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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 November 2015
Sister Carrie, published in 1900, was Dreiser’s first novel, and what a deep novel it is. It follows a clear narrative journey, has completely believable characters, the central ones of whom are particularly complex, nuanced and perfectly credible as recognisable individuals – but we also absolutely see the history and culture of time and place acting on them, moulding them, influencing and shaping them. Choices may be made, which seem individual, but the freedom of expression may be more circumscribed than some characters – or some readers – may believe.

Carrie is a young rural girl, who comes to Chicago in 1889, to stay with her sister and her brother-in-law. Carrie has ambition, she is a young woman of beauty and some delicacy, wanting to improve her status and opportunities. She aspires to some kind of clerical office job, or perhaps as a sales assistant in one of the burgeoning glossy department stores. Unfortunately, her poverty and lack of experience are against her. It is an employer’s market, and all she can get is dirty, badly paid, unskilled factory work, exploited and working in impossibly harsh conditions.

Dreiser, writing with irony, looks back on the 1889 working conditions and compares them to the more enlightened thinking of ‘now’ (1900):

“The place smelled of the oil of the machines and the new leather – a combination which added to by the stale odours of the building, was not pleasant, even in cold weather. The floor, though regularly swept each evening, presented a littered surface. Not the slightest provision had been made for the comfort of the employees, the idea being that something was gained by giving them as little and making the work as hard and unremunerative as possible. What we know of footrests, swivel-back chairs, dining rooms for the girls, clean aprons and curling irons supplied free, and a decent cloak room, were unthought of. The wash rooms and lavatories were disagreeable, crude, if not foul places, and the whole atmosphere of hard contract”

Another writer with a socialist, humane ideology, Upton Sinclair, in his famous book The Jungle, set also in Chicago, in the meat processing industry, and published in 1906, rather shows the ‘atmosphere of hard contract’ had not changed in the intervening years, so Dreiser was writing at a time when, practically, those footrests, dining rooms, clean lavatories and the rest, were still unthought of in factories.

Dreiser’s particular focus in this book though, is on women, on the circumscribed choices available to women, and how poverty and want may drive a woman to make a living by selling herself. He explores the different power dynamic between men and women, and also the different morality expected of the sexes.

I discovered with interest that though Sister Carrie found a publisher, the book was considered too hot – or even too offensive – to handle, and was expurgated

What 1900 society found so offensive in Dreiser’s writing was his refusal to act the moralist, thundering down abuse on this fallen woman – instead, he reminds us how society itself creates the world in which the Carries must make this choice.

There are three major figures in this book, Carrie herself, the travelling salesman Charles Drouet and the sophisticated bar manager G.W. Hurstwood, looked up to by both Carrie and Drouet. Hurstwood is a man beginning to move in circles near the people of greater power, celebrity and wealth. In fact, the adulation of celebrity, and its shallowness, so symptomatic of our own age, is also laid out here.

I found the authorial voice, and the wide ranging evidence of Dreiser’s sophisticated, nuanced thinking, as fascinating and absorbing as the story of Carrie and Hurstwood, the trajectory of their entwined histories. The first section of the book has Carrie, starting from a kind of point of lowliness and desperation, and follows her rise (looked at one way) which might also be considered her fall. When she first meets Hurstwood, his star is in the ascendant, and life is rosy, and showing every possibility of getting rosier, for him. From thence, the fortunes of the two, initially linked, begin to travel in different directions. It is Hurstwood who becomes the major focus, and the drift of his story also offers a glimpse into early twentieth century capitalism in America, and the hard fought struggles of labour to achieve fair wages, fair conditions

I must admit that Dreiser’s style is style is not always the most flowing, and he isn’t a writer of what appears to be so well and beautifully crafted that the writing seems effortlessly poised, but what at times may be rough-hewn has honesty, and the ‘stuff’ of his writing is powerful, important and necessary.

