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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser was the son of a German Catholic immigrant father and a German-Moravian Mennonite mother. He spent his childhood in the Midwest, his parents moving frequently from one town to another as they searched for steady employment and tried to establish a stable home life for their large family. Paul, the eldest of the ten Dreiser children, changed his name to the less Germanic “Dresser” and went on stage where he became famous as a vaudeville performer and songwriter. The other Dreiser children, with the exception of Theodore, were less successful: all of them rebelled against their father’s dogmatic Catholicism, and some of them drifted into petty crime or, in the case of several of the girls, into liaisons with married men. Theodore’s education was desultory, but through the generosity of one of his elementary school teachers he did manage a year at Indiana University in 1889–90. Not long after, he made a start in journalism and wrote for newspapers in Chicago, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. During this period he first encountered the fiction of Balzac and the philosophical writings of Huxley, Tyndall, and Spencer. These authors had a strong impact on him and profoundly influenced his subsequent thinking.

By 1899 Dreiser had become a successful free-lance writer in New York City and had married. At the urging of his friend Arthur Henry, he undertook a novel and based it on the experiences of one of his sisters. That novel became Sister Carrie (1900), a landmark in American naturalistic fiction. Difficulties with his publisher over the novel, together with marital problems and other tensions, caused Dreiser to suffer a nervous breakdown in 1902. With the aid of his brother Paul he recovered and re-entered the world of journalism early in 1904 but attempted no significant new writing for almost seven years—though he did have Sister Carrie successfully reissued in 1907. After he lost a lucrative position with the Butterick Publishing Company in 1910, Dreiser completed and published Jennie Gerhardt (1911). That book, with Sister Carrie, finally established him as a visible, pioneering novelist.

The next fourteen years were productive but difficult for Dreiser. Such novels as The Financier, The Titan, and The “Genius” were frank in their treatment of sex and severe in their criticism of American society; as a result, they were frequently attacked and sometimes banned. Dreiser joined with H. L. Mencken, his champion among critics, and with Horace Liveright, his publisher, to battle the forces of puritanism and repression in the courts and the literary marketplace. These conflicts left Dreiser exhausted and wary of further disputes with censors. After The “Genius” in 1915, he published no new novel for ten years, though he worked on several in manuscript. His career as a writer of fiction culminated in 1925 with publication of the magnificent two-volume novel An American Tragedy, based on an actual murder case in upstate New York. After the Tragedy, Dreiser completed no other novel until almost the end of his life, but he remained active over the next two decades, issuing poetry, short fiction, travel books, philosophical writings, journalism, drama, and a remarkable autobiographical volume entitled Dawn (1931). During the thirties and forties he involved himself in proletarian causes and, shortly before his death, applied for membership in the Communist Party.

“Typhoon” was written by Dreiser not long after he published An American Tragedy. Like that novel it is based on an actual murder case—the shooting of Edward Lister by Ethel Schultz in Philadelphia on October 27, 1925. “Typhoon” is typically Dreiserian: the story includes elements strongly reminiscent of Sister Carrie, Jennie Gerhardt, and the Tragedy, and it touches on many other major themes found in Dreiser’s writings. Its message, strongly pessimistic, is tempered by Dreiser’s sympathy for his characters, especially Ida, who is trapped biologically and is driven by desires and motives which she does not understand.

Dreiser wrote “Typhoon” early in 1926 for the mass-circulation magazine Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan. The story appeared there in October 1926 under the title “The Wages of Sin” and was republished the following spring, under Dreiser’s preferred title, in his collection Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories. Both the magazine text and the collected text were cut and censored before publication. The magazine version was especially heavily edited; the cuts altered characterization and motivation, removed many references to sex, and softened the harsh determinism of the theme. Dreiser restored some of the excised material to the collected version, but he was still not able to publish “Typhoon” as he had originally written it. The text presented here has been reconstructed by James M. Hutchisson from manuscripts and typescripts which survive among Dreiser’s literary papers at the University of Pennsylvania. “Typhoon” appears in the book as Dreiser originally wished to publish it.

James M. Hutchisson
The Citadel

James L.W. West III
The Pennsylvania State University

In the Heath Anthology
Typhoon (1926)  [n.b., 1989]

Other Works
Sister Carrie (1900)
Jennie Gerhardt (1911)
The Financier (1912)
A Traveler at Forty (1913)
The Titan (1914)
The "Genius" (1915)
A Hoosier Holiday (1916)
Free and Other Stories (1918)
Twelve Men (1919)
Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub! (1920)
A Book about Myself (1922)
The Color of a Great City (1923)
An American Tragedy (1925)
Moods (1926)
Chains (1927)
Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928)
A Gallery of Women (1929)
Dawn (1931)
The Bulwark (1946)
The Stoic (1947)

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International Theodore Dreiser Society
Information on the society, links, and news.

The Sister Carrie Website
Full text of the novel, facsimile of the typescript, and background essays.

Secondary Sources

Robert Elias, Theodore Dreiser: Apostle of Nature, 1970

Philip Gerber, "Theodore Dreiser," bibliographical sketch in Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 9, 1981

Miriam Gogol, Theodore Dreiser: Beyond Naturalism, 1995

Joseph Griffin, The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser's Short Stories, 1985

James M. Hutchisson, "The Composition and Publication of 'Another American Tragedy': Dreiser's 'Typhoon,'" Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 81:1, 1987

Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism, 1987

Ellen Moers, Two Dreisers, 1969

Conrad E. Ostwalt, After Eden: The Secularization a American Space in the Fiction of Willa Cather and Theordore Dreiser, 2000