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Reviewed by:
  • A "Sister Carrie" Portfolio
  • Richard W. Dowell
James L. W. West, III. A "Sister Carrie" Portfolio. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1985. 87 pp. $25.00.

In 1900, Doubleday reluctantly published Sister Carrie, but only after Dreiser had allowed the original manuscript to be extensively revised, censored, and cut by approximately 36,000 words. Participants in the revision process were Dreiser's wife, Sara, his friend Arthur Henry, typists, a Doubleday editor, and possibly Frank Doubleday himself. The result was a novel whose descriptions, specifically of Chicago, were less graphic, whose sexual implications were toned down, and [End Page 263] whose determinism was softened. Even then Dreiser had to force Doubleday to honor its commitment to publish his novel. In 1981, through the research and editoral efforts of James West and others, the University of Pennsylvania Press issued a scholarly edition of Sister Carrie based on the original manuscript. It is the editors' belief that the restored version is more consistent with Dreiser's intentions and "a more balanced and compelling novel, a new and more tragic work of art." Certainly the restoration has generated much interest and some controversy among Dreiser scholars.

A "Sister Carrie" Portfolio was published to complement the Pennsylvania edition. What the editors of that volume did so well in words, West has now attempted to do pictorially, using over 120 photographs and facsimiles arranged chronologically to tell the story of Sister Carrie's composition and publication. There are photographs of the principals in that drama as well as those of celebrities and famous sites mentioned in the novel. Also reproduced are pieces of correspondence, contracts, royalty reports, reviews, title pages of early editions, and other Sister Carrie memorabilia.

The heart of the Portfolio, however, is the sequence of manuscript and typescript facsimiles that clearly trace the evolution of the novel. By judicious selections, accompanied by brief but informative commentary, West reveals Dreiser's extensive use and occasional abuse of newspaper clippings and other sources, his reliance on his wife and Henry for stylistic and grammatical revisions, typists' errors that altered the text, Henry's suggested cuts following the novel's rejection by Harper's, and Doubleday's concern about profanity, sexual references, and Dreiser's tendency to use the actual names of celebrities and businesses. To shed as much light as possible on Dreiser's revision of the novel's conclusion, West has also provided a diplomatic transcription of thirteen pages of notes reflecting Dreiser's plans for the new ending. Eight facsimile pages of those notes and resultant revision, much of it in Sara's handwriting, are also included.

The Portfolio is a handsomely bound volume that is "directed toward students, scholars and especially toward teachers of the new text." It is also intended "to demonstrate the pleasures of manuscript study." Beyond question, it should accomplish its aims.

Richard W. Dowell
Indiana State University


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pp. 263-264
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