Chronologically arranged and meticulously edited by Thomas P. Riggio, these letters reveal how wide and deep Dreiser’s needs were. Dreiser often discussed his writing in his letters to women friends, telling them what he wanted to do, where he thought he succeeded and failed, and seeking approval or criticism. By turns seductive, candid, coy, and informative, these letters provide an intimate view of a master writer who knew exactly what he was after.
The book has since acquired a considerable reputation. It has been called the "greatest of all American urban novels." It was adapted as a 1952 film by the same name, directed by William Wyler and starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones.
"..When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imita-tion 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.."
At the particular time in question he was most interesting for the eccentricities which years of stalwart independence had developed, but these were lovable peculiarities and only severed from remarkable actions by the compelling power of time and his increasing infirmities. The loud, though pleasant, voice, and strong, often fiery, declamatory manner, were remnants of the days when his fellow-citizens were wholly swayed by the magnificence of his orations. Charmingly simple in manner, he still represented with it that old courtesy which made every stranger his guest. When moved by righteous indignation, there cropped out the daring and domineering insistence of one who had always followed what he considered to be the right, and who knew its power.
Even then, old as he was, if there were any topic worthy of discussion, and his fellow-citizens were in danger of going wrong, he became an haranguing prophet, as it were, a local Isaiah or Jeremiah. Every gate heard him, for he stopped on his rounds in front of each, and calling out the inhabitant poured forth such a volume of fact and argument as tended to remove all doubt of what he, at least, considered right. All of this he invariably accompanied by a magnificence of gesture worthy of a great orator.
--- A True Patriarch