armed with a few more gray hairs (all twenty of them) and a hint of a wrinkle.------“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.”This book was quite scandalous for its times - vulgar, immoral, risqué. 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. Sordid, indeed! It's the American Dream shown in all its dirty unattractiveness, nothing covered up by the gilded pretentiousness of class-correctness and faux piety, with the scathing understanding of the evils of desolate hopeless poverty. Dreiser does not hold back, casually telling it how it is, without any preachiness or squeamishness. Sordid, indeed!“She knew that out in Chicago this very day the same factory chamber was full of poor homely-clad girls working in long lines at clattering machines; that at noon they would eat a miserable lunch in a half-hour; that Saturday they would gather, as they had when she was one of them, and accept the small pay for work a hundred times harder than she was now doing. Oh, it was so easy now! The world was so rosy and bright.”Dreiser does not cut his heroine any slack. There are no illusions about the personality of Carrie Meeber. She has no redeeming qualities of excessive piety, unearthly compassion, admirable selflessness, exceptional kindness, awe-inspiring talent. 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. Dreiser's descriptions of her mind and ambitions are frequently quite scathing:“Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic.”“And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things.”“Her imagination trod a very narrow round, always winding up at points which concerned money, looks, clothes, or enjoyment.”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. 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.”A woman without much agency, drifting on the waves of life that happen to take her into the direction of richness and fame? This was an accusation flung at Carrie from time to time. But consider that Carrie was never expected to have any agency whatsoever, instead expected to fulfill her role in society either as a pretty decoration or a choiceless drudge - and her refusal to accept these choices to me spells out enough agency to cause many a frown on the critics' faces in the early 1900s.Not an ideal woman? No, of course. But the rebellious, tenacious even if simple personality of Carrie Meeber just highlights the ridiculousness of the ideal itself (meek, docile, forever understanding, endlessly supportive, quietly content). She will paddle out no matter into which depths you throw her to drown, regardless of what means she has to use.------- Besides Carrie, it's not the pathetic figures of her suitors, Drouet and Hurstwood, that are at the center of the novel. 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."The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms."The city beckons and seduces, but refuses to nurture those it attracts. Carrie is left on her own, to fend for herself, to make her way in life - or rather, to drift on the waves of the stubborn stream of life, busy paddling along and trying not to drown. 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. And I loved it for all of that. 4 stars.

  • James
    2019-06-16 05:13

    Book Review3 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. Some of my favorite literature comes from this time period in American history. Writers took extreme liberties with creating the most realistic point of view and portrayal of characters who were living the American dream, or at least attempting to. All details were painfully described when it came to what was going on in their lives. It wasn't about how you brush your teeth from left to right, but it certainly came close. Feelings were clear. Words were prolific. It was less about the plot and drama, the shock and the surprise, but more about how people felt and interpreted all the actions around them. People wanted to know what was going on all over the city, the country and the world. Authors delivered. In this book, Carrie and her family, loved ones and friends, face all the experiences thrown at you when you become an adult. How you make decision. How you spend your day. It shows thru comparison and contrast what happened versus what could have happened. While I normally love this approach, this one was a tad bit dry for me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it was just a good book. I didn't feel connected to it as much as everyone else at the time. But if you want to know how things were during the 1870s - 1890s in American life, this book will show you.About MeFor those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at, 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 you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Khover
    2019-06-18 02:01

    I can't believe I am actually trying to read this again. This is an oft-flung book, which has fair aerodynamics and, the hardcover copy of which makes a satisfying "thunk" as it hits the wall.

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2019-06-14 05:58

    High school read. Recall it being extremely well-written albeit quite depressing - need to re-read!

  • Samadrita
    2019-06-09 03:03

    When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.That I prioritized 'Sister Carrie' over at least fifty other books high on the ever-expanding tbr list can be imputed to a matter of false advertising. The blurb hails Carrie as a modern woman in American fiction, a first of her kind (think Kate Chopin's The Awakening released just a year prior to this). A heroine who may have plummeted to the depths of social and moral ignominy and eventually died or killed herself, following the inexorably harsh laws governing 'fallen women' in literature, had she not achieved independent success in the end. And as a woman I am interested in categorizing male authors according to their handling of women characters. Sue me! Yet contrary to what indicated by the deceptive title, the book features very little of the eponymous heroine's trajectory often deviating to chronicle the narrative arcs of her lovers who, by turns, unwittingly aid and thwart her. In fact this is as much about Carrie Meeber's rise to prominence as a Broadway actress as it is about Hurstwood's downward spiral into eventual vagrancy and death on the streets of New York - a slow and gradual process which makes for a terrifying, bone-chilling spectacle and, for a while, threatens to steal the limelight from Carrie's growth story in entirety. In the sunshine of the morning, beneath the wide, blue heavens, with a fresh wind astir, what fears, except the most desperate, can find a harbourage? In the night, or the gloomy chambers of the day, fears and misgivings wax strong, but out in the sunlight there is, for a time, cessation even of the terror of death.That a male author condemned a male character to a fate of complete but uneventful ruination while simultaneously elevating a woman to a position of significance in society is a literary feat worthy of applause. 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. Every hour the kaleidoscope of human affairs threw a new lustre upon something, and therewith it became for her the desired-the all.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. She lets desperation be her guide instead of some 'soul hunger' (yes I am still suffering from a Middlemarch hangover) or a conscious desire for personal liberty. She is also never proactive in pursuing love, only ever responding to the advances of those who express romantic interest. Carrie's awakening is shown to be in its initial stages, never attaining maturation. And this is why I can't help but prefer assertive Edna over dilly-dallying, uncertain, easily-swayed-by-another's-opinion Carrie. The pitfalls of a lack of narrative focus and the structurally awkward, dry, doctor's-prescription-like prose notwithstanding, the novel has its redeeming facets. Dreiser's gift for character analysis is astonishing. With surgical precision he exposes the motivation at work behind every action and thought. As a consequence, the inner lives of all the characters are brilliantly replicated for the reader's benefit. 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. Ah, she was in the walled city now! Its splendid gates had opened, admitting her from a cold, dreary outside. She seemed a creature afar off-like every other celebrity he had known.That Carrie was created by a male novelist in 1900 remains an impressive fact though. For that, I doff my to you, Mr Dreiser!____P.S.:-From the desultory tone of my review and its utter lacklustreness you can probably infer how underwhelming I found the book.

