Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), "Sister Carrie" (1900), "An American Tragedy" (1925), "The Trilogy of Desire" - Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), "Look Homeward, Angel : A Story of the Buried Life" (1929) - ..
Last update: 11/11/2016
“As I see him, the utterly infinitesimal individual weaves among mysteries a floss-like and utterly meaningless course – if course it be. I catch no meaning from what I have seen, and pass quite as I came, confused and dismayed."- De l’être humain, Theodore Dreiser a dit un jour, «his feet are in the trap of circumstance; his eyes are on an illusion» (ses pieds sont dans le piège des circonstances ; ses yeux sont sur une illusion) . Et pour saisir cette vision d’un monde gouverné par les forces du déterminisme et du hasard aveugle, des êtres humains animés par un besoin d’affirmation personnelle et un désir qu’ils ne peuvent ni articuler ni réprimer, il a forgé un style à la fois riche et parfois jugé trop lourd. Il utilise une richesse de détails, une accumulation de notes à la surfaces de cette vie sociale qu'il scrute et du comportement qu'il exacerbe, ... et cela tout en poursuivant une quête de l’ineffable qui est peut-être tout autant infructueuse que celle de ses personnages. Ces protagonistes souffrent, la richesse, le succès mondain, la gratification sexuelle sont les seuls objectifs qu’ils peuvent connaître ou nommer, mais aucun d’entre eux ne les rassure ou ne freine leur agitation, ils restent orphelins existentiels, maussades et perplexes, toujours pleins d’espoir d'un signe qui les libérera de leur soif d’un état de grâce....
Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945)
Fils d’immigrants allemands très pauvres et très dévots, élevé dans "la misère, l'ignorance, et l'humiliation", il gagne Chicago, est tour à tour plongeur de restaurant, cheminot, employé dans une quincaillerie, démarcheur dans l’immobilier, encaisseur, livreur puis entre, en 1892, dans le journalisme, au Daily Globe de Chicago, puis à Saint Louis, à Pittsburgh, enfin à New York. Ces quatre ans de reportage lui laissent le sens du trait saillant exploité avec un penchant pour le sensationnel. Cette expérience journalistique transforme l’inspiration autobiographique en une œuvre romanesque. C'est en autodidacte, dans l’entassement des taudis et les vices d’un capitalisme à l’état sauvage, qu'il intègre les théories de Darwin, de Spencer, de Thomas Huxley, d'un homme représenté comme un atome social, un être biologique dans un univers matérialiste : "tous les fils qui me retenaient au catholicisme, écrit Dreiser, se brisèrent à la lecture de Huxley ; les Premiers Principes de Spencer me firent littéralement exploser intellectuellement... Balzac m’influença plus que tout autre écrivain."
Le réalisme qu'il met en oeuvre, est confus, vulgaire, prolixe, mal écrit, dira-t-on, mais animé d'un tel déterminisme qu'il donne à ses personnages aux destins frustrés, aux instincts refoulés, à ce désir de libération des contraintes qui les étouffent, une fatalité quasi romantique. En six romans (Sister Carrie, 1900 ; Jennie Gerhardt, 1911 ; The Financier, 1912 ; The Titan, 1914 ; The Genius, 1915 ; An American Tragedy, 1925) suivis de deux récits posthumes (The Bulwark, 1946 ; The Stoic, 1947), "Dreiser, peintre et critique de la société américaine, a créé une comédie humaine qui est le meilleur document sur l’Amérique de l’âge industriel. "
Son premier roman, "Sister Carrie" (1900) se heurte à la censure. Publié en Angleterre en 1901, puis huit ans plus tard aux États-Unis, il soulève une tempête de protestations, est taxé d'immoralité, honni des ligues familiales et religieuses. Dreiser y décrit dans la langue des employés et des commis voyageurs le destin d'une jeune femme qui devient actrice alors que se suicide l'homme qui s'est ruiné à la soutenir. "Jennie Gerhardt" (1911) décrit l’ascension puis la faillite d’une femme de chambre devenue la maîtresse d’un industriel. "The Genius" (1915) incarne les difficultés de l'écrivain dans son contexte social : "Oui, je suis sale, trivial, terne, lugubre, mais je suis la vie. Et dans tout cela il n’y a ni excuse, ni commentaire. Pif ! Paf ! les faits jaillissent les uns des autres avec une insistance amère et brutale.". C'est en 1925, avec "An American Tragedy" que Dreiser atteint enfin la notoriété. Après ce succès, Dreiser semble renoncer au roman pour se tourner vers l’engagement politique. Un voyage en URSS. en 1927, puis la crise économique de 1929 le rapprochent du parti communiste.
