Rare First Edition of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie; Inscribed by Him
Item Number: 117238
New York: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1900.
First edition of the author’s scarce first book. Octavo, original red cloth. Presentation copy, inscribed by the author on the front free endpaper, “For F.W. Skiff, with good wishes, from Theodore Dreiser, Portland, June 7, 1930.” Bookplate of noted book collector Frederick W. Skiff on the front pastedown. Laid in is an envelope addressed to recipient in Dreiser’s hand, and with Dreiser’s return address on the back including his name; inside the envelope is a receipt/waybill signed by Dreiser for a shipment via the American Railway Express Company, being a package shipped from Dreiser to Skiff on May 24, 1926, valued at $150. In very good condition. Housed in a custom half morocco chemise and clamshell box. Doubleday’s records indicate, “the first edition consisted of 1008 copies, of which 129 were sent out for review, 465 were sold, and the balance, 423 copies, were turned over to J. F. Taylor & Company (a remainder house)”. Exceptionally rare signed and with noted provenance.
According to biographer W. A. Swanberg, Dreiser “seemed to have had no inkling that he was creating a revolutionary work. He wrote with a compassion for human suffering that was exclusive with him in America. He wrote with a tolerance for transgression that was as exclusive and as natural” (De Grazia, 101). He was aware, however, that others would find the novel controversial. Even before it was submitted he had made attempts to revise, or “clean up” his novel, at the urging of his first wife, Sarah Osborne White, “Jug.” With her help and that of his good friend Arthur Henry, he made many changes and cut an estimated 36,000 words from the manuscript. Franklin Doubleday, who was alarmed when he returned from Europe to find that his firm had taken the work, “went on to publish Carrie, but on his own terms. He personally edited the proofs and insisted to Dreiser that all the profanities be removed and certain ‘suggestive’ passages altered… The much-laundered Carrie became spotless; worse-yet, as Dreiser’s biographer Richard Lingeman has said, Carrie’s cheap-looking binding and lettering ‘would have been more appropriate on a plumbing manual.’ Frank Doubleday carried out the terms of the contract for Carrie in the most minimal way possible, ‘in the hope that it would not attract much notice” (DeGrazia, 103). Because of the alterations Sister Carrie avoided court prosecution but Dreiser felt it was “stillborn.” The expurgated text made Carrie’s motivations incoherent, and bad reviews killed the novel on its first publication. Dreiser was deeply affected by these struggles and did not publish another novel for ten years. H.L. Mencken spearheaded the novel’s critical reappraisal, and it came to be recognized as a groundbreaking and influential novel of American realism and naturalism. As Sinclair Lewis said of Dreiser in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1930, “without his pioneering, I doubt if any of us could, unless we liked to be sent to jail, seek to express life, beauty and terror” (Parker & Kermode, 2). Named by Modern Library as one of the 100 Greatest Novels of the twentieth century.