  • kristin
    2019-06-21 07:15

    This is a classic that I could read over and over again. What a story! If you haven't read it, you should! The story not only captures the reader into the story, it gives you a deep sense of mans crazy nature. I just finished reading this one again. I first read it 7 years ago, and felt is was time to try it again. Dreiser really speaks to my soul!! "Oh Carrie, Carrie! Oh blind strivings of the human heart! Onward onward, it saith, and where beauty leads, there it follows. 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. It is when the feet weary and hope seems vain that the heartaches and the longing arises. Know, then, that for you it is neither surfeit nor content. 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. Focus on what is important. Our longings will tell us we want something that we do not have, but the truth is there if we realize it...if we do not want, we will have everything. Happiness is a state of mind, not a circumstance . Anyway I could go on and on, but I'll spare you my soap box. :)

  • Chrissie
    2019-06-10 10:25

    I listened to the Blackstone Audiobook which came out Nov 18, 2005. It is not registered here at GR. There are two versions of Theodore Dreiser's book. The original "Doubleday Edition" was published in 1900. This, the original, was in fact edited by his wife. It has 47 chapters. It was considered more easily accessible to the public; the harsh message of new American Naturalism softened. The Blackstone audiobook uses this version. 80 years later, the "Pennsylvania Edition" of the book came out. It restored what had been cut or altered in the original version. It has 50 chapters. It is considered harsher in tone. Having not read the "Pennsylvania Edition", I am unable to comment on that. What I can say is that the “Doubleday Edition” used by Blackstone is dark too. It takes a good hard look at human behavior. It is fully realistic. 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?). Three very different people. Each of these three is explored in depth. Their lives are intertwined, yet each chooses a different course to follow. Do we choose, or are we just unable to be other than ourselves? Life is hard for all three. This is a book that portrays reality. This book lies at the forefront of American Naturalism. Here is the gritty truth. For me each character was himself through and through, from start to finish. Wonderful character portrayal. There is no humor. You don't need it in this book.Magnificent dialog. Do you like the works of Edward Hopper? You know you often look through a large window out into another world, be it a bar or a landscape or whatever. There is clarity to what you see. Sharp and clear and you watch. That is exactly how Dreiser's book affects me .....but through words. The audiobook narration by C.M. Hebert was totally magnificent. Perfect in all ways - speed, tone, intonations. Feelings are expressed. A voice quavers, another is jolly. One has confidence. 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. It is also about what that demands. What are the consequences? How do we go after a goal with dignity? And Carrie is no more sure of herself than you or I. We are also given two others - Drouet and Hurstwood. I found them equally interesting! I really, really liked this book.

  • Jonathan
    2019-06-19 04:24

    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. Not morally bad, unfortunately. That at least would make it interesting. In that respect, nothing in this book would be out of place in a Progressive lecture on social purity. This line from the first page sets the tone: "When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse." Why anyone bothered to censor something this priggish is beyond me. No, I mean Sister Carrie is simply bad writing. Dreiser never shows if he can tell, and he never tells if he can grandiloquesce. Dreiser's characters are clichés. None ever has a fully formed, let alone interesting, thought; they limit themselves to dim impressions of either the obvious or the implausible. I am not sure that it is possible for a real human being to be as boring as these characters. 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. Humans are not actually like that.In any case, Dreiser's prose is unpardonable. I marked down a few examples. "As a result, a train of gossip was set going which moved about the house in that secret manner common to gossip" (131). ... "In short, for the time being he walked in a lighter atmosphere and saw all things through a more rosy medium. It might have been said of him, under these circumstances, that he was truly in love" (132). ... "As he undid his collar and unfastened his studs preparatory to washing his face and changing his clothes, he dilated upon his trip" (135). ... "Oh, the drag of the culmination of the wearisome. How it delays, -- sapping the heart until it is dry" (140).I gave up on page 345 of the Penguin edition, with 154 pages to go.

  • Jacob Appel
    2019-05-25 03:09

    I returned to this book after nearly two decades away and I found it as juicy and engrossing as ever.I'll be the first to acknowledge that, as stylists go, Dreiser is among the least accomplished of major American novelists. Maybe only John O'Hara compares, if he's even still considered a major author. Dreiser's word choice is no more precise than that of a Ouija board, his sentences as vibrant as chewed galoshes. But reading Dreiser for his wordsmithery is like visiting Casablanca for the waters, or buying Playboy for the articles -- it rather misses the point. Similarly, Dreiser often relies upon too easy a plot device...the open safe in Sister Carrie, the identical initials in An American Tragedy, etc.. So I acknowledge all of that at the outset and still think this holds its own as a masterpiece more than a century after publication. 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. Who but Dreiser could capture the silent oppression of Minnie Hanson's flat, the fragile coexistence that defines Hurstwood's domestic life, the befuddled romantic gamesmanship of Drouet...? It's all too easy to dismiss this work as a period piece or an historical artifact, when a reader willing to take the novel on its own terms will find a deeply insightful examination of human foibles and fantasies. This one is a classic for a reason!

  • Miranda
    2019-05-31 05:23

    Theodore Dreiser and Emile Zola are both in the naturalist camps of literature, and indeed, I found many similarities between Sister Carrie and Nana. The major difference however, is that Dreiser choses to lead Hurstwood, his formerly affluent male protagonist to a bitter, self-induced end in a flophouse (reminiscent of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth), while Carrie, a lowerclass woman who, it could be argued, does bad things for money and material gain, moves up the socio-econimic ladder to a position of security and respectable reknown. In contrast, Zola exemplifies the naturalist theory that heredity determines fate, and accordingly, his protagonist, the courtesan Nana, dies a horrific death, alone and unloved. 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. Yay for one morally quesionable female protagonist making it to the end of a 19th-century novel alive!