Sister Carrie (Sister Carrie, 1900)
Carrie Meeber, jeune fille de dix-huit ans, fuit sa ferme du Wisconsin pour chercher fortune à Chicago. Éblouie par les lumières de la ville, elle devient la maîtresse d’un représentant beau parleur Charles Drouet. Elle s'en lasse rapidement se lie à un grand restaurateur, George Hurstwood. Celui-ci abandonne sa famille et se ruine pour lancer Carrie au théâtre. Il se suicidera dans un meublé tandis que Carrie, devenue vedette, s’embarque pour l’Europe et la gloire. Dans un style journalistique dépouillé, Dreiser dépeint la réalité de la vie sans le moindre jugement : Carrie sait se saisir des occasions qui se présentent, sans état d'âme, Charles est un hédoniste, George est un homme tourmenté qui poursuit un objectif irréalisable... Ce premier roman de Dreiser marque une date importante dans la littérature américaine, bien qu'à ses débuts il ne rencontre qu`opprobre, haine et mépris : l`éditeur osa à peine le publier et quelques exemplaires seulement furent vendus. C'est que Dreiser rompait radicalement avec les moralismes en cours : ses personnages n`étaient plus récompensés à la ﬁn du livre selon leurs mérites. Dreiser n'a pas pour autant écrit un roman à thèse, seule comptait pour lui la vérité de ses observations sociologiques et psychologiques, proposant une tranche de vie, sans forcer le trait sombre. Le sujet de "Sister Carrie" est ainsi constitué bien moins par les caractères de Carrie et de Hurstwood, que par le choc des aspirations individuelles contre les cadres sociaux, par le déchaînement du Désir, des "forces aveugles du cœur humain" dans une société en pleine évolution ...
CHAPTER I - THE MAGNET ATTRACTING: A WAIF AMID FORCES
"When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse,containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterised her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.
To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a few hours - a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister's address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.
When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility.
The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognised for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.
Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class--two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest--knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject--the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman's slipper.
"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts in Wisconsin."
"Is it?" she answered nervously.
The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. For some time she had been conscious of a man behind. She felt him observing her mass of hair. He had been fidgetting, and with natural intuition she felt a certain interest growing in that quarter. Her maidenly reserve, and a certain sense of what was conventional under the circumstances, called her to forestall and deny this familiarity, but the daring and magnetism of the individual, born of past experiences and triumphs, prevailed. She answered.
He leaned forward to put his elbows upon the back of her seat and proceeded to make himself volubly agreeable.
"Yes, that is a great resort for Chicago people. The hotels are swell. You are not familiar with this part of the country, are you?"
"Oh, yes, I am," answered Carrie. "That is, I live at Columbia City. I have never been through here, though."
"And so this is your first visit to Chicago," he observed.
All the time she was conscious of certain features out of the side of her eye. Flush, colourful cheeks, a light moustache, a grey fedora hat. She now turned and looked upon him in full, the instincts of self-protection and coquetry mingling confusedly in her brain.
"I didn't say that," she said.
"Oh," he answered, in a very pleasing way and with an assumed air of mistake, "I thought you did."
Here was a type of the travelling canvasser for a manufacturing house -a class which at that time was first being dubbed by the slang of the day "drummers." He came within the meaning of a still newer term, which had sprung into general use among Americans in 1880, and which concisely expressed the thought of one whose dress or manners are calculated to elicit the admiration of susceptible young women--a "masher." His suit was of a striped and crossed pattern of brown wool, new at that time, but since become familiar as a business suit. The low crotch of the vest revealed a stiff shirt bosom of white and pink stripes. From his coat sleeves protruded a pair of linen cuffs of the same pattern, fastened with large, gold plate buttons, set with the common yellow agates known as "cat's-eyes." His fingers bore several rings--one, the ever-enduring heavy seal--and from his vest dangled a neat gold watch chain, from which was suspended the secret insignia of the Order of Elks. The whole suit was rather tight-fitting, and was finished off with heavy-soled tan shoes, highly polished, and the grey fedora hat. He was, for the order of intellect represented, attractive, and whatever he had to recommend him, you may be sure was not lost upon Carrie, in this, her first glance.
Lest this order of individual should permanently pass, let me put down some of the most striking characteristics of his most successful manner and method. Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing. A strong physical nature, actuated by a keen desire for the feminine, was the next. A mind free of any consideration of the problems or forces of the world and actuated not by greed, but an insatiable love of variable pleasure. His method was always simple. Its principal element was daring, backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex. Let him meet with a young woman twice and he would straighten her necktie for her and perhaps address her by her first name. In the great department stores he was at his ease. If he caught the attention of some young woman while waiting for the cash boy to come back with his change, he would find out her name, her favourite flower, where a note would reach her, and perhaps
pursue the delicate task of friendship until it proved unpromising, when it would be relinquished. He would do very well with more pretentious women, though the burden of expense was a slight deterrent. Upon entering a parlour car, for instance, he would select a chair next to the most promising bit of femininity and soon enquire if she cared to have the shade lowered. Before the train cleared the yards he would have the porter bring her a footstool. At the next lull in his conversational progress he would find her something to read, and from then on, by dint of compliment gently insinuated, personal narrative, exaggeration and service, he would win her tolerance, and, mayhap, regard.
A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There is an indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not. Once an individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from her. There is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own. This line the individual at her elbow now marked for Carrie. She became conscious ofan inequality. Her own plain blue dress, with its black cotton tape trimmings, now seemed to her shabby. She felt the worn state of her shoes.
"Let's see," he went on, "I know quite a number of people in your town. Morgenroth the clothier and Gibson the dry goods man."
"Oh, do you?" she interrupted, aroused by memories of longings their show windows had cost her.
At last he had a clew to her interest, and followed it deftly. In a few minutes he had come about into her seat. He talked of sales of clothing, his travels, Chicago, and the amusements of that city.
"If you are going there, you will enjoy it immensely. Have you relatives?"
"I am going to visit my sister," she explained.
