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Dreiser and the B. W. Dodge Sister Carrie by James L. W. West III

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Dreiser and the B. W. Dodge Sister Carrie
James L. W. West III

Most of the bibliographical attention given to Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie has been directed toward the infamous first edition of the novel, published by Doubleday, Page & Co. in 1900. But just as interesting in many respects is the republication of Sister Carrie seven years later by B. W. Dodge & Co. This "edition" (actually a reprint from the Doubleday plates) brought Sister Carrie back into the literary marketplace and reintroduced it to the American public. During the preliminary research for the recent University


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of Pennsylvania edition of Sister Carrie, I discovered much information about the Dodge "edition." Most of these data were of no value in establishing the text of the novel and were therefore not included in the textual commentary of the Pennsylvania edition.[1] The Dodge Sister Carrie has always interested me, however, and I have continued to look into its history. In the essay that follows, I shall attempt to bring together my findings about this very important text of Sister Carrie.

Most Dreiser scholars probably know something already about the role of B. W. Dodge & Co. in the textual history of Sister Carrie. Doubleday, Page & Co. first published the novel in November 1900 but made no particular effort to promote or sell it, filling only those orders that happened to come in. Dreiser therefore persuaded another publisher, J. F. Taylor, to purchase the remainder stock and plates from Doubleday, Page in 1901 for $500. Dreiser wanted Taylor to reissue the novel right away, but Taylor was more interested in Jennie Gerhardt, which Dreiser was then composing, and which Taylor had under contract. Taylor also disliked the ending of Sister Carrie and wanted Dreiser to rewrite it before the book was republished. Dreiser, then going through a period of extreme personal difficulty, was unable to complete Jennie, much less rewrite the ending of Carrie, and the plan for republication by Taylor fell through.[2]

Dreiser did not forget about Sister Carrie, though. He was determined eventually to have the novel republished, and after attempting unsuccessfully in 1905 to have his friend Charles MacLean reissue the book, he acquired the stock and plates himself in 1906 for $550. Dreiser, however, was financially unable to sponsor the republication of Sister Carrie alone, so he gave copies of the novel to Flora Mai Holley, an early literary agent, and asked her to approach potential publishers. Holley gave a copy of the novel to Benjamin W. Dodge, who read it and liked it. Not trusting his judgment entirely, Dodge sent the book to his friend and business associate Charles H. Doscher in Chicago. Years later Doscher recalled that he had read Sister Carrie in one sitting in the old Palmer House (where, incidentally, some of the scenes of the novel are set). Doscher was much impressed by Sister Carrie and wired Dodge immediately, urging him to take on the book.[3]

Dodge and Doscher and a friend William Rickey, who had together formed a fledgling publishing house called B. W. Dodge & Co., invited Dreiser to join their venture. Ben Dodge agreed to republish Sister Carrie, but he was not willing to take much financial risk. Dodge's agreement with Dreiser, preserved among the Dreiser Papers at the University of Pennsylvania Library, stipulates that Dreiser will pay $1,000 to the firm and also sign over all royalties on Sister Carrie to the publisher in return for fifty


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shares of capital stock (with a theoretical value of $5,000). Dreiser is assigned the title of "Director" of the company and is given an option of purchasing fifty additional shares of stock later on. He is to work for the company part-time, for $35.00 a week, but his salary is simply to be counted against the $4,000 he still owes Dodge for the first fifty shares of stock.[4]

It takes no great experience with publishers' contracts to see that Dreiser was not especially well treated here. He was putting up $1,000 of his own money and agreeing to work for stock which, at this point, had no real value. The only way Dreiser could come out ahead was for Sister Carrie to sell widely. Then the firm would make money, its stock would be worth something, and Dreiser's cash and labor would not have been wasted. That Dreiser (who was experienced in the business of authorship) should have signed such a contract shows how badly he wanted his novel reissued. His signing also indicates his confidence in the saleability of Sister Carrie.