  • Jason Pettus
    2019-06-13 06:25

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the labelEssay #31: Sister Carrie (1900), by Theodore DreiserThe story in a nutshell:One of the last Victorian-style morality tales to make a big splash, Theodore Dreiser's 1900 Sister Carrie tells the story of late teen and rural Wisconsinite Caroline Meeber, who at the beginning of the novel moves to bustling post-Fire Chicago to start making a name for herself, staying at first with her sister Minnie and her dour Swedish husband over in the city's blue-collar west side. But alas, life in the pre-workers-rights Windy City is not exactly the bed of roses she thought it would be, with Carrie finding herself slaving away in dangerous sweatshops for almost no pay on the rare occasions she can find any work at all, becoming more afraid each day of turning into the hard, humorless housewife her older sister has become; so when she starts receiving gifts and attention from local middle-class playboy Charles Drouet, Carrie jumps at the chance, eventually even agreeing to live with him and accept an allowance even though Drouet is in not much of a mood to marry (one of the many "shocking" details that got this book banned when it first came out).Eventually, though, Carrie's charms become too tempting for Drouet's acquaintance George Hurstwood, a married retail manager living a comfortable existence up in Lincoln Park, who especially after watching Carrie's unexpectedly successful performance in a community play starts falling in love with her, eventually convincing her to leave Drouet on the promise that he will instead do the right thing and marry her (conveniently of course omitting the fact that he is already married and with children). Through a series of implausible plot developments, then (easy money stolen on a whim one night while drunk, flight from the law, a return of the money but subsequent social disgrace), the couple find themselves in 1890s New York, trying to resume a comfortable domestic life but with this becoming more and more difficult, due to the current recession and Hurstwood's lack of business contacts in this cold east-coast city. It's at this point that the plot essentially splits into two, as we watch Hurstwood's rather spectacular fall into destitution (the spending of his reserves, his stint as a train-conductor scab during a violent union strike, his eventual descent into homeless vagrancy), even as Carrie's fortunes improve just as dramatically, eventually leaving Hurstwood for a rising career on Broadway, the book ending with her rich and famous but still unhappy, and still unsure of what she wants out of life in the first place.The argument for it being a classic:The main reason this book should be considered a classic, argue its fans, is for the groundwork it laid for the literature that came right after it; because even though it was published right on the tail end of the Victorian Age, it in fact contains many of the seeds that would become the trademarks of Modernism a mere two decades later, things like an embrace of moral relativism and more prurient subject matter, not to mention a much more naturalistic writing style. In fact, it's no coincidence that Dreiser is considered one of the founders of the Naturalist school of literary thought (best typified anymore by European author Emile Zola, a writer Dreiser is often compared to), a movement similar to the Realism of Henry James and Edith Wharton of the same time period, in that both attempted to strip fiction of the flowery, overwritten purple prose so indicative of the Victorian Era. If not for the bold stylistic experiments of people like Dreiser, his fans argue, we would've never had the more perfected stylings of people like Henry Miller or William Faulkner just one generation later; and if not for his embrace of more modern subject matter (because let's never forget, this was one of the very first American novels to become known precisely for its sordid content and subsequent censorship), it would've never been possible for F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to write their truly transgressive books a mere twenty years later.The argument against:Ironically, critics of this book argue nearly the exact opposite of its fans: that despite it being written a mere two decades before the explosive birth of Modernism, it remains a badly dated relic of Victorianism, not a harbinger of things to come but a perfect example of the kind of tripe the Modernists were precisely railing against. And indeed, no matter what you think of Dreiser's appropriate place in history, it's hard to deny that his actual prose is awfully heavy-handed; despite his embrace of such modern concepts as unmarried couples "living in sin" and that some women might actually be better off as entertainment-industry floozies, the actual writing found in Sister Carrie is riddled with the exact kind of ponderous, directly-talking-to-the-audience nonsense that makes up the worst of Victorian literature, the kind of Bible-quoting finger wagging that we now cite when making fun of the genre. There's a very good reason that Dreiser was such a polarizing figure during his own lifetime, with conservative professors extolling his work and young rabble-rousers thumbing their noses at it; and that's because, critics argue, Dreiser was the last gasp of a form of the arts violently killed off during the first half of the 20th century, making him merely a minor footnote in history whether one is discussing Romanticism or Modernism.My verdict:So before anything else, let me make it clear what a delight this book was from a purely historical standpoint, and especially as a fellow Chicagoan; his description of how chaotic and exciting the Loop is on a Monday morning, for example, is so spot-on perfect that it could've literally been written yesterday, while his description of a lonely Garfield Park existing out in the middle of the wilderness, nothing around it except for a series of dirt roads and an occasional farmhouse, will be enough to make most locals' hearts flutter in nostalgic wonder. But that said, Sister Carrie may be the best example yet of one of the surprising conclusions I've discovered while writing this "CCLaP 100" essay series -- of just how relative and transitory our entire definition of "literary classic" actually is, given that the term is supposed to denote books that have a timeless quality. Because the fact of the matter is that throughout the entire first half of the 20th century, Dresier was breathlessly revered by the academic community in the same way they currently fawn over, say, John Updike, and in fact it's rare to find someone over the age of 60 these days who wasn't forced to read one of Dreiser's books back in high school or college themselves (usually An American Tragedy, his most famous).The reason, then, that in the early 2000s he is only known anymore by the most hardcore book-lovers out there is because what his critics claim is sadly but undeniably true: that although to Modernist eyes in the '50s and '60s Dreiser seemed merely stuffy and dated, to our own Postmodernist eyes his work is nearly unreadable, the exact kind of 19th-century fussy finery that 20th-century literature stamped out once and for all. It's nearly impossible in fact to read Sister Carrie anymore strictly for pleasure, with for example this book's listing at Goodreads littered with nightmarish accounts of people trying dozens of times to get through it, just to have the book disintegrate into pieces from the number of times they frustratingly threw it against the wall; like I said, although it was fascinating from a bibliophilic standpoint, and indeed did pave the way for the Modernist stories that came after it, it is in absolutely no way able to hold its own anymore as a simple tale to be enjoyed in a simple way. It's a perfect example of an argument I've been making more and more in this essay series, that the determination of whether or not a book is a "classic" is a much slippier notion than most of us realize; and that's why, although I myself personally enjoyed it, I have absolutely no hesitation in coming down on the "no" side of the classic question today.Is it a classic? No

  • aggie
    2019-06-13 05:06

    Carrie's first vision of Chicago is something many of us experience on Friday nights while driving into the city, excited about whatever the night might hold. The rollercoaster of hope and desolation coursing throughout the book was as much a part of life at the turn of the 20th century as it is at the turn of the 21st.

  • Elizabeth (Alaska)
    2019-06-17 06:08

    From the description, I expected this to be a fallen woman story. It is so much more than that. Carrie was young and innocent when she escaped small town Wisconsin for big city Chicago. So young - and especially so timid - that she did not know she could have hopes and dreams, let alone fulfill them. It has been a few dozen years since I was Carrie's age, but I can relate fully to that not knowing.Dreiser's prose is simple, but his dialogue realistic. In fact, I see he is listed at Writer's Home as being in the group of realism writers. I think I read somewhere that he was grouped with the naturalists, and I can see that also. At one point while reading, I thought of Zola. The Zola analogy, though, is more due to the storyline. This is Dreiser's debut and it is one heck of a story. Unfortunately, Dreiser spoils the strength of his story by moralizing with the ending. It seems to me, that if you tell you story well enough, and you respect your readers enough, you do not need to spend the last half dozen pages explaining the meaning behind what you just said. I will look for another Dreiser where I expect another strong story. This one was a solid four stars, but without pretensions of being five.

