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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book review Theodore Dreiser “Jennie Gerhardt”


Introduction Theodore Dreiser is generally recognized as one of the top American novelists of the last century. I read his book “Jennie Gerhardt “while on my last visit to the states about 3 months back. It is s one of his finest works. He wrote it in 1911 and the book will still interest readers though more than a hundred years have elapsed. The Novel
The novel is the story of a woman named Jennie Gerhardt. Dreiser delineates the life of the woman from childhood till her old age. It is an excellent example of the naturalist school with which Dreiser is associated. The heroine of the novel the girl Jennie Gerhardt ultimately succeeds in fulfilling her love after a life of trial and tribulation The Story The novel commences from the time Jennie Gerhardt a poor woman without means falls in love with a senator. At that time she is working in a hotel in Columbus, Ohio. The senator wants to sleep with Jennie and as part of his plan announces that he will marry Jennie and also look after her family. Though there is an age difference between the senator and Jennie, she acquiesces to sleeping with the senator. They have sex. Dreiser now creates a twist in the story as the senator dies and Jennie is pregnant with his child. A daughter is born, who she names Vesta. Jennie now changes her place of residence and moves to Cleveland. She takes up another menial job as a lady’s maid in a prosperous and well known family. She meets Lester Kane a well to do man from a business family. She falls in love with him and goes away for a visit to New York, leaving her daughter behind. Kane wants to marry her, but the fear of family resistance to his marrying a woman below his class forces him to propose that Jennie become his mistress.
Twists in the Tale Jennie reveals to Kane that she has a daughter, but Kane accepts it and the couple start living together in Chicago. The family of Kane opposes this relationship and the father leaves a will that Kane will not inherit the family business till he leaves Jennie. Despite this the couple visit Europe and Kane meets a high class woman named Letty Gerald. Jennie is in a bind when she comes to know that Kane has been disinherited because of her and that he also loves Letty. She prevails on Kane to leave her. He accepts and marries Letty. Tragedy now strikes Gerhardt as her daughter dies of typhoid. In the meantime Kane falls sick and when Jennie learns about it she is heartbroken. Her love for Kane comes to the fore as she nurses him till his death. Jennie as a consolation and a purpose in life adopts two orphans. Assessment The novel has an undertone of pessimism and the main protagonist Jennie achieves true love after a tortuous life. The novel is one of the best by Dreiser, who in a writing career spread over 40 years wrote 11 novels. I really enjoyed reading his novel when I was holed up in Chicago with someone close.