‘The Pathetic Side of the World’: Hardy and Theodore Dreiser

  • Peter J. Casagrande
Part of the Macmillan Hardy Studies book series (MHS)


On 2 June 1920, Thomas Hardy’s eightieth birthday, a group of distinguished American writers, among them Sherwood Anderson, Van Wyck Brooks, Robert Frost, E. A. Robinson, Carl Sandburg and Theodore Dreiser, cabled Hardy to wish him well and to express gratitude for his ‘living contribution to our literature’. The word ‘living’ was an appropriate one, for ever since June 1873, when Holt and Williams of New York published Under the Greenwood Tree in the Leisure Hours series, Hardy’s novels had enjoyed an extraordinary popularity in America — among critics and reviewers, with the general public, and, perhaps most importantly, among American novelists such as William Dean Howells, Sherwood Anderson, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather, Hamlin Garland and Theodore Dreiser.1 Though the main concern here is Hardy’s influence on Dreiser, it is helpful to note also some of the responses of other American novelists to the Wessex Novels; for it is clear that Dreiser’s admiration for Hardy, like Proust’s in France a few years later, was part of a national response.


Barren Ground American Writer Literary Climate Great Poet Plain Dealer 


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  1. 1.
    From 1873 on, Hardy’s novels appeared in America with almost clocklike regularity: A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as Under the Greenwood Tree in 1873; Desperate Remedies and Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874; The Hand of Ethelberta in 1876; The Return of the Native in 1878; The Trumpet-Major in 1880; A Laodicean in 1881; Two on a Tower in 1882; The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1886; The Woodlanders in 1887; Tess of the d’Urbervilles in 1892; Jude the Obscure in 1895; and The Well-Beloved in 1897. See Richard L. Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (Oxford, 1954); Google Scholar
  2. also Carl J. Weber, Hardy in America: A Study of Thomas Hardy and his American Readers (Waterville, Maine, 1940).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    William Dean Howells, My Literary Passions (New York, 1915) p. 182. Howells began a personal association with Hardy in 1883, when, as a guest of Edmund Gosse, he met Hardy in London at the Savile Club. Howells joined Harper’s Magazine in 1886 and wrote a friendly review of Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge in that year. In 1892, Howells invited Hardy to write a story for the Cosmopolitan. In 1899 he sent Hamlin Garland to Max Gate with a letter of introduction in which he wrote, ‘Personally the only thing I have against him [Garland] is his pretension to a greater love than mine for all that you have written and for you’ (Dorset County Museum). See Weber, Hardy in America, pp. 57ff.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    William Dean Howells, Heroines of Fiction (New York, 1901) II, 179–80.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Oscar Cargill, Intellectual America (New York, 1941) p. 77.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs: A Critical Edition, ed. Ray Lewis White (Chapel Hill, NC, 1969) p. 256. Quoted in Luther S. Luedtke, ‘Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Hardy, and “Tandy”’, Modern Fiction Studies, 20 (1974–5) 532. The remarks that follow are indebted to Luedtke’s study.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Richard Swigg, Lawrence, Hardy, and American Literature (New York, 1972), p. 53.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Ibid., p. 537. See Irving Howe, Sherwood Anderson (New York, 1951) pp. 179–97, for an account of Anderson’s debt to Lawrence.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    My discussion of Barren Ground is indebted to George O. Marshall, Jr, ‘Hardy’s Tess and Ellen Glasgow’s Barren Ground’, Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 1 (1960) 517–21;Google Scholar
  10. and to James W. Tuttleton, ‘Hardy and Ellen Glasgow: Barren Ground’, Mississippi Quarterly, 32 (1979) 577–90.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Ellen Glasgow, A Certain Measure: An Interpretation of Prose Fiction (New York, 1943); quoted by Tuttleton, in Mississippi Quarterly, 32, p. 584.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    That this amounted to loss from Glasgow’s point of view is suggested by her last novel, In This Our Life (1940), in which she carried out-under the influence of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure-an examination of ‘sexual roles …[that] extends the basic conceptual investigation of male and female stereotypes’. See Velma Bourgeois Richmond, ‘Sexual Reversals in Thomas Hardy and Ellen Glasgow’, Southern Humanities Review, 13 (1979) 51–62. The quote is from Richmond, ibid., p. 51.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    See John Paterson, ‘Hardy, Faulkner, and the Prosaics of Tragedy’, Centennial Review, 5 (1961) 156–75.Google Scholar