  • Werner
    2019-06-02 07:23

    This is another book I read for background information on American Literature, back when we were homeschooling our girls. I hadn't read any of Dreiser's novels, and chose this over An American Tragedy since I'm not attracted to tragedy, as a rule. The plot here isn't without its tragic elements, but my three-star rating (which actually would be 3 1/2 if I could give half stars), which expresses solid liking, demonstrates that I don't regret the read!As the Goodreads description suggests, the plot here concerns a young farm girl who comes to Chicago (where a married sister of hers already lives) to seek her fortune and is seduced, early on, into sexual sin. That isn't, however, the whole of the plot; and despite the 12-year delay in publishing the book mentioned above, for fear its contents would cause "offense," this isn't pretentious smut nor propaganda for sexual licentiousness (quite the contrary, actually). Indeed, its treatment of sexual matters did not appear to me to be any more racy than that of some 19th-century classics that preceded it, and I was a bit at a loss to account for the censorious reaction. To be sure, this is a treatment not directly conceived in Christian terms; like the author, Carrie's orientation is pretty much secular ("Sister Carrie" is just a family nickname used by her siblings, not a religious reference), so unlike Hester in the The Scarlet Letter, for instance, she doesn't interpret her situation in spiritual terms. Also, (view spoiler)[unlike the female protagonists of some 19th-century cautionary tales, she isn't destroyed by the consequences of her lapse; instead, she learns from her mistakes and goes on to make something of herself (hide spoiler)]; while a male's surrender to lust ruins him, which perhaps didn't suit the flagrant double standards of the day in literature and life. But Dreiser's treatment is completely tasteful and restrained, devoid of anything like explicit sex or obscenity. More importantly, while he isn't throwing stones at people, it's clear from the get-go that he doesn't sympathize with sexual predation, and that he regards some of Carrie's choices as mistaken.That last clause leads into another point that struck me personally. The conventional critical wisdom is that Dreiser is a Naturalist, an exponent of a literary school that portrays humans as puppets of the same purely biological drives and instincts that rule the animals. As Goodreads' "About Theodore Dreiser" quotes Wikipedia, "He pioneered the naturalist [sic] school and is known for portraying... literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency." Now, this is the only Dreiser novel I've read; my prior acquaintance with him was limited to a couple of his short stories. His larger corpus, considered as a whole, might well place him in the Naturalist camp. But on the narrow evidence of this novel alone, his themes here strike me as, at the crucial points, aware of choice and agency. Of course, he makes the point that humans very often don't really think about their behavior (though he thinks they should), and may lack the psychological equipment to do so; and he doesn't doubt the role of "inborn desire" (referring to it twice in one page). But he also doesn't discount the role of free will; in one of his short philosophical digressions, he suggests that in humans today, it wars with instinct, neither of them having total mastery. (In Darwinist fashion, he looks for the day when "evolution" will give total victory to the will.) His characters here DO make choices, change directions, learn lessons (or fail to learn them); there is a kind of social and psychological inertia and force of habit that can carry them with it but doesn't have to. And the biggest factor in what happens to them is whether they make decisions for themselves --and what sort of decisions they make. So I'd argue that he comes across here as, perhaps, a qualified rather than an extreme Naturalist.The literary style here is mostly straightforward, realistic narration and dialogue (the author makes a good use of a dream sequence in one place). Drieser's diction is that of the turn of the 20th century, still literate but more simple and direct than that of the early 19th century; it shouldn't be daunting to a modern reader, IMO. His storyline meets Thomas Hardy's dictum, that it must be "worth telling;" and it's told in a way that held my interest. All three main characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional. As a heroine, Carrie (like the rest of us) isn't perfect, and she's so naive in the first half or so of the book that I wanted to shake her by the shoulders a couple of times; but it was a friendly frustration, because I genuinely liked her, cared about her welfare and rooted for her, and greatly enjoyed her personal growth under Dreiser's deft hand. And perhaps ironically, given Dreiser's 12-year battle with censorship and the "influence" mentioned in the description on later 20th-century writers (whose reading of the book may have been more influenced by preconceived ideas about it than by what it actually says!), I found this a genuinely moral novel with a constructive message.

  • Steve
    2019-06-09 10:05

    Until a few weeks ago, Sister Carrie wasn’t even on my guilt pile. I was finally moved to pick the book up after seeing that it was at the top of a handwritten “you must read” list by William Faulkner. (A Facebook thing.) Until that time, I think I had always thought, vaguely, but also without reading experience proof, of Theodore Drieser as a dour sour writer from the depressing “Gilded Age.” And, now after the reading, especially after the last 75 pages or so death march of a major character, I guess I wasn’t far off the mark in that assessment. Still, that said, I view Sister Carrie as a first rate novel, an American classic in every sense of the word. Drieser, it seems, was a great reader first. Hardy, Tolstoy, Balzac, and other masters of realism, were his guides. The influences are obvious, but the synthesis is complete. He was his own writer. Drieser’s artistic balance and eye for psychological detail and nuances were considerable, as displayed in the first remarkable paragraphs of the Sister Carriel, where the reader is first introduced to a young Wisconsin girl, Carrie Meeber, who is on a train, nervously heading toward Chicago.It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years or age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterized her given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What pray, is a few hours a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister's address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.When a girls leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility. The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soul fullness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of to the astonished scenes in equivocal terms. Without a counselor at hand to whisper cautious interpretation what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognized for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then wakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence she was a fair example of the middle American class two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small were set flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoiter the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject the proper penitent, groveling at a women's slipper.Everything you need to know about Carrie, along with Drieser’s sense of what Art should be, is contained in these paragraphs. Carrie is a very real person, but Drieser, especially as the novel progresses also uses her as vehicle for his own thoughts on Naturalism or Realism (don’t get me started on THAT). This natural sense of self, uncluttered by romantic notions, will eventually be the source of Carrie’s power as an actress. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the very next lines, Carrie meets the drummer (sales man), Charles Drouet, a good looking, generally kind , but also selfish man who loves the girls. A dude. He flirts with Carrie, gets nowhere, but is able to give her his card, and get her address. That exchange of information will become useful shortly.Carrie is met at the station by her sister, who takes her home. Carrie will live with her sister and brother-in-law while she gets herself established. But Carrie has no experience, and she’s not the most practical of girls. She gets off on the wrong foot with her sister and brother-in-law by wanting to go see a show at the theater. (Not nose-to-grindstone for those two pinched people.) She also takes a poorly paying, and physically demanding, job at a factory. She immediately starts thinking of Drouet. Carrie soon gets sick, loses her job, but also encounters Drouet, who basically takes her away to live with him (which must have been fairly daring at the time). Drouet is good to Carrie, giving her a place to live, and clothes to wear. What he won’t do is marry her. He keeps delaying this step, while at the same time introducing her to others as his “wife.” Carrie craves this one social anchor, and some resentment toward Drouet soon forms.Drouet eventually introduces Carrie to G.W. Hurstwood (“George”), the manager of a prestigious Chicago bar. As a character, Hurstwood comes close to being the central of character of the novel. He’s not very likable. Manipulative, bored with his home life, and well paid for not doing much, he initially strikes the reader as something of a predator. Hurstwood is basically an old bartender who made out. His employers trust him, and the high end bar he runs basically runs itself. His home life has grown static, as both his wife and kids look to him for money and little else. By the time Carrie comes along, Hurstwood, who is about 40, and seemingly buttoned down, is ready for some Middle Age Crazy. Carrie does intrigue him, and he nibbles and flirts around the edges of Drouet and Carrie’s relationship. What pushes it over the edge is an unforeseen opportunity for Carrie.Drouet is a member of the Elk Club. The club, in a fund raising effort, needs an actress for an amateur production of a play. Unexpectedly, Carrie stands out, and powerfully. This is probably the weakest device in the novel. Dreiser would have us believe that Carrie is a natural at acting. Fair enough. But the rave, Jesus-on-the-Mount responses of the audience, not to mention Hurstwood’s throw-it-all to the wind decision, seem improbable. But this weakness is well cloaked in the characters he has already established, so it is totally believable that both Hurstwood and Drouet are seeing Carrie the person and not Carrie the pretty object for the first time. On that level, the performance, and the reactions it produces, is, I suppose, believable.What follows is a love triangle, with the dim Drouet finally figuring out that something is going on. The not-so-dim Mrs. Hurstwood also figures out George has been up to something (though by modern day standards, it’s pretty mild stuff). It all quickly falls to ashes for Hurstwood, and he makes a bad decision involving $10,000 of bar money, and , via some artful lies, he essentially kidnaps Carrie and flees Chicago. A reluctant Carrie eventually settles for this arrangement, while finally exacting an exchange of wedding vows with Hurstwood. Curiously, Carrie never asks about whether Hurstwood is committing bigamy. I wondered, at the time, if this would be some sort of dark turn for Carrie’s character. Not so. For the next few years, the couple make a go of it in New York, with Hurstwood managing a bar – though it’s not the cushy arrangement he once had.Eventually, that too falls apart, and Hurstwood loses his stake in the enterprise. Hurstwood and Carrie are now caught in a downward spiral, and Hurstwood is unwilling to work at jobs he considers beneath him. The one go-to, bar tending, he simply dismisses. Carrie however, via a pretty neighbor, meets Bob Ames, a scholar from Indiana (and probably an authorial stand-in for Dreiser). Ames is no phony, and his few comments regarding art and the theater, light a fire in Carrie. After the disappointments of life with Drouet and Hurstwood, Ames represents a truth and beauty that Carrie had, up until this point, only vaguely sensed. A sharper focus has now been provided. With it, Carrie tries to break in to acting. She eventually is able to land a job as a chorus girl, and it’s not long before she is recognized, and elevated. A star is born.Meanwhile Hurstwood continues to goes downhill, and that process accelerates when Carrie finally leaves him. Drieser’s brick by brick dismantling of Hurstwood is one of the most thorough in literature. He’s one of those characters that at one point, earlier on, you want to see get some payback. Oh, he does, and more. You would have to have a heart of stone to be pulling against him by novel’s end. But Dreiser’s critique here is social – and inexorable. It’s not a matter of pulling for good guys or bad guys, it’s just reality of the late 20th Century American kind. There’s a poignant counterpoint toward the end of the story, that Dreiser frames beautifully. Carrie, in her high and luxurious tower, is trying to keep her connection with the natural world by reading Balzac (per Ames suggestion), while her former “husband” is struggling to survive in the mean streets below. One is doomed, and the other occupies a glittering, but also brittle and fragile world. One added irony, that goes beyond the boundaries of the novel, is that the actress Dreiser probably modeled Carrie after, Middie Maddern Fiske, would also die in poverty.