"You want to see Lincoln Park," he said, "and Michigan Boulevard. They are putting up great buildings there. It's a second New York--great. So much to see--theatres, crowds, fine houses--oh, you'll like that."
There was a little ache in her fancy of all he described. Her insignificance in the presence of so much magnificence faintly affected her. She realised that hers was not to be a round of pleasure, and yet there was something promising in all the material prospect he set forth.
There was something satisfactory in the attention of this individual with his good clothes. She could not help smiling as he told her of some popular actress of whom she reminded him. She was not silly, and yet attention of this sort had its weight.
"You will be in Chicago some little time, won't you?" he observed at one turn of the now easy conversation.
"I don't know," said Carrie vaguely--a flash vision of the possibility of her not securing employment rising in her mind.
"Several weeks, anyhow," he said, looking steadily into her eyes.
There was much more passing now than the mere words indicated. He recognised the indescribable thing that made up for fascination and beauty in her. She realised that she was of interest to him from the one standpoint which a woman both delights in and fears. Her manner was simple, though for the very reason that she had not yet learned the many little affectations with which women conceal their true feelings. Some things she did appeared bold. A clever companion--had she ever had one--would have warned her never to look a man in the eyes so steadily.
"Why do you ask?" she said.
"Well, I'm going to be there several weeks. I'm going to study stock at our place and get new samples. I might show you 'round."
"I don't know whether you can or not. I mean I don't know whether I can. I shall be living with my sister, and----"
"Well, if she minds, we'll fix that." He took out his pencil and a little pocket note-book as if it were all settled. "What is your address there?"
She fumbled her purse which contained the address slip. He reached down in his hip pocket and took out a fat purse. It was filled with slips of paper, some mileage books, a roll of greenbacks. It impressed her deeply. Such a purse had never been carried by any one attentive to her. Indeed, an experienced traveller, a brisk man of the world, had never come within such close range before. The purse, the shiny tan shoes, the smart new suit, and the air with which he did things, built up for her a dim world of fortune, of which he was the centre. It disposed her pleasantly toward all he might do.
He took out a neat business card, on which was engraved Bartlett, Caryoe & Company, and down in the left-hand corner, Chas. H. Drouet.
"That's me," he said, putting the card in her hand and touching his name. "It's pronounced Drew-eh. Our family was French, on my father's side."
She looked at it while he put up his purse. Then he got out a letter from a bunch in his coat pocket. "This is the house I travel for," he went on, pointing to a picture on it, "corner of State and Lake." There was pride in his voice. He felt that it was something to be connected with such a place, and he made her feel that way.
"What is your address?" he began again, fixing his pencil to write.
She looked at his hand.
"Carrie Meeber," she said slowly. "Three hundred and fifty-four West Van Buren Street, care S. C. Hanson."
He wrote it carefully down and got out the purse again. "You'll be at home if I come around Monday night?" he said.
"I think so," she answered.
How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. Here were these two, bandying little phrases, drawing purses, looking at cards, and both unconscious of how inarticulate all their real feelings were. Neither was wise enough to be sure of the working of the mind of the other. He could not tell how his luring succeeded. She could not realise that she was drifting, until he secured her address. Now she felt that she had yielded something--he, that he had gained a victory. Already they felt that they were somehow associated. Already he took control in directing the conversation. His words were easy. Her manner was relaxed.
They were nearing Chicago. Signs were everywhere numerous. Trains flashed by them. Across wide stretches of flat, open prairie they could see lines of telegraph poles stalking across the fields toward the great city. Far away were indications of suburban towns, some big smoke-stacks towering high in the air.
Frequently there were two-story frame houses standing out in the open fields, without fence or trees, lone outposts of the approaching army of homes.
To the child, the genius with imagination, or the wholly untravelled, the approach to a great city for the first time is a wonderful thing. Particularly if it be evening--that mystic period between the glare and gloom of the world when life is changing from one sphere or condition to another. Ah, the promise of the night. What does it not hold for the weary! What old illusion of hope is not here forever repeated! Says the soul of the toiler to itself, "I shall soon be free. I shall be in the ways and the hosts of the merry. The streets, the lamps, the lighted chamber set for dining, are for me. The theatre, the halls, the parties, the ways of rest and the paths of song--these are mine in the night."
Though all humanity be still enclosed in the shops, the thrill runs abroad. It is in the air. The dullest feel something which they may not always express or describe. It is the lifting of the burden of toil.
Sister Carrie gazed out of the window. Her companion, affected by her wonder, so contagious are all things, felt anew some interest in the city and pointed out its marvels.
"This is Northwest Chicago," said Drouet. "This is the Chicago River," and he pointed to a little muddy creek, crowded with the huge masted wanderers from far-off waters nosing the black-posted banks. With a puff, a clang, and a clatter of rails it was gone. "Chicago is getting
to be a great town," he went on. "It's a wonder. You'll find lots to see here."
She did not hear this very well. Her heart was troubled by a kind of terror. The fact that she was alone, away from home, rushing into a great sea of life and endeavour, began to tell. She could not help but feel a little choked for breath--a little sick as her heart beat so fast. She half closed her eyes and tried to think it was nothing, that Columbia City was only a little way off.
"Chicago! Chicago!" called the brakeman, slamming open the door. They were rushing into a more crowded yard, alive with the clatter and clang of life. She began to gather up her poor little grip and closed her hand firmly upon her purse. Drouet arose, kicked his legs to straighten his trousers, and seized his clean yellow grip.
