Navigation Aids

Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collections



Main Content

Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie
"A Strangely Strong Novel
in a Queer Milieu"
Curated by Nancy M. Shawcross
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
University of Pennsylvania


Photograph proof of Dreiser
New York, 1900
One hundred years ago the first novel by American journalist and editor Theodore Dreiser was issued by Doubleday, Page & Co. At the outset the work was primarily distributed to and read by book reviewers. Among the mixed reactions printed in the initial year of publication came a prophetic analysis by William Marion Reedy in the St. Louis Mirror; it was entitled "Sister Carrie: A Strangely Strong Novel in a Queer Milieu" (3 January 1901). Although he admits that the novel is neither "nice" nor "nasty," Reedy identifies one of the enduring powers of Dreiser's tale: "the strong hint of the pathetic in banale situations which is more frequent than often imagined." In a review dominated by plot summary and frequently acknowledging Dreiser's uneven craft, Reedy always returns to his own captivation with Dreiser's remarkable blend of veritism and art: "at times the whole thing is impossible, and then again it is as absolute as life itself."

Sister Carrie remains vital for many reasons: as an historical marker for the turn away from sentimentality, romance, and moral rectitude in the American novel at the brink of the twentieth century; as a text that influenced--pro and con--succeeding American novelists over the next several decades; and as a conundrum that never ceases to provoke debate for readers both general and professional. While the first half of the twentieth century produced a diverse range of critical opinion on Sister Carrie by reviewers and essayists, the second half has been witness to an abiding argument within academia regarding the quality, value, importance, and interpretation of this signature text.

First edition of
Sister Carrie

by Edgar Lee Masters

Caricature by
Alexander King

Table of Contents
Sister Emma
Brother Paul
Dreiser's Apprenticeship
The Enablers: Sara Osbourne White and Arthur Henry
Sister Carrie in Search of a Publisher
Doubleday, Page & Co. and Beyond
Too Many Cooks?
The Last Word
The Hollywoodization of Carrie
Theodore Dreiser ** Ex Libris