Thursday, February 09, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, February 09, 2012 16 comments
It has taken me a little while to digest Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, a turn-of-the-century novel I'd picked up largely because it had been mentioned in an article I'd read. That article--which among other things discussed dangerous relationships forged on trains--should have clued me in a little more that Dreiser's novel is not exactly typical gilded-age fare. In fact, the handful of online reviews I've read say the book was a scandalous shocker when it came out in 1900.

In Sister Carrie, small town girl Caroline Meeber seeks her fortune in Chicago, beginning humbly as a factory girl who lives with her married sister and family. By story's end, Carrie is a New York vaudeville star who lives in a posh high rise.

How she gets there is anything but a Horatio Alger-style, hardworking hero, rags-to-riches story. Carrie moves up in society largely because she a) isn't willing to settle for humble circumstances and b) is willing to duck around a whole lot of rules of propriety to get where she wants to be.

What makes it such an interesting ride is that Dreiser doesn't editorialize about anyone's behavior. He simply lets the plot unfold, with alternating points of view, never letting on whether he approves or disapproves what his characters get up to. I finished the book not quite sure whether Carrie was meant to be a heroine or a tragic figure. Surely she is a totally new kind of woman--someone skilled at using her femininity to control men without ever seeming manipulative. It's an odd kind of power dressed in sweet, girlish charm.

I especially enjoyed descriptions of the various venues, getting a sense of how it might have been to live urban before cars and many modern conveniences. While the characters weren't the type I could especially like or relate to, they certainly did fascinate and keep me guessing.

Dreiser's Sister Carrie is available for free for Kindle HERE.

Read any classics lately? Picked up a book on a whim and been surprised by it?

16 comments:

  1. Bugger ... went to snatch it up but it's not available to people in Europe. Strange.

    I'm making my way through Kahlil Gibran's works at the moment. Thoroughly enjoying them!

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  2. Ah, that's because works go into the public domain later in Europe than they do in the US (author's life plus 70 years, versus author's life plus 50 years). I've heard that US copyright law is likely to change, though, and works like some of Dreiser's will no longer be public domain.

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  3. Sounds like an interesting read. I like what you said about liking the way the character is presented but not really liking them. I've read a few like that and it's a very different feeling when you read without embracing them. Thanks for the suggestion of the free download. Beautiful cover!

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    1. I think it proves we don't always read to put ourselves in a story. Sometimes it's just interesting to learn about another era and follow folks one wouldn't necessarily choose to befriend, but find interesting any way.

      I've challenged myself to pick up a few classics this year--all different periods, just for something different. I read so much contemp YA, it's good to expand a little.

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  4. I always find it interesting the types of risky novels that came out around then and even before. I love that the authors took the plunge and went all out, not caring about what society thought.

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    1. Dreiser was something of a trendsetter in what would become realist and naturalist strains in modern fiction. I really, really enjoyed how he showed a slice of life of all different social classes in this--from upper middle to those who live on begging, soup kitchens and ten-cent a night boarding houses. He gets inside theatres, factories and even public transit.

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  5. I've never read this one, but it sounds like I'd really enjoy it.

    I haven't read any classics lately, but Heart of Darkness is on my list. And I'm reading Utopia and Machiavelli's The Prince this summer. Good times!

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    1. With your love of history, I think you'd enjoy how Dreiser gives a window into many segments of society at the turn of the century.

      Your other historic reads sound interesting--research or just for fun? Machiavelli is really provocative--deliberately so I think.

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  6. hmmm...I had watched a documentary on Dreiser and it seems I remember them saying something about the edginess of that book. I keep meaning to read it.

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    1. It's his first published novel--and almost didn't make it into print because the content was considered racy. There's some unmarried co-habitating but no explicit sexual content. I don't recall even any kissing. That's the Victorian era for you.

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  7. It sounds like an interesting book. I've never heard of it before!

    One classic I read recently was A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

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    1. I hope you mean Clockwork Orange is classic in the way Harry Potter is classic--as in influential and having staying power. It's hard for me to think of 1962 as quite as long ago as 1900, but maybe because I'm an aging Gen-xer. LOL.

      Dreiser is considered a modernist. Most of his novels came out before World War II

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  8. Sounds intriguing! I (mostly) like when books surprise me like that. They really do make you think.

    I reread Anne of GG last summer (I consider it a classic!) and loved it all over again :)

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  9. Montgomery is definitely a classic. She created such memorable characters. I love how Anne gets into such hilarious scrapes because of her dreamy temperament--and her difficulty taming her tongue.

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  10. Hadn't heard of that one; appreciate your thoughts on it. No classics lately, but perhaps I need to...:) They are always inspiring.

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  11. Wow! I need to read this one. It sounds like it has some interesting similarities to one of my MSs! How is that possible? :D Thanks for the link~ <3

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