"I suppose your people will be here to meet you?" he said. "Let me carry your grip."
"Oh, no," she said. "I'd rather you wouldn't. I'd rather you wouldn't be with me when I meet my sister."
"All right," he said in all kindness. "I'll be near, though, in case she isn't here, and take you out there safely."
"You're so kind," said Carrie, feeling the goodness of such attention in her strange situation.
"Chicago!" called the brakeman, drawing the word out long. They were under a great shadowy train shed, where the lamps were already beginning to shine out, with passenger cars all about and the train moving at a snail's pace. The people in the car were all up and crowding about the door.
"Well, here we are," said Drouet, leading the way to the door.
"Good-bye, till I see you Monday."
"Good-bye," she answered, taking his proffered hand.
"Remember, I'll be looking till you find your sister."
She smiled into his eyes.
They filed out, and he affected to take no notice of her. A lean-faced, rather commonplace woman recognised Carrie on the platform and hurried forward.
"Why, Sister Carrie!" she began, and there was a perfunctory embrace of welcome.
Carrie realised the change of affectional atmosphere at once. Amid all the maze, uproar, and novelty she felt cold reality taking her by the hand. No world of light and merriment. No round of amusement. Her sister carried with her most of the grimness of shift and toil.
"Why, how are all the folks at home?" she began; "how is father, and mother?"
Carrie answered, but was looking away. Down the aisle, toward the gate leading into the waiting-room and the street, stood Drouet. He was looking back. When he saw that she saw him and was safe with her sister he turned to go, sending back the shadow of a smile. Only Carrie saw it. She felt something lost to her when he moved away. When he disappeared she felt his absence thoroughly. With her sister she was much alone, a lone figure in a tossing, thoughtless sea."
Carrie, une jeune provinciale de famille pauvre, quitte sa bourgade natale pour aller tenter sa chance à Chicago. Dans le train, elle rencontre un commis voyageur beau parleur, vantard, entreprenant. qui lui fait aussitôt la cour. Arrivée à la gare, elle le quitte, après qu'il lui a donné son nom : Drouet, et son adresse, Carrie va habiter chez sa sœur, mariée à un ouvrier, et de condition aussi modeste que la sienne. Elle s'essaie au travail d`usine, mais ne peut longtemps résister. La misère la presse. Carrie se décide alors à aller voir Drouet. Le commis voyageur lui loue un appartement et ne tarde pas à devenir son amant. Drouet, pourtant célibataire, ne songe pas à épouser Carrie, qui n`est pour lui qu`une amourette. Aussi la jeune femme se montre-t-elle très sensible à la violente passion qu`elle inspire à un autre homme, Hurstwood, quadragénaire aisé, père de famille, qui n`hésite pas, pour l'enlever, à abandonner son foyer et son travail.
Mais Hurstwood se trouve bientôt privé de toutes ses relations. Errant à travers l`Amérique, il fait de nombreuses tentatives pour obtenir un emploi qui assurerait à Carrie le confort qu`elle réclame: tous ses efforts sont vains. Peu à peu, la misère, l`épuisement physique s`ajoutent à la méchanceté de sa maîtresse qui se venge sur lui des déceptions que lui a jusqu'à présent réservées la vie. Hurstwood atteint le fond de la déchéance morale. Il se suicide. alors que Carrie s`engage dans une nouvelle carrière théâtrale, qui sera triomphale ...
Le Financier (The Fínancier, 1912)
Première partie de la "Trilogy of Desire", qui retrace le début de la longue carrière de Frank Cowperwood dans le monde de la finance américaine, durant la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle. Fils d`un humble employé de banque de Philadelphie, le héros montre, dès l'enfance, peu de goût pour l`étude, mais une extrême sagacité dans le domaine des affaires financières : très vite, il amasse une respectable fortune tant par son habileté que par la corruption. Mais sa sensualité effrénée lui suscite des inimitiés dans le monde politique qui provoque sa chute. Cowperwood a épousé une femme passablement plus âgée que lui Dreiser, adoptant la méthode de Dickens, va entreprendre de narrer chronologiquement la vie de son personnage dans ses moindres détails. Aussi a-t-on pu lui reprocher un réalisme photographique qui n`échappe pas toujours à la banalité. Dreiser aurait pris comme modèle de son personnage un certain Charles T. Yerkes, magnat bien connu dans les milieux d'affaires de Philadelphie et de Chicago. Dans ce roman, Dreiser va énoncer sa théorie selon laquelle le destin de l`individu n'est pas lié essentiellement à ses défauts ni à ses faiblesses. mais déterminé à son insu par sa constitution organique qui le mène vers des buts qu`il ignore. "Nous souffrons, dit-il, d`un tempérament qui ne dépend pas de nous, ainsi que de faiblesses et de défauts auxquels notre volonté et notre activité n`ont point de part." Deux autres romans sociaux font suite au "Financier", "The Titan" (1914) et "The Stoic "(1947).
Le "Génie" (The "Genius", 1915)
The “Genius” is a semi-autobiographical novel by Theodore Dreiser, first published in 1915. It concerns Eugene Witla, a painter, whose strong sexual desire allows the book to explore issues of art, business, love, sexuality, and morality. The book was rapidly banned due to its stark treatment of sexuality, and did not receive broad distribution until 1923....