Once the contract was signed, Dreiser set about promoting the upcoming reissue. Nothing helps sell a book like a bit of scandal, and Dreiser therefore wrote the press releases and advertisements to emphasize the "suppression" of the novel in 1900.[5] He played up Mrs. Doubleday's supposed role in the affair and thus began many of the apocryphal stories about Sister Carrie that have persisted until recent years. Dreiser also seems to have based one of his promotional techniques on the commercial history of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Crane's novel was published in America by Appleton in October 1895, and it appeared in England one month later in an edition published by William Heinemann. Book reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic praised the book highly, but the British—for reasons that still remain obscure—claimed to have recognized the book first as a masterpiece. The British press insisted that American critics were only following suit after the English notices had assured them Crane's novel was good. "Like so many American authors," needled the London Academy, "he owes his success to British enthusiasm. It was not until The Red Badge of Courage was brought out in this country, in the autumn of 1895, that America 'found' its author. Mr. Crane would be the first to acknowledge his indebtedness to the English critics and the English public, who, with one accord, forced his name into well-deserved prominence."[6] American critics disputed this claim, and there was much skirmishing in book columns and on literary pages, but the matter was never really settled.

Modern scholars have agreed that the American reception of The Red Badge was not so chilly as the British claimed, nor was the English reception so warm. In 1907, however, when Dreiser was drawing up his sales campaign


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for the Dodge Sister Carrie, the myth was still very much alive. Dreiser, who had been interested in Crane's work for years and who had been influenced by Crane in the composition of Sister Carrie, surely knew the story.[7] He seems therefore to have used a similar approach with Sister Carrie, maintaining that the British reviewers and buyers (by implication more sophisticated than their American counterparts) had early seen the value and importance of Sister Carrie, which had also been brought out in England by Heinemann. Dreiser's claims about the English reception of Sister Carrie became a constant theme in advertisements for the Dodge reissue (Westlake, pp. 79-82).

Most of this publicity, we now know, was only half true, and some of it was not true at all. Mrs. Doubleday was not alone responsible for her husband's aversion to Sister Carrie; in fact, she may have had nothing to do with his initial dislike of the book. And Doubleday, Page & Co. did not actually "suppress" Sister Carrie; the firm simply did not make a very strong effort to sell the book. And the English press for Sister Carrie was not especially warm, nor were the American notices especially cold, nor were the British sales especially good.[8] (Heinemann, in fact, had miscalculated the popularity of Sister Carrie and had been left with a large remainder stock which he did not finally dispose of until 1912.[9]) But these stories made good copy, stimulated sales, and eventually became the cornerstones of the Sister Carrie legend.

Why did Dreiser start these stories? Was he particularly anxious to discredit Doubleday, or was his memory that poor? Perhaps so, but we must also remember that he had $1,550 riding on the success of the B. W. Dodge Sister Carrie—a considerable sum in 1907. His willingness to bend the truth was caused, at least in part, by the monetary loss he stood to suffer if the novel failed again.

Before reissuing Sister Carrie Dreiser decided to make two changes in the book. The 1900 first printing had been fulsomely dedicated to Dreiser's friend Arthur Henry, who had prodded him into beginning the novel, had encouraged him during its composition, and had helped him revise and cut it in typescript. By 1907, though, the friendship had cooled, and Dreiser therefore had the dedication to Henry omitted from the Dodge printing. The other change was designed to avoid unfavorable publicity. While composing Sister Carrie in late 1899 and early 1900, Dreiser had based a passage of description on George Ade's "The Fable of the Two Mandolin Players and the Willing Performer," a short sketch which Ade had originally published in the Chicago Record on 7 October 1899 and had subsequently collected in his Fables in Slang (1899). A reviewer for the Syracuse Post-Standard


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in 1900 had called attention to Dreiser's crib. Dreiser, anxious to avoid any taint of plagiarism in the Dodge reprinting, therefore rewrote the passage (which appears on p. 5 of the book) and had the new wording patched into the plates. Thus all B. W. Dodge copies were published without the dedication to Henry and without the passage from Ade (Pennsylvania edition, pp. 558-559, 637-638). And there was an addition to the Dodge reprint: color plates were made up showing Carrie on stage, taking a curtain call in her "Quaker Maid" costume, and these were tipped into all Dodge copies as frontispieces.

