“OH, CARRIE, CARRIE! OH, BLIND STRIVINGS OF THE HUMAN HEART!”: RARE FIRST EDITION OF DREISER’S SISTER CARRIE
DREISER, Theodore. Sister Carrie. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1900. Octavo, original red cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $6000.
Exceptionally rare first edition of Dreiser’s controversial first novel.
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).
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 [remainder house] J. F. Taylor & Company” (Orton, Dreiseriana, 17). This first edition is extremely rare. In 1929 Vrest Orton wrote that Sister Carrie “is much scarcer than is generally supposed… A book printed in 1900 to the number of only 1008 copies, nearly half of them remaindered (everyone knows the fate of remainders) leaving only 546 actually sold to the trade, is, in 1930, a very scarce book. In the course of 30 years, any edition of 1000 copies of a novel will, for the most part, become lost, destroyed or worn out. And most copies that do exist, will not do so in a very good state” (Orton, 18). McDonald 28-32. Orton 16-19. Owner inscription on half title.
Scattered foxing and soiling to text as often, inner paper hinges split, closed tear to final leaf, light wear to sound original cloth. A very good copy. Extremely rare and desirable.