  • Alex
    2019-06-07 05:27

    Here's a quiz: which of the following are real examples of the overwrought chapter titles in Sister Carrie?a. Convention's Own Tinder-Box: The Eye That Is Greenb. Transformers: Dark of the Moonc. When Waters Engulf Us We Reach For The Starsd. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a Kinge. In a Priest Driven Ambulance (with Silver Sunshine Stares)f. In Elf Land Disporting: The Grim World Withoutg. The Blaze of the Tinder: Flesh Wars With the Fleshh. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (answers in first comment below)Anyway. This unsexed book is about Carrie, who will not work. She shacks up with a couple of men instead, and there's its revolution: Dreiser doesn't judge her, and (view spoiler)[she won't end up on a train platform. Here is one of the first women who get to fuck and live (hide spoiler)] - although I'm guessing about the fucking. You get the unusual sense that Dreiser may not understand how the birds and bees operate.He doesn't understand writing terribly well either. Saul Bellow recommends that you not linger over the sentences; they won't reward you. Blaze through the first half as quick as you can. The story builds a grinding momentum, and it's rewarding, but it does take its sweet time. Dreiser can write a book, but he can't write a sentence.In A New Literary History of America, Farah Jasmine Griffin imagines a meeting between Carrie and Lily Bart of The House of Mirth, and that's a great idea. They have their similarities. They arrive in the city with nothing but their looks. They're painfully sensitive. They both live in unforgiving worlds, but they make different decisions about how to navigate them. Carrie is tougher. She goes much deeper into the world than Lily does; she sees it all, from top to bottom. Griffin thinks she's more groundbreaking. Sister Carrie isn't as good a book as House of Mirth (not many are), but Carrie has something going on.It ends (view spoiler)[ambiguously. Not for Hurstwood, who has an affair with her, marries her, and falls completely apart. But for Carrie, who still hasn't done any work. She sees herself mostly through other men, and it's fancy scholar Ames who gives her the final cut: "If I were you," he says, "I'd change." Which is a sick burn. Dreiser seems to dismiss her: "in your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel." She's not exactly passive: she makes most of her more important decisions for herself. She decides. But she doesn't really do, and that's what Ames and Dreiser are mad about: they expect better from her, in sortof a clucking dad way. (hide spoiler)]It's an odd book. Despite its unsexiness it raised an uproar when it was published; Carrie lives out of wedlock, and worse, and folks were pretty scandalized about what their imaginations filled in. Dreiser hoped that when it "gets to the people, they will understand, because it is a story of real life, of their lives." It was published in 1900 and served as part of the vanguard, with Wharton and Henry James, that dragged novels out of the moralizing 1800s. It has no grace and little subtlety, but it has force.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-06-15 05:14

    My best Joel has a mate named Bob who now teaches at Rutgers. The fellow refers to himself as "new Bob" as he's eternally disposed to reinvention and further development. Years ago he vowed that he wasn't going to approach any literature composed after 1920: why, was his question, when there was so much of quality written before. That sounded like a great idea. My will collapsed in pursuit of something similar after the better part of a month, I read Sister Carrie, The Secret Agent and The Good Solider. The first pair truly moved me. I soon lapsed and while I think about it from time to time, my habits avoid such restriction.Dreiser was wonderful. He was also from Terre Haute where Joel earned his master's and consequently I drank a great deal of beer. Carrie's plight was something palpable. Her choices completely human. The conclusion was affecting and while I have pondered reading more Dreiser, I haven't. Not yet.

  • Cassy
    2019-06-04 09:05

    I love that this book could have been so trashy, but transcended it all. Close your eyes and imagine this story: back in the olden days, an unsophisticated country girl goes to the big city and climbs the ranks of society as a rich man’s mistress. If a contemporary book boasted this plot, I’d pass. A lesson learned from Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber. But that plot presented in a classic? Brilliant! Depressing, evocative, complex! Naturalist genius! Sure, it was scandalous when it was published in 1900. Now in the era of MTV’s Jersey Shore, this book looks pretty darn classy. I couldn’t discern the need for 1900’s censorship until midway through when the book started down an unexpected path. The beginning and ending of the book reminded me of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There is some moralizing and philosophy, but it is light-handed. The middle section was reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. Just like Wharton and Tolstoy, Dreiser impressed me with his deep understanding of people. He nailed the human psyche. This book paints all its characters gray. You want to despise them, but they are not malicious enough to deserve it. You want to hug them, but keep them at arms' length because they still infuriate you. Further evidence that the characters drove this book: I bought it at a used bookstore. I am sure I flipped through it to make sure it was not bleeding with highlighter ink. During this cursory glance, I didn’t notice that Jamie (the previous owner who had kindly written his/her androgynous name inside the cover) had written a handy summary at the start of the chapter he/she had just read. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but read the summaries in their red ink and tidy handwriting. So, I always knew what was coming. And guess what? It didn’t matter! These constant spoilers would probably have killed a Dan Brown book. But here it wasn’t about plot twists or action. It was about development! What was Carrie thinking to reach that decision? Or, okay, they become destitute in the next ten pages – how does that happen?!?Minute annoyance and mild spoiler: Remember when Hurstwood estimated he needed to make $150 a week at the NYC salon in order to live comfortably? They had the nice six-room flat with a servant. They went to the theater occasionally. Things were good, right? Fast-forward to when Claire starts making $150 a week – and all of the sudden, she cannot afford to support Hurstwood in the smaller, crumbier flat? That made no sense to me. She must have been spending an exorbitant amount on clothing and/or cost of living sky-rocketed within a few years. Or Dreiser’s editor was distracted? Or Dreiser wanted to subtly point out that Carrie wasn’t so good natured after all? I am sticking to the sloppy editor theory.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-05-28 07:17

    Published in 1900, this book is credited with having an impact on the course of American literature. Dreiser's sparse style depicts the realities of everyday city life (Chicago and New York) at the turn of the 19th Century in a way that seems to hide nothing. It thus allows the reader to feel that they can see the characters as they really are. The novel does not judge the behavior of the characters in the story. But rather it simply lays out the story of their actions for the reader to ponder. Carrie is a woman dealt a bad hand, who determines to make the most of what she has, seizing opportunity when it is offered. Charles Drouet is a pleasure seeker, a mixture of the vulgar and the appealing. And George Hurstwood experiences what we now call a mid-life crisis and ends up losing everything in his pursuit of happiness. Of the three protagonists living in the big City, one is destroyed, one rises to the top, and the third passes through unscathed. Success appears to have nothing to do with being good or bad. But rather, people strive to do their best and things happen.

