You know how sometimes you finish one book with the anticipation of the next giving you itchy fingers. Now I've finished reading one book and have cracked open Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy and I hope that my fingers continue to feel itchy (as in keep turning those pages) as I have 856 pages of small print text just waiting for me. It may take me a while to work my way through this one, but I hope to stick it out. Perhaps regular updates (as I did with Anna Karenina) will keep me on track and motivated.
The novel was published in 1925 just one year before Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises to give things a little perspective. According to the introduction Dreiser was at a low point in his career whilst writing this. He was forty-nine and living in Hollywood in relative obscurity. His last work had been published five years previously but was banned as being obscene and had been pulled from the market by his publisher. His earlier works were out of print. Suggestions of immorality had plagued his work but younger critics championed his use of realism as a more truthful form of fiction. He was interested in the theories of Freud, which helped shed light on the psychology of his characters particularly since he had been interested in writing a story about a murderer. Earlier attempts hadn't been successful.
An American Tragedy is based on a murder that took place in upstate New York in 1906. Chester Gillette became Clyde Griffiths, who is the central character in the story. "...the novel represents a massive portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's tawdry ambitions and seal his fate: It is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and the dark side of the American Dream."
My teaser is from the opening pages of the novel as Clyde and his family singing religious hymns on a busy street corner.
"The boy moved restlessly from one foot to the other, keeping his eyes down, and for the most part only half singing. A tall and as yet slight figure, surmounted by an interesting head and face--white skin, dark hair--he seemed more keenly observant and decidedly more sensitive than most of the others--appeared indeed to resent and even to suffer the position in which he found himself. Plainly pagan rather than religious, life interested him, although as yet he was not fully aware of this. All that could be truly said of him now was that there was no definite appeal in all this for him. He was too young, his mind too responsive to phases of beauty and pleasure which had too little, if anything, to do with remote and cloudy romance which swayed the minds of his mother and father."
So now I will follow the trajectory of this young life from the son of parents with deep religious convictions to that of a murderer.