Inspired by the sensational details from a famous 1906 murder case — in which a young man named Chester Gillette killed his girlfriend Grace Brown for being ‘inconveniently’ pregnant — Theodore Dreiser had all the elements to paint a great portrait of American society on its rise as an industrial power at the turn of the 20th century.

The social barriers between the poor and the (new) rich, the tugging materialism, and an underlying puritanism made up the social fabric around which Dreiser recreated Clyde Griffiths as Gillette and Roberta Alden as Brown. Driven by their human impulses and then trapped by social and moral prejudices, the outcome was a monumental tragedy of wasted young lives for both characters.

This novel is long (over 800 pages), and the writing style is torturous. It could probably be more appreciated for its social-historical value than as ‘classic literature’. If you haven’t read anything by Dreiser previously, you may want to try ‘Sister Carrie’ before tackling this one.

From blurb:

Novel by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1925. It is a complex and compassionate account of the life and death of a young antihero named Clyde Griffiths. The novel begins with Clyde’s blighted background, recounts his path to success, and culminates in his apprehension, trial, and execution for murder. The book was called by one influential critic “the worst-written great novel in the world,” but its questionable grammar and style are transcended by its narrative power. Dreiser’s intricate speculations on the extent of Clyde’s guilt are countered by his searing indictment of materialism and the American dream of success.

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