  • Emily
    2019-06-04 03:58

    Sister Carrie is one of a specific handful of American novels that I learned about in school, but (until now) never actually read. Along with those of Upton Sinclair, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Edward Bellamy and to a certain extent Stephen Crane, the works of Theodore Dreiser were always presented to me as more important to history than interesting as literature - not exactly the kind of ringing endorsement that inspires a person to run out and buy a book today. These authors were exposing social ills and introducing literary naturalism; they were unafraid to confront the American public with previously-taboo topics like the lives of prostitutes, or corrupt business interests. But lord, implied my high-school textbooks, were they ever dry and boring. Even in English classes, these authors were lauded mainly for paving the way for those writing after them, who took the social freedoms they pioneered and added a livelier prose style and a more compelling cast of characters. Recently, thinking about everything ELSE my high-school textbooks got wrong, I began to wonder if this generation of authors are really as unreadable as all that, and figured I should do my own bit of experimentation. Sister Carrie was my first foray into this early-20th-century American naturalist enclave, and it was an enlightening journey.First of all, let me say that I can understand why Dreiser has been neglected. I would describe his prose as "utilitarian": it gets the job done, but doesn't involve any pyrotechnics. With the likes of Hemingway and Welty bursting onto the American scene a few short decades later, I can see why Dreiser's businesslike approach came to seem outdated and clunky. It's an odd, transitional-seeming style: more journalistic and less ornamented than your purple Victorian prose, yet not so aggressively streamlined or giddily experimental as the work of many Modernists. The place smelled of the oil of the machines and the new leather - a combination which, added to the stale odours of the building, was not pleasant even in cold weather. The floor, though regularly swept every evening, presented a littered surface. Not the slightest provision had been made for the comfort of the employees, the idea being that something was gained by giving them as little and making the work as hard and unremunerative as possible. What we know of footrests, swivel-back chairs, dining-rooms for the girls, clean aprons and curling irons supplied free, and a decent cloak room, were unthought-of. The washrooms were disagreeable, crude, if not foul places, and the whole atmosphere was sordid.(I chose this passage because it gives a fair idea of Dreiser's style, but also because I think it's hilarious that "clean aprons and curling irons supplied free" would be an item on the agenda for workers' rights. Where have my free curling irons been all these years of working, I'd like to know?)I can also understand the criticism of Dreiser's characters for being undeveloped or unsympathetic, but I think he's actually making a conscious choice here: his super-naturalistic narrative method, combined with some cynicism about people rationalizing their own laziness, means that this is more a novel about circumstances acting on players than about individuals taking control of their own destinies. The young protagonist, Carrie, moves to the big city and quickly becomes overwhelmed with how hard a working-class woman has to labor in order to earn her living. When she's presented with the opportunity of being taken care of by a man and living with him out of wedlock, she drifts into it without ever taking decisive action. Similarly, Drouet (the young man) never plans to lure Carrie into a life of sin; he just finds it distasteful to be tied down in a real marriage, and so puts off the wedding indefinitely. The other characters drift similarly through their lives, finding reasons not to disrupt the momentum that has built up around them. I think Dreiser, like many socially- or socialist-minded writers, is using Carrie, Drouet and Hurstwood as Everyman characters; his book is more a portrait of the material conditions and social forces in turn-of-the-century Chicago and New York than of particular individuals within those cities. I wrote in my thoughts on The Good Earth that this universalizing approach is not my favorite novelistic technique; I tend to prefer stories with highly-individualized characters and distinctive narrative voices, not to mention innovative, well-crafted prose. Nevertheless, it's a tribute to Dreiser's storytelling ability that I had a hard time putting Sister Carrie down. He uses the tools at his disposal in compelling, sometimes surprising ways: one of my favorites was the way in which he played the characters off each other, enlisting the reader's sympathy first for one, then for another. All three of the main characters act very poorly at certain points, and all three fall prey to the lure of habit and drift along in their unsatisfactory lives for painfully long periods before they are finally spurred to make some kind of change. As a reader, I found myself either frustrated with or cheering for all three characters in sequence as the novel progressed. And although any given character may be acting badly at a certain juncture, the fact that I had been rooting for them only fifty pages earlier meant that none of the three was every wholly unsympathetic. In fact, Dreiser works so hard to keep Carrie, Drouet and Hurstwood emotionally accessible to the reader, even at their most selfish and unlikeable, that I was reminded of the work of contemporary writers like Toni Morrison and Dorothy Allison - writers who make a point of empathizing with characters usually beyond the pale. I remember how conflicted I felt, reading Morrison's The Bluest Eye, at the author's empathic portrayal of a father who rapes his own daughter, and I wonder whether readers in 1900 would have found Dreiser's subject matter to be equally shocking and conflicting. Probably so, judging by its history: it was withdrawn from publication for being "too sordid," and only after Dreiser cut many suggestive passages did Doubleday agree to publish the expurgated version. In another triumph for Norton Critical Editions, I read the appended catalog of the passages cut in the initial publication, which was fascinating. To my surprise, many of them involved scenes in which Carrie gets cat-called and solicited on the street - surely the fact that this happens is no mystery to any urban woman? I certainly deal with it whenever I walk downtown. But maybe, at the turn of the century, men only felt confident cat-calling women who looked working-class, so the middle-class readers of Sister Carrie would not have encountered the behavior? I'm not sure how to feel about the suggestion that public humiliation of women has been democratized in American cities over the past century, but it's interesting to think about.But cat-calling is just one small aspect of the loving-yet-critical portraits of 1890s New York and Chicago in this novel. Dreiser is at his most vivid when depicting the inhumane conditions of city life and the unfettered, dog-eat-dog realities of pre-regulation American capitalism. It's this, along with the frank portrayals of cohabiting out of wedlock, that made the book famous, and I think the urban landscape is really the star of Dreiser's show. The reader gets a strong sense of a world full of possibility ripe for the picking - all the young men, like Drouet, streaming in from the countryside to secure sales positions, the newly-constructed glass-fronted buildings housing newly-incorporated retail firms, the movers, shakers, and hangers-on in the untamed melee of exponential urban growth. And one also sees vividly how the skirmish-and-grab for that pool of possibility creates a class of casualties, left even more to their own devices than the modern urban homeless. Dreiser does a good job of communicating the extent to which all his characters are performing without a safety net, and even the highest is capable of a dramatic fall. I think I preferred Sister Carrie to The Good Earth because Dreiser's cities-as-characters are so dynamic. I'm not sure turn-of-the-century American urban literature will become my new favorite genre, but Sister Carrie was certainly enough to convince me to give it another try.

