Image of Theodore Dreiser


Lifetime: 1871 - 1945 Passed: ≈ 78 years ago




United States

Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency. Dreiser's best known novels include Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).

Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana to John Paul Dreiser and Sarah Maria (née Schanab). John Dreiser was a German immigrant from Mayen in the Eifel region, and Sarah was from the Mennonite farming community near Dayton, Ohio. Her family disowned her for converting to Roman Catholicism in order to marry John Dreiser. Theodore was the twelfth of thirteen children (the ninth of the ten surviving). Paul Dresser (1857–1906) was one of his older brothers; Paul changed the spelling of his name as he became a popular songwriter. They were raised as Catholics.

After graduating from high school in Warsaw, Indiana, Dreiser attended Indiana University in 1889–1890 without taking a degree. Dreiser was going to return from his first European vacation on the Titanic but was talked out of it by an English publisher who recommended he board a cheaper ship.

Within several years, Dreiser was writing as a journalist for the Chicago Globe newspaper and then the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He wrote several articles on writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Israel Zangwill, and John Burroughs, and interviewed public figures such as Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field, Thomas Edison, and Theodore Thomas. Other interviewees included Lillian Nordica, Emilia E. Barr, Philip Armour and Alfred Stieglitz.

Dreiser later became an atheist.

During 1899, the Dreisers stayed with Arthur Henry and his wife Maude Wood Henry at the House of Four Pillars, an 1830s Greek Revival house in Maumee, Ohio. There Dreiser began work on his first novel, Sister Carrie, published in 1900. Unknown to Maude, Henry sold a half-interest in the house to Dreiser to finance a move to New York without her.

After proposing in 1893, he married Sara Osborne White on December 28, 1898. They ultimately separated in 1909, partly as a result of Dreiser's infatuation with Thelma Cudlipp, the teenage daughter of a colleague, but were never formally divorced. In 1913, he began a romantic relationship with the actress and painter Kyra Markham.

In 1919, Dreiser met his cousin Helen Patges Richardson (1894-1955) with whom he began an affair. Through the following decades, she remained the constant woman in his life, even through many more temporary love affairs (such as one with his secretary Clara Jaeger in the 1930s). Helen tolerated Dreiser's affairs, and they eventually married on June 13, 1944. They remained together until his death on December 28, 1945, at the age of 74.

Books by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie Cover image

Sister Carrie

Fiction Novel
Dream Realism

Sister Carrie is a novel by Theodore Dreiser about a young woman who moves to the big city where she starts realizing her own American Dream. She first becomes a mistress to men that she perceives as superior, but later becomes a famous actress. It h...

The Financier Cover image

The Financier

Fiction Novel
Youth Poverty Wealth

The Financier is a novel by Theodore Dreiser, based on real-life streetcar tycoon Charles Yerkes. Dreiser started writing his manuscript in 1911, and the following year published the first part of his lengthy work as The Financier. The second part ap...

Hollywood: Its Morals and Manners Cover image

Hollywood: Its Morals and Manners

Memoir Non-Fiction
Social Science Culture Performing Arts

Serialized in Shadowland from November 1921 to February 1922, Hollywood: Its Morals and Manners is Theodore Dreiser's shocking four part expose on the motion picture industry. In it, he shares his observations from his extended stay in Los Angeles, a...

Jennie Gerhardt Cover image

Jennie Gerhardt

Fiction Novel
Love Social Class

Jennie Gerhardt is a 1911 novel by Theodore Dreiser.

An American Tragedy, Volume 1 Cover image

An American Tragedy, Volume 1

Romance Crime Fiction
Social Tragedy Money Influential Struggle America Wealth United States

Loosely based on a true story, this is the tale of Clyde Griffiths. At a young age, Clyde realizes that money and influence can get him the finer things in life. As a young man, he finds himself torn between the poor but virtuous Roberta, and Sondra...

An American Tragedy, Volume 2 Cover image

An American Tragedy, Volume 2

Murder Love Mystery Crime Romance Life America United States

An American Tragedy is a 1925 novel by American writer Theodore Dreiser. He began the manuscript in the summer of 1920, but a year later abandoned most of that text. It was based on the notorious murder of Grace Brown in 1906 and the trial of her lov...

A Book About Myself Cover image

A Book About Myself

Autobiography Sacrifice Success Life Relationships Experiences

The book offers a captivating and insightful look into the life and experiences of one of America's most important writers. Theodore Dreiser was a giant of American literature, known for his gritty and realistic depictions of life in America during...

The Color of a Great City Cover image

The Color of a Great City

Dream Success Narrative Life Greed Desire Betrayal Human Nature Urban Life

This is a novel that immerses readers in the vibrant tapestry of urban life. Set against the backdrop of a bustling city, the book offers a compelling exploration of the human condition, dreams, and the pursuit of success. Dreiser, a prominent Ameri...

Titan Cover image


Cowperwood moves to Chicago with his new wife Aileen. He decides to take over the street-railway system. He bankrupts several opponents with the help of John J. McKenty and other political allies. Meanwhile, Chicago society finds out about his past i...

Genius Cover image


"The only figure of literary repute who ever rated The "Genius" as first among the novels of Theodore Dreiser was Theodore Dreiser," literary historian Larzer Ziff observed. His fifth published novel, The "Genius" was actually the third novel Dreiser...

Free, and other stories Cover image

Free, and other stories

Theodore Dreiser's first collection of short fiction, published in 1918. Dreiser was known primarily as a novelist (Sister Carrie, An American Tragedy, and others), but he was adept at the short story genre as well, having been a magazine editor at d...