American literature

Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) is nothing less than what the title holds it to be; it is the story of a weak-willed young man who is both villain and victim (the victim of a valueless, materialistic society) and someone who ultimately destroys himself. Dreiser modeled the story of Clyde Griffiths on a real-life murder that took place in 1906; a young social climber of considerable charm murdered his pregnant girlfriend to get her out of the way so that he could instead play to the affections of a rich girl who had begun to notice him.

But An American Tragedy is more than simply a powerful murder story. Dreiser pours his own dark yearnings into his character, Clyde Griffiths, as he details the young man’s course through his ambitions of wealth, power, and satisfaction.

The Indiana-born Dreiser (1871-1945) has never cut a dashing or romantic swath through American literature. He has no Pulitzer or Nobel Prize to signify his importance. Yet he remains for myriad reasons: his novels are often larger than life, rugged, and defy the norms of conventional morality and organized religion. They are unapologetic in their sexual candor--in fact, outrightly frank--and challenge even modern readers. The brooding force of Dreiser’s writing casts a dark shadow across American letters.

Here in An American Tragedy, Dreiser shows us the flip side of The American Dream in a gathering storm that echoes with all of the power and force of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Inspired by the writings of Balzac and the ideas of Spenser and Freud, Dreiser went on to become one of America’s best naturalist writers. An American Tragedy is testimony to the strength of Dreiser’s work: it retains all of its original intensity and force.

A pair of masterly short novels, featuring an introduction by Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Anything Is Possible and My Name Is Lucy Barton
 
Thought Edith Wharton is best known for her cutting contemplation of fashionable New York, Ethan Frome and Summer are set in small New England towns, far from Manhattan’s beau monde. Together in one volume, these thematically linked short novels display Wharton’s characteristic criticism of society’s hypocrisy, and her daring exploration of the destructive consequences of sexual appetite. From the wintry setting of Ethan Frome, where a man hounded by community standards is destroyed by the very thing that might bring him happiness, to the florid town of Summer, where a young woman’s first romance projects her into a dizzying rite of passage, Wharton captures beautifully the urges and failures of human nature.
 
Praise for Edith Wharton and Ethan Frome
 
“Ethan Frome [is considered] Mrs. Wharton’s masterpiece . . . The secret of its greatness is the stark human drama of it; the social crudity and human delicacy intermingled; the defiant, over-riding passion, and the long-drawn-out logic of the paid penalty. It has no contexts, no mitigations; it is plain, raw, first-hand human stuff.”—The New York Times
 
“Ethan Frome [has] become part of the American mythology. . . . Wharton’s astonishing authority here is to render such pain with purity and economy . . . Truly it is a northern romance, akin even to Wuthering Heights.”—Harold Bloom
 
“Traditionally, Henry James has always been placed slightly higher up the slope of Parnassus than Edith Wharton. But now that the prejudice against the female writer is on the wane, they look to be exactly what they are: giants, equals, the tutelary and benign gods of our American literature.”—Gore Vidal
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