  14. Though a copy of The Mayor existed in Faulkner’s library, there is apparently no available evidence that he read it. See Joseph Blotner, William Faulkner’s Library: A Catalogue (Charlottesville, Va, 1964) p. 67.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha County (New Haven, Conn., 1963) p. 1. Much the same can be said of Michael Millgate, who has written books on both Hardy and Faulkner: Thomas Hardy: His Career as Novelist (New York, 1971) and The Achievement of William Faulkner (New York, 1961). Though Millgate detects resemblance and parallels, it seems clear that-apart from the existence of The Mayor (and of Jude) in Faulkner’s library (Blotner, Faulkner’s Library, p. 67)-evidence for Faulkner’s having read and thought about the Wessex Novels in conjunction with his own fiction simply does not exist. Blotner states in Faulkner: A Biography (New York, 1974) that in winter of 1920–1 Faulkner ‘read in Hardy and Tolstoy as well as Balzac and other favorites’ (I, 299).Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    David Jarrett, ‘Eustacia Vye and Eula Varner, Olympians: The Worlds of Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner’, Novel, 6 (1973) 164–6.Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    Ibid., p. 173; italics added. For similar speculations, see Peter L. Irvine, ‘Faulkner and Hardy’, Arizona Quarterly, 27 (1970) 357–68:Google Scholar
  18. Faulkner’s ‘twin, then, is not Joyce, Conrad, Shakespeare, or Hawthorne. It is Thomas Hardy.’ Also William Miller, ‘Hardy, Falls, and Faulkner’, Mississippi Quarterly, 29 (1976) 435–6: though parallels are not proof of influence, ‘Hardy’s Mr. Fall, the “weather-prophet” [in The Mayor] … is almost certainly the original of Faulkner’s Will Falls, the 93 year old Civil War veteran who cures the wen on Bayard’s face.’Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    William Faulkner, ‘Sherwood Anderson: An Appreciation’ (1953), in The Achievement of Sherwood Anderson: Essays on Criticism, ed. Ray Lewis White (Chapel Hill, NC, 1966) pp. 197–98.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    Donald Davidson, Still Rebels, Still Yankees (Baton Rouge, La, 1957) pp. 62–83. Davidson also sees in Hardy’s humour an affinity with American frontier humour.Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    See note 1 above; also W. A. Swanberg, Dreiser (New York, 1965) pp. 69–77.Google Scholar
  22. 39.
    Quoted in Ellen Moers, Two Dreisers (New York, 1969) p. 176. Dreiser’s remark on Howells’s reservations about Hardy probably derives from Howells’s distaste for Hardy’s heroines expressed in 1901 in his Heroines of Fiction (see pp. 173–4, above). In a letter of February 1902 to William Duffy, Dreiser praised Hardy’s poems as ‘rousingly beautiful’, then added, ‘I do think that man is the greatest figure in all English literature. I know of no one to place beside him’-White, in English Language Notes, 6, p. 122.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    For Dreiser’s sources for Carrie, see Moers, Two Dreisers, esp. pp. 66–74, 115–18, 130–2, 278–9; Donald Pizer, Novels of Theodore Dreiser (Minneapolis, 1976) pp. 3–95;Google Scholar
  24. Thomas P. Riggio, ‘Notes on the Origins of Sister Carrie’, Library Journal, 44 (1979) 7–26.Google Scholar
  25. 45.
    Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900), vol. III of the Pennsylvania Edition, ed. John C. Berkley, Alice M. Winters, and James L. W. West (Philadelphia, 1981). All quotations from this novel (cited as SC) are from the Pennsylvania Edition. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  26. 49.
    H. L. Mencken, ‘A Novel of the First Rank’, Smart Set, Nov 1911, pp. 153–4;Google Scholar
  27. Edwin L. Shuman, Chicago Record-Herald, 4 Nov 1911. Both reviews are reprinted in Theodore Dreiser: The Critical Reception, ed. Salzman, pp. 63, 64, 69.Google Scholar
  28. 51.
    Theodore Dreiser, Jennie Gerhardt (New York, 1911) p. 431. All quotations from the novel (cited as JG) are from this edition. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter J. Casagrande 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Casagrande
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KansasUSA

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