Eugène Witla, issu, comme presque tous les personnages de Dreiser, d`une pauvre famille vivant dans une petite ville du Middle West, révèle des sa plus tendre enfance des dons remarquables pour la peinture; après une période d`apprentissage à Chicago, il s`établit à New York où il acquiert une grande réputation. Comme le Cowperwood du "Financíer" et du "Titan", il épouse une femme plus âgée que lui et dont il se lasse rapidement; après de nombreuses intrigues amoureuses. il devient l'amant d'une jeune fille de dix-huit ans, qui ruine sa vie et sa carrière ; il va donc, non sans succès, tenter diverses autres professions, pour revenir ensuite à son art lorsque sa femme meurt durant un accouchement. Sous les traits de Frank Cowperwood, Dreiser avait représenté l`aventurier égoïste et sûr de soi, `homme d`action énergique et calculateur. Witla incarne au contraire le type de l`être faible et hésitant, d`une sensibilité aiguë, un rêveur porté à l'introspection, incapable d`accepter la vie comme elle est et que son idéalisme conduit à concevoir la beauté sans avoir complètement les moyens de la créer. C'est cette limitation que suggère Dreiser lorsqu`il place entre guillemets le titre de son roman : son héros n`est en fait pas véritablement un génie. Dans ses rapports avec les femmes, il est une sorte de don juan, sans cesse déçu par ses expériences amoureuses. mais sans cesse enclin à croire que la prochaine aventure satisfera son désir et correspondra à son idéal. Durant un certain temps, cette quête anxieuse de la perfection féminine devient pour lui une tâche plus exigeante que son art ; mais lorsqu`il découvre que ses ambitions érotiques ou artistiques ne peuvent être satisfaites, le sentiment de son échec prend la forme d`une catastrophe totale. Comme dans "Le Financier" et "Le Titan", on assiste ainsi à une espèce de banqueroute physiologique et morale d`un surhomme manqué. Un énorme roman de plus de mille pages, sans aucune concession littéraire, au style lourd, à l`épreuve sa méthode de psychologue social...
Une tragédie américaine (An American Tragedy, 1925)
"An American Tragedy" est publié la même année que "The Great Gatsby", bien que Dreiser le prépare depuis près de vingt ans ....
L’intrigue suit de près une affaire célèbre, le meurtre de Grâce Brown par Chester Gilette. Le héros, Clyde Griffiths, né pauvre dans la jungle sociale, au moment où il est sur le point d’entrer par un mariage dans le cercle magique de la réussite, engrosse une ouvrière, qui disparaît lors d’une promenade en barque. Accident ou crime ? Griffiths meurt sur la chaise électrique sans que sa culpabilité soit absolument prouvée. Le coupable, c’est la société."
Chapter 1 - Dusk—of a summer night.
"And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants—such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.
And up the broad street, now comparatively hushed, a little band of six,—a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a round black felt hat, a most unimportant-looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers. And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books. With these three, but walking independently behind, was a girl of fifteen, a boy of twelve and another girl of nine, all following obediently, but not too enthusiastically, in the wake of the others.
It was hot, yet with a sweet languor about it all.
Crossing at right angles the great thoroughfare on which they walked, was a second canyon-like way, threaded by throngs and vehicles and various lines of cars which clanged their bells and made such progress as they might amid swiftly moving streams of traffic. Yet the little group seemed unconscious of anything save a set purpose to make its way between the contending lines of traffic and pedestrians which flowed by them.
Having reached an intersection this side of the second principal thoroughfare—really just an alley between two tall structures—now quite bare of life of any kind, the man put down the organ, which the woman immediately opened, setting up a music rack upon which she placed a wide flat hymn book. Then handing the Bible to the man, she fell back in line with him, while the twelve-year-old boy put down a small camp-stool in front of the organ. The man—the father, as he chanced to be—looked about him with seeming wide-eyed assurance, and announced, without appearing to care whether he had any auditors or not:
"We will first sing a hymn of praise, so that any who may wish to acknowledge the Lord may join us. Will you oblige, Hester?"
At this the eldest girl, who until now had attempted to appear as unconscious and unaffected as possible, bestowed her rather slim and as yet undeveloped figure upon the camp chair and turned the leaves of the hymn book, pumping the organ while her mother observed:
"I should think it might be nice to sing twenty-seven tonight—'How Sweet the Balm of Jesus' Love.'"
By this time various homeward-bound individuals of diverse grades and walks of life, noticing the small group disposing itself in this fashion, hesitated for a moment to eye them askance or paused to ascertain the character of their work. This hesitancy, construed by the man apparently to constitute attention, however mobile, was seized upon by him and he began addressing them as though they were specifically here to hear him.
"Let us all sing twenty-seven, then—'How Sweet the Balm of Jesus' Love.'"
