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Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

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Context

Theodore Dreiser was born into a large German family in the American midwest in 1871. A journalist before he became a novelist, he began writing Sister Carrie in 1889. Many of the events in the novel are fictional representations of his own sisters' experiences. Dreiser submitted the work to Doubleday, where it captured the attention of Frank Norris, who offered him a contract for publication. Unfortunately, one of the wives of the men at the publishing house read the book and decided that it was thoroughly immoral. Her outrage led to a struggle between Dreiser and the publishers, with the author demanding that Doubleday fulfill its contract. Doubleday reluctantly published a small edition in 1900. Perhaps because of the challenge it presented to conventional morals and middle class values, it did not sell well.

In the years since its inauspicious debut, however, Sister Carrie has come to be regarded as an American classic. Many call it the first modern American novel, a precursor to the works of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. It captures the exuberance and social transformation of turn-of-the-century America. Littered with the nation's slang and its distinctive personalities, the novel traces the vagaries of fortune in the developing capitalist society. Simultaneously a tale of rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags, the novel confronts the reader with a vision of both the comic and the tragic aspects of American capitalism.

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