Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) was born into a large German family in Terre Haute, Indiana, 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 the experiences of his sisters Mame and Sylvia. Dreiser submitted the work to the publishers Doubleday & McClure, who offered him a contract for publication after it captured the attention of Frank Norris, an author who was working as a reader for Doublday. Unfortunately, the wife of one of Doubleday's publishers read the manuscript and found it to be thoroughly immoral. Her outrage led to a struggle between Dreiser and the publishers, with the author demanding that the publisher fulfill its contract. Doubleday reluctantly published an edition of just over 1000 copies in 1900 but refused to advertise it, although Norris was able to send out some copies to newspapers to review. Due of this, and perhaps also because of the challenge Sister Carrie presented to conventional morals and middle class values, it did not fare well, with fewer than half of the print run copies selling. Notably, however, the novel did receive strongly positive reviews from some of the critics who were fortunate enough to see the book.

After his struggles with Sister Carrie, Dreiser continued working as a journalist and he began another novel that he called The Transgressor in 1903. After suffering a nervous breakdown he set that work aside, but resumed work on it in 1910 and eventually published it as Jennie Gerhardt in 1911. Like Sister Carrie, it was partly based on the experiences of his sisters. Dreiser's works gained more notoriety as the 1910s progressed, and he would go on to publish several more novels, the two best known of which are Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy (1925). Drieser, who had many avid admirers among his fellow writers, also published many nonfiction works. He died in Hollywood, California, in 1945 at the age of 74.

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 F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It captures the exuberance and social transformation of turn-of-the-century America as the country became more focused on urban life. 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.

Popular pages: Sister Carrie