At this the young girl began to interpret the melody upon the organ, emitting a thin though correct strain, at the same time joining her rather high soprano with that of her mother, together with the rather dubious baritone of the father. The other children piped weakly along, the boy and girl having taken hymn books from the small pile stacked upon the organ. As they sang, this nondescript and indifferent street audience gazed, held by the peculiarity of such an unimportant-looking family publicly raising its collective voice against the vast skepticism and apathy of life. Some were interested or moved sympathetically by the rather tame and inadequate figure of the girl at the organ, others by the impractical and materially inefficient texture of the father, whose weak blue eyes and rather flabby but poorly-clothed figure bespoke more of failure than anything else. Of the group the mother alone stood out as having that force and determination which, however blind or erroneous, makes for self-preservation, if not success in life. She, more than any of the others, stood up with an ignorant, yet somehow respectable air of conviction. If you had watched her, her hymn book dropped to her side, her glance directed straight before her into space, you would have said: "Well, here is one who, whatever her defects, probably does what she believes as nearly as possible." A kind of hard, fighting faith in the wisdom and mercy of that definite overruling and watchful power which she proclaimed, was written in her every feature and gesture.
"The love of Jesus saves me whole,
The love of God my steps control,"
she sang resonantly, if slightly nasally, between the towering walls of the adjacent buildings.
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 from 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 much too responsive to phases of beauty and pleasure which had little, if anything, to do with the remote and cloudy romance which swayed the minds of his mother and father.
Indeed the home life of which this boy found himself a part and the various contacts, material and psychic, which thus far had been his, did not tend to convince him of the reality and force of all that his mother and father seemed so certainly to believe and say. Rather, they seemed more or less troubled in their lives, at least materially. His father was always reading the Bible and speaking in meeting at different places, especially in the "mission," which he and his mother conducted not so far from this corner. At the same time, as he understood it, they collected money from various interested or charitably inclined business men here and there who appeared to believe in such philanthropic work. Yet the family was always "hard up," never very well clothed, and deprived of many comforts and pleasures which seemed common enough to others. And his father and mother were constantly proclaiming the love and mercy and care of God for him and for all. Plainly there was something wrong somewhere. He could not get it all straight, but still he could not help respecting his mother, a woman whose force and earnestness, as well as her sweetness, appealed to him. Despite much mission work and family cares, she managed to be fairly cheerful, or at least sustaining, often declaring most emphatically "God will provide" or "God will show the way," especially in times of too great stress about food or clothes. Yet apparently, in spite of this, as he and all the other children could see, God did not show any very clear way, even though there was always an extreme necessity for His favorable intervention in their affairs.
To-night, walking up the great street with his sisters and brother, he wished that they need not do this any more, or at least that he need not be a part of it. Other boys did not do such things, and besides, somehow it seemed shabby and even degrading. On more than one occasion, before he had been taken on the street in this fashion, other boys had called to him and made fun of his father, because he was always publicly emphasizing his religious beliefs or convictions. Thus in one neighborhood in which they had lived, when he was but a child of seven, his father, having always preluded every conversation with "Praise the Lord," he heard boys call "Here comes old Praise-the-Lord Griffiths." Or they would call out after him "Hey, you're the fellow whose sister plays the organ. Is there anything else she can play?"
"What does he always want to go around saying, 'Praise the Lord' for? Other people don't do it."
It was that old mass yearning for a likeness in all things that troubled them, and him. Neither his father nor his mother was like other people, because they were always making so much of religion, and now at last they were making a business of it.
On this night in this great street with its cars and crowds and tall buildings, he felt ashamed, dragged out of normal life, to be made a show and jest of. The handsome automobiles that sped by, the loitering pedestrians moving off to what interests and comforts he could only surmise; the gay pairs of young people, laughing and jesting and the "kids" staring, all troubled him with a sense of something different, better, more beautiful than his, or rather their life.
And now units of this vagrom and unstable street throng, which was forever shifting and changing about them, seemed to sense the psychologic error of all this in so far as these children were concerned, for they would nudge one another, the more sophisticated and indifferent lifting an eyebrow and smiling contemptuously, the more sympathetic or experienced commenting on the useless presence of these children.
"I see these people around here nearly every night now—two or three times a week, anyhow," this from a young clerk who had just met his girl and was escorting her toward a restaurant. "They're just working some religious dodge or other, I guess."
"That oldest boy don't wanta be here. He feels outa place, I can see that. It ain't right to make a kid like that come out unless he wants to. He can't understand all this stuff, anyhow." This from an idler and loafer of about forty, one of those odd hangers-on about the commercial heart of a city, addressing a pausing and seemingly amiable stranger.
"Yeh, I guess that's so," the other assented, taking in the peculiar cast of the boy's head and face. In view of the uneasy and self-conscious expression upon the face whenever it was lifted, one might have intelligently suggested that it was a little unkind as well as idle to thus publicly force upon a temperament as yet unfitted to absorb their import, religious and psychic services best suited to reflective temperaments of maturer years.
Yet so it was.
As for the remainder of the family, both the youngest girl and boy were too small to really understand much of what it was all about or to care. The eldest girl at the organ appeared not so much to mind, as to enjoy the attention and comment her presence and singing evoked, for more than once, not only strangers, but her mother and father, had assured her that she had an appealing and compelling voice, which was only partially true. It was not a good voice. They did not really understand music. Physically, she was of a pale, emasculate and unimportant structure, with no real mental force or depth, and was easily made to feel that this was an excellent field in which to distinguish herself and attract a little attention. As for the parents, they were determined upon spiritualizing the world as much as possible, and, once the hymn was concluded, the father launched into one of those hackneyed descriptions of the delights of a release, via self-realization of the mercy of God and the love of Christ and the will of God toward sinners, from the burdensome cares of an evil conscience.