I found this an absorbing, humane, compassionate and thought provoking read

Finally, kindly alerted by other reviewers, I did NOT get this on Kindle, and went for a second hand market place seller paperback, for readability instead of poorly formatted eread!
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on 31 March 2017
the book starts as a Jane Austen novel but soon it is clear that we are 100 years later and in the rough industrial Chicago period end 19th century. In the beginning you feel sympathy for Carrier in her quest to find a good job and a good life but soon she starts using the men around her to get some fame and income, first Drouet who really wants to help her out and marry her and then later to a rich manager who was introduced by Drouet.
Soon she starts an affair with the married manager and under false pretences he takes her with him to New York. From there one the decline in life starts for Hurstwood after he also sends some money back he's stolen from his ex wife. In this part you more and more start to feel sorry for Hurstwood, leading to a tragic end. On the contrary, my interest in the main character became less and less, maybe because she ends up far better off.
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on 30 December 2013
I'm not talking about the book itself, but the painfully lazy conversion to ebook- DO NOT BUY THIS VERSION, either pay more for another kindle version, or buy a physical copy. This one is full of mistakes and grammatical errors to the extent that I found it unreadable. not just a few small typos, there are mistakes on nearly every page, some so bad I'm not sure what it's actually supposed to say, sentences that don't make sense etc. Don t be swayed by the price, Stay well clear of this version!!!
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on 14 September 2017
I love novels from this era, early 1900's, especially, as here, based in America. It gives insight into women, their emancipation, and emerging role in society. Written by a man there is not enough description of current dress and fashion for my liking! That said, this novel goes at the type of pace I enjoy, fairly slow, as it does go quite deep in describing the characters' sometimes devious, sometimes innocent, minds. It gives an insight into life at the time of growth and change in America through the eyes of a young country girl when she moves to Chicago.
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on 27 May 2017
Great item, quick delivery, no problems
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on 29 September 2015
A engrossing novel of an ambitious young girl's coming of age in 19th. century Chicago and New York. The character sketches are vivid and real, and Dreiser cleverly tears the reader from empathy with first Carrie and then her lovers, upon whom she depends for her expensive tastes. It is fascinating to see her apparent adaptation when one of them falls from grace.

This was Dreiser's first novel, written in 1900, and the prose, with occasional delightfully archaic flourishes seems surprisingly modern. Others have noted that this transcription to e-book is ridden with typos and spelling errors. Simply not true; perhaps these critics are mistaking the American spelling.
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Theodore Dreiser, an American novelist of the "naturalist school" published this, his first novel, in 1900, to limited acclaim. The wife of the publisher, Mrs. Doubleday, was adamantly opposed to its publication since, in her opinion, "immorality," by which she means, Carrie's relationship with men, was not clearly punished. At the end of my "Barnes & Noble Classics" copy, there is a spot-on retort from a review in the "San Francisco Argonaut": "But these critics will have little to say in condemnation of the immorality of a commercial system which offers young girls a wage of three or four dollars a week in payment for labor as destructive to the mind as to the body." As with numerous other American novelists, their merit was first recognized in Europe, and then reflected back to the States. The novel was re-issued in 1907, to a much more receptive public. Dreiser grew up in Indiana, and went to Chicago as a newspaperman. The principal character, Carrie, is based on his sister, who, in the novel, went from Wisconsin to Chicago. Though re-issued in the same year that Upton Sinclair published his famous muck-raking novel The Jungle (American Library), also set in Chicago, Dreiser's novel is actually set in the 1880's - `90's. In terms of the social classes, the two novels both complement and contrast the classes depicted, and there is a dash of some social mobility thrown in.

Carrie is a classic country girl, fleeing a big family, for the lights of the big city. On the train to Chicago she meets Drouet, a smooth-talking salesman. Carrie's domestic situation, living with her sister and brother-in-law is not a happy one, and she soon takes up "domestic arrangements" with Drouet. And in the much more sedate time of what was the Victorian era in England, that is all you learn: the panting, puffing and groping are all carefully excised. Hurstwood, a married man of some property, and limited propriety, and an erstwhile friend of Drouet, also takes an unseeming interest in Carrie, which borders on Maugham's Of Human Bondage. With this essential dynamic, the novel is propelled forward, with the inevitable vicissitudes in the human interactions as well as the social standing of the main characters. Roughly half the novel is set in New York City, so the reader gains an appreciation of the two largest American cities in the post-Civil War period, an event that is never mentioned.

"Naturalism" means a realistic account life in the aforementioned cities. No "stream of consciousness" or other innovative story-telling techniques. Just a straightforward story, an easy read. I felt that the characterizations of the men, both Drouet and Hurstwood, seemed to be more insightful. Carrie is depicted as a strong women, with an independent streak, but she is also simply swept along by events, and her motivation at times is difficult to understand. The economics of the times is also realistically portrayed, including the grinding poverty that was the fate of most. Unemployment, underemployment, many of the same themes that dominant today's economy were highly operative then. Carrie "made it," at least in terms of achieving success as an actress, but as Dreiser said, in terms of her relationship to Hurstwood: "She forgot her youth and her beauty. The handicap of age she did not, in her enthusiasm, perceive." She achieved "success," but not happiness. But that was not enough for Mrs. Doubleday, even though Dreiser says: "It is but natural that when the world which they represented no longer allured her, its ambassadors should be discredited...In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel."

