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  • Love That Will Not Let Me Go: My Time with Theodore Dreiser
  • Jerome Loving
Love That Will Not Let Me Go: My Time with Theodore Dreiser. By Marguerite Tjader. Edited by Lawrence E. Hussman. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. xx + 131 pp. $19.95.

Ever since W. A. Swanberg’s roguish portrait of the author of Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy appeared in 1965, Theodore Dreiser’s reputation as the first great American novelist of the twentieth century and the “father of American realism” has been tarnished, if not obscured, by his reputation as a philanderer. Indeed, Dreiser himself is partly to blame because he was painfully honest in his autobiographies and personal statements; moreover, he sometimes boasted of his success with women. The problem has been further compounded by books written by many of his lovers and the publication of his American Diaries in 1983. The heaviest blow was probably dealt by Yvette Eastman in Dearest Wilding: A Memoir (1995), in which it is revealed that the fifty-eight-year-old Dreiser took the sixteen-year-old future author to bed at his country retreat in Mt. Kisco, New York. Two of the book’s illustrations show the virginal-looking (she had earlier been seduced by Max Eastman) Yvette at age seventeen and a foxy-looking Dreiser in front of one of the log cabins on his Mt. Kisco estate.

When Helen Dreiser (the “second Mrs. Dreiser”) published her memoir, My Life with Dreiser, in 1951, she dedicated it to “the unknown women in the life of Theodore Dreiser, who devoted themselves unselfishly to the beauty of his intellect and its artistic unfoldment” (dedication page). Except for passing speculation in the formal biographies and memoirs of Dreiser, we know little or nothing (outside the fictional portrait of her in The “Genius” [1915]) of the first Mrs. Dreiser, Sara Osborne White. There were many women in between: from Thelma Cudlipp in 1910, when Dreiser’s first marriage broke up, to Marguerite Tjader Harris in 1944, when he finally (secretly) married Helen after living with her for nearly twenty-five years. Tjader, as she is known as an author, published Theodore Dreiser: A New Dimension in 1965, and now (posthumously through the scholarly assistance of Lawrence E. Hussman) has published her second book on the subject. [End Page 268]

If Dreiser scholars were not completely convinced that Tjader and Dreiser had a sexual relationship after reading her first book, they will be after reading Love That Will Not Let Me Go: My Time with Theodore Dreiser. Unlike Dreiser’s most literary mistress, Louise Campbell, who seduced Dreiser by letter after reading A Hoosier Holiday (1916), Mrs. Harris had read absolutely nothing by Dreiser—by then famous as the author of a best-selling novel in l925—when they first met at a dinner party in 1928. She was twenty-seven, “but already married and restless.” Their relationship began soon thereafter and continued off and on until 1944, when Dreiser decided to finish The Bulwark (1947), a novel about a Quaker family he had first begun more than thirty years earlier. During a visit to New York to receive an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the two spent some blissful days together. Afterward, Dreiser persuaded her to follow him back to California to assist with the completion of The Bulwark. Under Helen’s watchful eye, the two continued the relationship on a more spiritual level—perhaps uplifted by the religious theme of The Bulwark.

Tjader’s purpose in Love That Will Not Let Me Go is to fill in the spaces between the lines of her first book. In doing so, much ground previously plowed in Dreiser biography is covered, but new insights and documentary fragments will add to the record. Tjader includes a letter from John Cowper Powys, one of Dreiser’s best friends and a soulmate in superstition, to Helen Dreiser after Theodore’s death. In it he urges Helen to polish and publish her husband’s “philosophical book” (Notes on Life, edited by Tjader and John J. McAleer in 1974), something Helen was hardly qualified to do.

Tjader’s most important contribution to...

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pp. 268-270
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Archived 2001
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