"All men are sinners in the light of the Lord," he declared. "Unless they repent, unless they accept Christ, His love and forgiveness of them, they can never know the happiness of being spiritually whole and clean. Oh, my friends! If you could but know the peace and content that comes with the knowledge, the inward understanding, that Christ lived and died for you and that He walks with you every day and hour, by light and by dark, at dawn and at dusk, to keep and strengthen you for the tasks and cares of the world that are ever before you. Oh, the snares and pitfalls that beset us all! And then the soothing realization that Christ is ever with us, to counsel, to aid, to hearten, to bind up our wounds and make us whole! Oh, the peace, the satisfaction, the comfort, the glory of that!"
"Amen!" asseverated his wife, and the daughter, Hester, or Esta, as she was called by the family, moved by the need of as much public support as possible for all of them—echoed it after her.
Clyde, the eldest boy, and the two younger children merely gazed at the ground, or occasionally at their father, with a feeling that possibly it was all true and important, yet somehow not as significant or inviting as some of the other things which life held. They heard so much of this, and to their young and eager minds life was made for something more than street and mission hall protestations of this sort.
Finally, after a second hymn and an address by Mrs. Griffiths, during which she took occasion to refer to the mission work jointly conducted by them in a near-by street, and their services to the cause of Christ in general, a third hymn was indulged in, and then some tracts describing the mission rescue work being distributed, such voluntary gifts as were forthcoming were taken up by Asa—the father. The small organ was closed, the camp chair folded up and given to Clyde, the Bible and hymn books picked up by Mrs. Griffiths, and with the organ supported by a leather strap passed over the shoulder of Griffiths, senior, the missionward march was taken up.
During all this time Clyde was saying to himself that he did not wish to do this any more, that he and his parents looked foolish and less than normal—"cheap" was the word he would have used if he could have brought himself to express his full measure of resentment at being compelled to participate in this way—and that he would not do it any more if he could help. What good did it do them to have him along? His life should not be like this. Other boys did not have to do as he did. He meditated now more determinedly than ever a rebellion by which he would rid himself of the need of going out in this way. Let his elder sister go if she chose; she liked it. His younger sister and brother might be too young to care. But he — "They seemed a little more attentive than usual to-night, I thought," commented Griffiths to his wife as they walked along, the seductive quality of the summer evening air softening him into a more generous interpretation of the customary indifferent spirit of the passer-by.
"Yes; twenty-seven took tracts to-night as against eighteen on Thursday."
"The love of Christ must eventually prevail," comforted the father, as much to hearten himself as his wife. "The pleasures and cares of the world hold a very great many, but when sorrow overtakes them, then some of these seeds will take root."
"I am sure of it. That is the thought which always keeps me up. Sorrow and the weight of sin eventually bring some of them to see the error of their way."
They now entered into the narrow side street from which they had emerged and walking as many as a dozen doors from the corner, entered the door of a yellow single-story wooden building, the large window and the two glass panes in the central door of which had been painted a gray-white. Across both windows and the smaller panels in the double door had been painted: "The Door of Hope. Bethel Independent Mission. Meetings Every Wednesday and Saturday night, 8 to 10. Sundays at 11, 3 and 8. Everybody Welcome." Under this legend on each window were printed the words: "God is Love," and below this again, in smaller type: "How Long Since You Wrote to Mother?"
The small company entered the yellow unprepossessing door and disappeared.
"An American Tragedy", une œuvre puissante qui fait fond sur une vision impitoyable de l`Amérique moderne. Le point de départ du roman est la réaction désespérée de Clyde Grifﬁths, fils de prédicateurs misérables et vagabonds, contre une éducation religieuse trop exclusive dans son fanatisme. La misère et le manque de sens pratique empêchent les parents de surveiller leurs enfants, que le désir de petites satisfactions matérielles, rendu plus aigu par la privation, conduit insensiblement mais sûrement sur le mauvais chemin. D`aspect agréable, pas méchant pour un sou, mais faible de caractère et maladivement esclave de ses désirs et plus encore de sa vanité, Clyde, dès son jeune âge, travaille dans une auberge louche où corruption et vices s`emparent lentement de lui. Contraint de prendre le large en raison d`une sale affaire, il fait par hasard la rencontre d`un de ses oncles, riche industriel qui le prend en sympathie et lui donne un modeste emploi. La révélation du monde nouveau et séduisant de la richesse et de l'élégance excite la nature ambitieuse de Clyde, tendu vers le désir d`atteindre cet Olympe qui lui est défendu.
L`amour de Roberta, compagne d`usine, qui lui était un réconfort pendant ses moments de solitude, lui devient un obstacle : juste au moment où il est sur le point de conquérir une jeune fille belle, riche et capricieuse, Roberta lui annonce qu`elle va être mère, et se raccroche à lui, demandant d'être épousée. Lentement, l`idée du crime germe dans l`esprit de Clyde et. presque inconsciemment, il est poussé à l`accomplir. Roberta se noie durant une promenade en barque. Il n`y a pas de preuve, mais un policier implacable découvre le crime. Pendant la longue épreuve du procès. Clyde est assisté de sa vieille mère qui, l`ayant rejoint pour le défendre, obtiendra au moins la réconciliation de cette victime coupable avec Dieu, quand il n`y aura plus d`autre espoir....
