Although Theodore Dreiser finished Sister Carrie in 1900, years of stutter steps on the part of various publishing companies delayed its full American publication until 1908. Even then, as Dreiser describes, “the outraged protests far outnumbered the plaudits.” Dreiser’s new “realism” was shocking to readers.
While Sister Carrie may not pack the same punch 100 years later, the story is sprightly and still relevant. It moves right along, with plenty of dialog and even some exciting adventures. The period details of Carrie’s life may be particular to fin de siècle New York, but the story of Carrie’s efforts to rise above her situation, in contrast to the pathos of Hurstwood’s decline, is still compelling.
The only off-note was the last minute “moral of the story” message that seemed tacked on in the last two pages. That money cannot buy happiness is a common message, but a little hard to go along with when weighed against the alternative presented by Hurstwood’s fate. Compared to the pages and pages of sermonizing that wrap up Dreiser’s American Tragedy, however, the final homily is blessedly short.
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Sister Carries made it to the Modern Library Top 100 list. I am particularly fond of my Modern Library edition because it has the funky dust jacket image.