Regrettably, this is the first novel of Dreiser's that I have read. His other major work, published a quarter century later, An American Tragedy (Signet Classics) is now on the "to-read list." In terms of the characters, and the setting, it is an important American novel, relevant both then, and in our own troubled economic times. 5-stars.
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on 18 March 2013
When I studied English Literature at London University in the 1960s, Dreiser was not on the map - indeed, unless you opted for a special American Literature paper (which I did not), no American writers were mentioned (apart from the pseudo-English Eliot and James) so that I came later - with delight - to Twain, Steinbeck, Whitman, Dickinson, Fitzgerald and with less delight to Hawthorne, Melville and Hemingway. But after forty years of reading and teaching English Literature, Dreiser did not figure in my consciousness until rently when a friend mentioned that An American Tragedy was one of the things she had enjoyed on her course in the USA. As that book did not figure on the free kindle downloads I opted for Sister Carrie instead. I am very glad to have commenced my acquaintance with Dreiser. He has something in common with Edith Wharton (the background society, though his emphasis is on a different part of it), Thomas Hardy (the tragic inevitability of poverty) and George Gissing (the realistic depiction of poverty and its manifestations), also a splash of Scott Fitzgerald in that he is one of the first critics of the American Dream. But he is sufficiently himself for us to need his voice.
It is quite a hard novel to "rate": on the negative side, the style is raw and clumsy (though often appropriately so), the plot has too many "and then"s rather than "and so"s, there is a creaky and unconvincing sensationalist robbery section which really needed re-writing and the thematically important character of Ames is under-developed, which weakens the force of the novel as a whole. But against this, it is so readable! Plot and character conspire to fling us from incident to incident and page to page in a way that makes it fairly hard to put down, yet it is no mere pot boiler - the seriousness of purpose is greater than the involving details through which it is conveyed. And in Carrie and the two men in her life we have memorable, convincing characters who represent more than their mere individual selves and do indeed become part of an American tragi-comedy, now, sadly, a universal one. Hurstwood in particular achieves a tragic depth that links him to Arthur Miller's Willy Loman or Biju in Kiran Desai's marvelous 2006 Booker Prize winner, The Inheritance of Loss (if you haven't read it yet, DO!) Once we are thinking in these terms of the "great", there are little questions that perhaps keep Dreiser out of such a category - is he guilty of sentimentality from time to time? Is he unable to select the significant detail and so gives us too much? Does he give in to overt moralising? But such niggles are involved even when considering Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy et al. Dreiser has made an important contribution to our awareness of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Man and Woman. Humankind is the richer for his contribution.
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on 25 January 2016
This is a true masterpiece of writing.The style is superb and the storyline fascinating.I am a great Stefan Zweig fan and I would put this in a similar league
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on 12 March 2006
Sister Carrie," Theodore Dreiser's debut novel, is the extraordinarily powerful story of Carrie Meeber, a naïve small-town girl from Wisconsin who comes to the big city, Chicago, to reside with her older sister's small family. The year is 1889. "She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth."
Carrie is soon overwhelmed by the difficulty of finding work, especially since she has no previous experience as a wage earner. When she finally does get a job on an assembly line at a shoe factory for $3.50 per week, she is exhausted by long hours of standing and poor working conditions. "Not the slightest provision had been made for the comfort of the employees, the idea being that something was gained by giving them as little as possible." "The wash rooms and lavatories were disagreeable, crude, if not foul places, and the whole atmosphere was one of hard contract."
Carrie does well in spite of these hardships, but she must pay her sister's husband almost her entire salary for her room and board. With winter coming and the chill winds of a Chicago autumn upon her, Carrie has no money for a coat, hat, nor even an umbrella. She is absolutely wretched. Then she meets a young salesman, Charles Drouet, whom she had become slightly acquainted with on the train to the city. She is eventually tricked into living with him - seduced by his offers of marriage, and the economic security and comparative independence he provides her. She is still a girl and is motivated by impulses and her passive, overly trusting nature.
Carrie makes another serious mistake when she allows herself to be deceived a second time by a well-to-do, married saloon manager twice her age, Mr. Hurstwood. Drouet, showing off, had introduced Carrie to his socially superior friend, and also thought to shine in Hurstwood's eyes by presenting him to his attractive, young "wife."
Disillusioned after a few years with Drouet, who loves her in his fashion but has proved to be irresponsible and flighty, Carrie believes Hurstwood to be single and herself to be in love with him. Hurstwood, a respectable gentleman who has never been a philanderer, is himself quite enamored with Carrie - enough to leave his family. He persuades her to flee Chicago and move with him to New York. He does this by outright lying to the young woman in his desperation to have her.
Given the period when the novel was published and the morality and mores of the time, "Sister Carrie" was not only poorly received, the novel scandalized polite society. The heroine, a young woman who comes to the city, forms two out-of-wedlock relationships, eventually becomes successful in her own right, rising to fame and respectability. She is rewarded rather than suffering punishment for her moral lapses.
Originally a newspaperman, Theodore Dreiser writes with a blunt journalistic style. In "Sister Carrie" and his other work, he deals with the gritty reality of life and is known as an outstanding representative of naturalism - a movement in literature and the arts where real life subjects are portrayed as they exist in the real world - with all their blemishes and defects.
I originally read "Sister Carrie" 25 years ago and thought to revisit it when I found it in one of my book trunks. I loved the novel back then, but now I really appreciate what a great American novel this is. The characters are outstanding in their depth and realism. The story is compelling, and the portrait of American life as seen through Dreiser's eyes is exceptional. Highly recommended!
JANA
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