"Dreiser’s Russian Diary" (1928)
Le « Russian Diary » de Theodore Dreiser est un compte rendu détaillé des voyages de l’écrivain américain à travers l’Union soviétique en 1927-1928. Dreiser a d’abord été invité à Moscou pour une semaine de célébration du dixième anniversaire de la révolution d’Octobre, puis il obtint l'autorisation de faire une tournée prolongée du pays. On peut considérer que ce journal inédit est un témoignage de première main de la vie en URSS au cours des années 1920 ...
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), "Look Homeward, Angel : A Story of the Buried Life" (1929)
Né à Asheville (Caroline du Nord), fils d'un tailleur de pierre devenu alcoolique et d`une tenancière de pension de famille, Thomas Clayton, devenu Thomas Wolfe, eut une jeunesse malheureuse et tourmentée. Il fit ses études à l'université de la Caroline du Nord, puis à Harvard. Professeur de littérature à New York pendant plusieurs années, il mit dans son enseignement cette même ardeur indisciplinée qu`il employait à écrire, lire, parler, manger. Géant, au physique comme au moral, il mettait à tout ce qu'il faisait une sorte de frénésie. Maxwell Perkins, son "editor" chez Scribner, eut à réduire à quelques centaines de milliers de mots des romans en totalisant plusieurs millions. Le premier de ses romans, "Aux sources du fleuve" (Look Homeward, Angel, 1929) fut, en fait, le premier volume d'une autobiographie étirée jusqu'aux dimensions imaginaires de quelque fable grandiose où ses parents, ses concitoyens prennent la stature des dieux germaniques. Conté à la première personne, les aventures du jeune homme, consumé par la "contagion merveilleuse de la pensée et de la passion", et qui explore l'Amérique et l'Europe en quête du "fleuve de vie souterrain et terrible", se continuent dans "Au fil du temps" (Of Time and the River : a Legend of Man's Hunger in his Youth, 1935), où le héros nous est présenté, à la troisième personne cette fois, comme une réincarnation d'Oreste. de Jason, d'Antée, de Faust, de Tèlemaque, etc. Dans les deux romans suivants "La Toile et le Roc" (The Web and the Rock, 1939) et "Tu ne peux plus retourner à la maison" (You Can't Go Home Again, 1940], Wolfe rebaptisa son héros George Webbert espèrant ainsi "sortir" de ce personnage perdu entre un "il" et un "je" devenus indiscernables. Il mourut à trente-sept ans des suites d'une pneumonie. Il n'est, pour certains critiques, pas d'égal dans la littérature américaine comme rhapsode et satiriste de l'atmosphère métropolitaine, dont son imagination s'empara avec un mélange de haine, d'horreur et d'insatiable fascination, ni comme créateur de personnages imaginaires, mais son génie se trouva dépasser par un verbalisme incontrôlé. Il reste un objet de culte ....
" I. A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.
Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.
The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.
This is a moment:
An Englishman named Gilbert Gaunt, which he later changed to Gant (a concession probably to Yankee phonetics), having come to Baltimore from Bristol in 1837 on a sailing vessel, soon let the profits of a public house which he had purchased roll down his improvident gullet. He wandered westward into Pennsylvania, eking out a dangerous living by matching fighting cocks against the champions of country barnyards, and often escaping after a night spent in a village jail, with his champion dead on the field of battle, without the clink of a coin in his pocket, and sometimes with the print of a farmer’s big knuckles on his reckless face. But he always escaped, and coming at length among the Dutch at harvest time he was so touched by the plenty of their land that he cast out his anchors there. Within a year he married a rugged young widow with a tidy farm who like all the other Dutch had been charmed by his air of travel, and his grandiose speech, particularly when he did Hamlet in the manner of the great Edmund Kean. Every one said he should have been an actor..."
Au premier abord, "L'Ange exilé" (Look Homeward, Angel : A Story of the Buried Life, 1929), dont l'intrigue se déroule dans une petite ville riche de Caroline du Nord, est un "Portrait de l'artiste en jeune homme poussé à l'extrême". Wolfe n'était toutefois pas un moderniste et ne possédait ni le ton ironique et subtil de Joyce, ni son contrôle à la Flaubert de la matière. L'expression exubérante qui remplace tout cela n'est pas sans sa qualité particulière. Wolfe est un écrivain à l'ancienne, dans la tradition de Whitman et de Melville. ll essayait "plus que tout autre de dire le plus ", a écrit Faulkner, qui le considérait comme l'un des plus grands auteurs de sa génération. Le narrateur donc, Eugene Gant, artiste en herbe est un jeune homme idéaliste doté d'une imagination débordante et d'un désir de transcendance inassouvi. Pourtant, il est incapable de croire en l'idée de Dieu, qu'il juge trop conventionnelle, et tout aussi impuissant à se défaire d'une vision déterministe de la condition humaine. Son passage de l'enfance à l'âge adulte est caractérisé par sa quête de la connaissance de soi ainsi que par la solitude et la frustration qui en résultent. Ce n'est cependant pas sa lutte pour trouver sa place dans le monde qui fait l'intérêt du roman, mais le récit détaillé et très vivant de ceux qui l'entourent, et notamment la tension fascinante entre ses parents, son père, qui boit beaucoup et court les femmes, très sympathique, tandis que sa mère, dotée du sens pratique, travaille dur pour faire vivre les dix membres d'une famille que son mari essaie de détruire à tout prix....