  • Heather
    2019-06-21 05:02

    Sister Carrie, written at the turn of the 20th century and considered one of the "great American novels," also has an infamous history of censorship which is fascinating in its own right. I chose to read the free online version of the restored Pennsylvania edition. I understand that the "unexpurgated edition" is based off of that one.On the surface, the novel is the story of Caroline Meeber, who moves from rural Wisconsin to Chicago in hopes of seeking her fortune. Unhappy with her work prospects due to her lack of experience and the less-than-enthusiastic welcome she gets from her sister and brother-in-law, Carrie is tempted away from a hand-to-mouth existence by Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman who buys her nice clothes and gets her to live with him. Eventually she realizes the shallowness of Drouet's personality and casts in her lot with George Hurstwood, a (unbeknownst to her) married man. This sets them on a path that leads to Carrie's stardom as an actress and Hurstwood's very steep downfall.The book is dense and not easy to get through, but in the end I did like it. There are two things in particular that I noticed:1. It is a major commentary on American society. Our society is based around the idea that if we could just have more money, fame, a different lover, or a bigger place to live, we would be happier. Ultimately, Carrie is not happy with her money and fame, and chasing her eventually leads Hurstwood to indifference and suicide. Drouet continues to be his oblivious self, but arguably he is never satisfied either--he can never have meaningful relationships with anyone. This passage in Chapter 49 in which Carrie is talking with Bob Ames, a cousin of her friend Mrs. Vance, sums up this thesis:"Your happiness is within yourself wholly if you will only believe it," he went on. "When I was quite young I felt as if I were ill-used because other boys were dressed better than I was, were more sprightly with the girls than I, and I grieved and grieved, but now I'm over that. I have found out that everyone is more or less dissatisfied. No one has exactly what his heart wishes.""Not anybody?" she asked."No," he said.Carrie looked wistfully away."It comes down to this," he went on. "If you have powers, cultivate them. The work of doing it will bring you as much satisfaction as you will ever get. The huzzas of the public don't mean anything. That's the aftermath--you've been paid and satisfied if you are not selfish and greedy long before that reaches you."2. It is not necessarily a work about morality. The author, Dreiser, does mention evil in it, but his characters are not deliberately evil--they suffer because they are driven by their whims and lack understanding of what their actions do to those around them. One might argue anyway that this is a better definition of sin than the overly simplistic list of "lying/cheating/stealing." But I still don't think Dreiser was trying to teach morality in this story--just depict in a naturalistic way that people tend to do what's in their own best interests and that "fate" can lead them in different directions. He sums this up in a rather heavy-handed passage:Many individuals are so constituted that their only thought is to obtain pleasure and shun responsibility. They would like, butterfly-like, to wing forever in a summer garden, flitting from flower to flower, and sipping honey for their sole delight. They have no feeling that any result which might flow from their action should concern them. They have no conception of the necessity of a well-organized society wherein all shall accept a certain quota of responsibility and all realize a reasonable amount of happiness. They think only of themselves because they have not yet been taught to think of society. For them pain and necessity are the great taskmasters. Laws are but the fences which circumscribe the sphere of their operations. When, after error, pain falls as a lash, they do not comprehend that their suffering is due to misbehavior. Many such an individual is so lashed by necessity and law that he falls fainting to the ground, dies hungry in the gutter or rotting in the jail and it never once flashes across his mind that he has been lashed only in so far as he has persisted in attempting to trespass the boundaries which necessity sets. A prisoner of fate, held enchained for his own delight, he does not know that the walls are tall, that the sentinels of life are forever pacing, musket in hand. He cannot perceive that all joy is within and not without. He must be for scaling the bounds of society, for overpowering the sentinel. When we hear the cries of the individual strung up by the thumbs, when we hear the ominous shot which marks the end of another victim who has thought to break loose, we may be sure that in another instance life has been misunderstood--we may be sure that society has been struggled against until death alone would stop the individual from contention and evil.From what I hear, the original edited edition of the book removed most of the philosophy from it, made Carrie a mindless, untalented fool, and removed most of the sexual references (which I had trouble detecting anyway, but I guess by early 20th century standards they would have been blatant). Carrie doesn't fret over moving in with Drouet, Drouet doesn't pursue other ladies while living with her, and Hurstwood doesn't frequent prostitutes before he leaves his wife. In other words, the characters were significantly changed. I enjoyed this book for the depth and the tragedy of it, but it was a very heavy read. I can see after reading the historical notes included on the website that the restored edition is superior to what was originally published and probably closer to what Dreiser intended, although I would have switched the final two chapters--49 reads like an ending, and 50 like an afterthought.And now, my only remaining question is... whatever happened to Carrie's parents? She goes to live with her sister in Chicago, but I don't remember the book even once mentioning her contacting her parents, thinking about them, or what they thought of her leaving. In fact, I don't think it mentions her parents at all. Either she had an awful relationship with them, or she was just so self-absorbed that she didn't care if her mother was worried sick about her.

  • Thomas
    2019-06-24 10:01

    Woo independent women! Sister Carrie centers on Carrie Meeber, a country girl who travels to the big city to live with her sister. After a rough patch of poverty and a couple of tumultuous relationships with men, she succeeds on her own as an actress. Her rise to fame might have no actual merit, but it exemplifies a young woman's triumph in a capitalistic, patriarchal society. She renames herself Carrie Madenda and garners massive wealth and fame.Sister Carrie acted as another classic that had an incisive message with poor delivery. It touched on themes such as consumerism, human desire, the mercurial nature of fame, and more, but Dreiser's writing itself always felt bogged down in several extraneous details. As this review comments on, Dreiser shows off a lot of his own intellect and writing ability, to the point where his narration overwhelms the actual story and characters within it. He tells a lot instead of showing.Overall, I would recommend this for someone interested in American literature or any of the topics I mentioned above. Perhaps one might gain more from a discussion of the book as opposed to just reading it, because Dreiser's prosaic writing has a tendency to bore.

