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.
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.
University of Pennsylvania's Dreiser Web Source
Wanna read Dreiser's love letters? How about a peek into his private library? Then check out this awesome collection of Dreiser resources, which includes biographical materials, information on the critical reception of Sister Carrie and Dreiser's other novels, and contextual information for Sister Carrie. Contributions made by super smart Dreiser scholars.
City Life in the Late Nineteenth Century
Can't get enough of Dreiser's urban settings? Read more about the delights of living in noisy, crowded, polluted late nineteenth-century cities.
History of Broadway 101
Step into Carrie's (probably really uncomfortable) dancing shoes and see what Broadway was like in the nineteenth century.
Sister Carrie's Theater
Indulge your inner drama geek by exploring the theaters and plays referenced in Sister Carrie. This site also includes information on the roles of women in theater during the late 1800s.
The classic film stars Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones. Carrie and Hurstwood are both much more likeable than they are in the novel.
An essay about Dreiser's friendships, and friendship in general.
"Ghost-writing For Theodore Dreiser"
Don't worry—it's not as scary as it sounds.
Wanna see the trailer and clips from the movie? You're in luck.
Theodore Dreiser Collection
A video about the University of Pennsylvania's collection of Dreiser documents, complete with some cool Sister Carrie facts.
Dreiser's City: Chicago and New York in the Late Nineteenth Century
An informative video about Chicago and New York during the time period of Sister Carrie.
Give those eyes a rest and perk up your ears. It's Sister Carrie, audio style.
The Man Himself
An image of Theodore Dreiser from the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame
Treat yourself to some bird's eye views of 1890s Chicago.
New York City
The Big Apple was big even way back in the day.