by Theodore Dreiser
Sister Carrie Introduction
In A Nutshell
Sister Carrie was involved in a scandal before it even went to press.
It went down like this: After telling Theodore Dreiser (a.k.a. the author) that they'd accepted his manuscript, the folks at Doubleday, Page, and Company had a change of heart and tried to back out of the deal, declaring the novel immoral. Can you imagine how not cool Dreiser thought this was? We're guessing the powers that be at Doubleday, Page, and Company weren't too familiar with the idea that sex sells.
Clearly Dreiser won the battle though, and Sister Carrie was published in 1900. Doubleday wasn't thrilled about putting the book out, though, so they didn't do much at all to promote it, which resulted in it barely making a splash when it was first released. This would be a bummer to any author—they work hard on their books, after all—but Dreiser fared a bit worse, and the novel's lack of publicity contributed to his nervous breakdown. Oops for Doubleday.
Dreiser was a little ahead of himself with the whole woe is me schtickthough, because his classic American rags-to-riches tale of Carrie Meeber's rise from small town girl to super star skyrocketed in popularity throughout the twentieth century, eventually landing on the Modern Library's list of 100 Best English Language Novels of the Twentieth Century in 1998. Not too shabby for a book that almost didn't get published, right?
Early critics loved to talk smack about Dreiser for his occasional misuse of the English language (like writing objectional instead of objectionable), but he shut them up in 1930 when he became a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Though he ultimately lost to Sinclair Lewis, Dreiser's popularity emerged untarnished and, to this day, he is a staple on high school and college reading lists.
Why Should I Care?
Ever wondered whether having cooler clothes and a few thousand more Facebook friends would make you happier? Look no further than Sister Carrie for some insight on that one.
Carrie Meeber doesn't start out rich or popular. In fact, when we first meet her, she's just a shy, timid teenager leaving home for the first time to try to scrape together a living in the big city of Chicago. But it doesn't take her very long to figure out what she really wants: to be rich and famous. She's absolutely certain that money and fame will bring her the ultimate happiness, and she makes it her mission to achieve them.
Along the way, Carrie's quest drives her to enter into some pretty sketchy relationships with men, and it puts quite a strain on some of her friendships, too. But she eventually becomes a big star and manages to get everything she wanted: a boatload of money, a killer wardrobe, and more fans than Lady Gaga.
Despite all this though, Carrie ends up feeling terribly lonely. She realizes that even though she seems to have tons of friends, she doesn't have anyone who really understands her or to whom she feels truly connected. If any of this sounds familiar or intriguing, you'll probably like (you know, Facebook-style) Sister Carrie.