  • Barrett
    2019-06-25 09:27

    Seminal American literature, and yet the simplest occurrence in Sister Carrie -- such as Carrie requesting meat -- reads like this:He caught himself looking at her smiling and she was the very picture of youth and uprightness and the tendency toward productivity and mirth and joviality, all of which were produced from her in a very feminine manner. Yet thoughts dashed inside his mind in a very tumultuous fashion, tumultuous like the threshings of torrents. Carrie has not asked for meat before, Hurstwood remarked upon himself to himself for himself. What could this mean to her demeanor and charm and circumstance, her carriage and her sprite and her nature and her duties to such a member of this sex of the woman?Carrie: "Good then."And Carrie fretted then because she would not want to ask him for more than one thing a day, especially this one day, to-day. As a matter of the fact which bears witnessing, that she had spoken about the meat moments ago may have spoiled him on her, or so she perchance thought that he might be thinking about her thinking about him. Perhaps she would descend from his gracious graces. She wondered and looked at him just so. And he looked askance at her just so, or so she thought, but she did not deign to ask. And then he looked like he was going to ask, but she looked away, and then he looked at an advertisement for meat further compounding his own uncertainties which were unknown to Carrie, so Hurstwood thought he knew but did not know. It was just too much, just too much, she thought. How she would like to get out to the theatre. How her heart was filled with gloom and darkness and woe and despair that Hurstwood would look and then not look at her and then look at her again. She could only respond with a look, but with the fear that not looking would require her to speak, and then where would she be? She was not that kind of woman, and did not regard herself to be so.Hurstwood: "Alright."That handsome couple then traversed the streets of the great city in a car to the theatre in the middle of the afternoon, while both of them are without the employment and could not find something, asked around for something, looked for something, and no one gave them something, not a thing.Carrie: "You thief, you cad, you lying cadding thief! I want to file the works of paper which would thenceforth move one in a legal fashion toward the challenge of a divorce or other dissolution of the marriage that you and I have between each other with one another."Hurstwood: "I never once loved you, except when I was married to my wife."Carrie: "I don't know, I don't know ... if I could or should or would. I've never ... known."Hurstwood: "Let's run away together to Montreal."Carrie: "No."Hurstwood: "Your husband has been injured! He's in hospital! Come quickly! I've outfitted us with the equipages! Grapple your bespoke cloaklets and we can get on with our barouches and moil with the attitude of a multitude of avoirdubois!Hurstwood and Carrie -- in their finest clothes purchased at the most opulent department stores in the city -- both together rush to the train station and board a train for Montreal and it scuds across the inky black dark night of black darkness of Canada.Carrie: "I've a sneaking suspicion that you've not taken me to see my husband."Hurstwood tries to think of some fib. Hurstwood describes his surroundings silently within his brain, retelling stories to himself of when he was in Chicago, before he thought about other things, things to which he is not concerned anymore and things which he was concerned about moments ago andCarrie: "Hurstwood, I ... I don't know."Hurstwood: "We're off to Montreal. Your husband was never sick. You divorced him. You were never married to him. He left you. Your last name is now Murdock."Carrie: "I don't like that one. Any one but that. Murdock is awful."Hurstwood: "Alright, Wheeler, then."Carrie: "It's settled."

  • max
    2019-06-03 02:23

    It seems a shame that this novel seems to be fading into oblivion. This happens from time to time even with great writers, not because they stop being great, but because people don't know enough to read them. As the years go by, there are, admittedly, many new novels entering the literary mainstream, but we should not be afraid of making judgments about which ones are better than others. Sister Carrie has long been on the list of great American novels, and deservedly so. Dreiser's writing can be rather clunky, as has been noted by critics over the years, and yet he is marvelously successful. What he lacks in the smoothness or refinement of his writing style he more than makes up for by the sheer force of the story he is telling.Dreiser's skill lies in his considerable abilities as a storyteller. He falls into what is commonly called the "naturalist" school of writing, which, in short, is realism with a dose of social Darwinism. The protagonist of this novel is a young girl from a rural area who goes to the big city to live and work. What happens when a young single girl with no real education, connections or work skills suddenly finds herself adrift, desperately seeking the dignity of suitable employment and a livable residence in a large American metropolitan area at or about 1900? That is the story that Dreiser tells, and he tells it with great power and honesty. It's not pretty. Dreiser brilliantly brings to life the fears, loneliness, setbacks and distresses experienced by his famous protagonist, and her tale is utterly compelling. Indeed, many of the progressive reforms that came about in the wake of the working conditions described in this novel are now being undermined, as a far more steroid-charged form of hyper-capitalism has taken root in America. Witness massive offshoring of American jobs, workers' wages that have remained flat since the 1970's while corporate profits and executive compensation have ballooned to stratospheric heights. Witness also the disappearance of employment benefits including pensions and health care, the abolition of collective bargaining for public employees, and the pervasive hiring of temporary "contract" workers. Could we revert back to the days of Carrie Meeber? At the rate we are currently moving, we will be there in short order. Yes, right here, in the United States of America.

  • Sarah Sammis
    2019-06-25 05:04

    Sister Carrie is a deceptively good book. It starts out looking like a simple morality play about the evils of the big city but Carrie is no innocent girl from the country. Apparently Carrie's willingness to use people to better herself without any thought of the consequences caused quite a scandal in its day (1900) and the original manuscript had to be toned down before it could even be published. The 1927 edition I read most certainly was the edited version but it was still modern, crass and eye opening.Overall, I liked the book. I wish I'd had the luxury to read it at a slower place because the book is long and complex with a large ensemble cast and an equally large number of plot twists. I though was under a number of deadline and caring for two sick children at the time so I didn't get a chance to curl up with this book.That being said, the book's length in terms of pages and in time covered are both bordering on being too long. The book reminds me a great deal of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann except set at the beginning of the 20th century, rather than at the mid point. Carrie, though, comes off as a stronger character than any of the women in Valley of the Dolls, in that she survives and thrives. I take issue with Dreiser saying Carrie can't find happiness no matter what she does; I don't think she was ever looking for happiness. She wants and has power.

  • Cat
    2019-06-16 04:00

    I would recommend this book to people interested in the concept of the city. Although its notoriety stems from its "naturalistic" depiction of the characters, I thought it was the depcition of the urban environment of Chicago and New York which stood out.While the intertwined fates of Carrie, Drouet and Hurstwood occupy the foreground of this book, I found myself consistently drawn to the back ground.Since Dreiser came up as a newspaperman, this makes a certain amount of sense.The details that Dreiser includes about the day-to-day life in the big city at the turn of the century were worth the price of admission, so to speak. The plot of the novel, concerning Carrie and her rise and fall and rise, was less notable, as far as I'm concerned.This is not a short book, and some of the economic turmoil suffered by the characters tapped in to a larger well spring of fear and anxiety about social status that many Americans(including myself) share.While not what I would call a "fun" read, it is fairly light, and certainly worthwhile.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-05-26 09:22

    The more Effi Briest's, Anna Karenina's and Madame Bovary's and their ilk I read the more Sister Carrie stands out as a thematically exciting book. The woman who makes a success of herself through an unconventional lifestyle but doesn't have to die is sharp and amusing departure from many earlier novels. Instead it is the men left in her wake who suffer. Hurstwood's collapse and inability to adapt from Chicago to New York is still fascinating.Recommended.

  • Maryam Rajee
    2019-06-03 08:02

    “When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse”

  • Stuart
    2019-06-11 08:00

    “Sister Carrie” tells the story of two characters. Carrie Meeber is a young country girl from Wisconsin who moves to Chicago to realize her American dream. She begins as a low-paid wage earner and ends up a highly paid actress. George Hurstwood is part of the upper-middle class enjoying comfortable lifestyle. Through a series of circumstances he ends up living on the streets of New York City. Neither character earns their fates through virtue or vice, but rather through random circumstance. Their successes and failures have no moral value attached to them. The backdrop behind both stories is a canvas that paints a picture of the exuberance and social transformation taking place at the turn of the century in American cities.The novel addresses two major themes: Impact of the developing capitalist economy on rural and urban America and chasing the American dream.I liked the realistic portrait painted of American society. The themes addressed are easy to identify. The story flows naturally in illustration of those themes; they are presented with no moral or other judgment being exercised by the author. The descriptions of the psychological states of each character at different points in the story further create an emotional tie to the book. I did find, though, the book longer than it need be and the prose at times awkward, the latter affecting the readability of the novel.

  • BAM The Bibliomaniac
    2019-05-25 10:13

    I don't enjoy political or economic discourse; I'm not well-versed; however, this story, written in 1900, is middle class 2016 America.