Dreiser’s “Jennie Gerhardt” to be Discussed at Cliff Dwellers

Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, was published in 1901 and was quite successful, but it took a decade for his second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, to finally be published in 1911. Doubleday, the publisher of Sister Carrie did not want to handle a second book of Dreiser about what they called an “immoral woman.” Initially this second novel of Dreiser’s  was called “The Transgressor” and it centered around Jennie Gerhardt, a “kept woman” of first, George Brander, a United States Senator, and then after his death, a wealthy manufacturer, Lester Kane
Unlike Carrie, Jennie was a woman of substance and character. She truly cared for these two men and knew that their commitment to her would help keep her family out of poverty. She was able to probably marry Kane, but if so, his family would have disinherited him.
Jennie’s poor working class roots could never gain the acceptance of Kane’s family, and she knew that a marriage to Kane, who she truly loved, would ruin him. Dreiser’s Jennie is a woman in charge, so very different than the docile Carrie in the earlier novel.
In 1911 Dreiser and Harper Brothers reached an agreement to publish a toned-down version of Jennie Gerhardt. Dreiser, in financial straits, had no option but to accept these terms. The University of Pennsylvania Press, eighty-one years later, in 1992, finally released an unexpurgated edition which as University of Pennsylvania Professor James West writes in his introduction to this edition “Slang and profanity have been restored. Dreiser’s blunt, unadorned style has been reinstated…………..Most important, Jennie’s original role has been restored, and she now functions effectively as a counterweight to Lester.”
The Cliff Dwellers book club will be discussing “Jennie Gerhardt” on Saturday morning, September 28, at 11:00 am. The discussion goes to around noon. This presentation is free and open to the public. We welcome newcomers to join us and remain afterwards for lunch to experience the good company, excellent food, and spectacular views of the Cliff Dwellers. The Cliff Dwellers is located on the 22nd Floor of 200 South Michigan.

The Essential OED

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an indispensable tool for any writer of historical fiction. English is an evolving language, and it is essential that the author research contemporary words and terms to see if they were in usage in the time period described. For example, I am currently writing a novella and wanted to use the word “newly-wed” (the OED uses the hyphenated version) for a couple that were married in 1866. By checking the OED, I learned that the first mention of “newly-wed” in print was in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1918 in the sentence “It seemed that a Newly-wed can live on Marmalade three months.” The OED then tells us that the first use of the word in a literary work was in 1932 in “Orators,” a poem in prose by W. H. Auden who wrote “To-day may mean division for the newly-weds.” Therefore, due to my consultation of the OED, I did not use “newly-wed,” choosing the term “recently married couple” instead.