There is a potential bibliographical puzzle involving the remainder stock from the Doubleday, Page first printing. When Doubleday sold stock and plates to Taylor in 1901, 85 bound copies and 250 sets of unbound sheets remained on hand. The surviving correspondence shows, in fact, that these sheets were still in the sealed packing case in which the printer had originally delivered them. By the time Taylor sold stock and plates to MacLean in 1905, only 58 bound copies were left. J. F. Taylor was primarily a remainder house which bought up dead stock from publishers and sold it door-to-door. One may therefore speculate that Taylor's salesmen managed to dispose of some 27 bound copies of the Doubleday, Page & Co. Sister Carrie, probably to unsuspecting housewives. The remaining 58 copies went to MacLean along with the 250 sets of sheets, still in the packing case. Sheets, stock, and plates passed to Dreiser, as we have seen, in 1906.[10]

These unbound sheets present some intriguing possibilities. One assumes that Dreiser had the bound copies destroyed, but one wonders if he was tempted to have those 250 sets of unused sheets bound up. B. W. Dodge was operating on a shoestring, and Dreiser and his associates could have saved a few dollars by selling these sheets in new Dodge bindings. This possibility has prompted me, over the past several years, to examine numerous copies of the Dodge Sister Carrie in search of Doubleday, Page sheets in a Dodge casing.[11] I had several potential clues. Something would have to have been done with the Doubleday title page, and there were two possibilities. Either Dodge could have substituted a cancel title page, or it could have had the entire first gathering reprinted. The second possibility is the more attractive, because by re-running that first gathering the printer could have rearranged the imposition pattern to eliminate the dedication page, and he could also have used the altered plate for p. 5 and thus have printed the rewritten Ade passage. But to have reprinted only that first gathering would have caused some difficulty because the Doubleday, Page Sister Carrie is imposed in eights


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whereas the Dodge Sister Carrie is imposed in sixteens.[12] To have reprinted that first gathering, the printer would have had to impose the plates in eights for a one-time run of only 250 sheets—a short run even by 1907 standards. So Dreiser and his partners seem to have decided that it would be too much trouble to save the 250 sets of Doubleday sheets. At least, I have never seen a copy of the Dodge Sister Carrie which includes the original form of the Ade passage. Such copies may exist, however, and Dreiser collectors and scholars should check all copies of the Dodge Carrie they encounter.

Copies of the Dodge reprint are relatively easy to find. Dreiser's promotional efforts paid off, and demand for copies at bookshops was strong. Sister Carrie was widely reviewed, with much mention of its original suppression, and the novel sold well enough for a second Dodge printing to be necessary. Dreiser's early bibliographers put a great deal of energy into differentiating the two Dodge printings, with mixed success. In 1928 Edward D. McDonald revealed the most obvious identifying point; it is on the copyright page where the legend 'PRESS OF | BRAUNWORTH & CO. | BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS | BROOKLYN, N. Y.' appears at the foot of the page. The first Dodge impression bears this printer's legend, the second impression does not. McDonald, however, had the order wrong in his statement that the first Dodge printing had "no printer's mark."[13] A year later Vrest Orton straightened out the sequence of printings and noted five different states of the book, all created by binding variants. Orton's descriptions are reproduced below:

  • A: Red woven cloth binding, words Sister Carrie on front cover stamped in gold, and this inscription on the copyright page Press of / Braunworth & Co. / Bookbinders and Printers / Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • B: Same binding, words Sister Carrie on front cover stamped in yellow ink, same inscription on copyright page.
  • C: Same binding, same stamping as (B), no printer's name on copyright page.
  • D: Same binding, Sister Carrie on cover in gold, no printer's name on copyright page.
  • D: Bound in blue woven cloth, same stamping as (A), same inscription as (A).[14]
A little study will show that Orton has based his classification on casings rather than on sheets, something a modern bibliographer would not do.


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What Orton is really describing is two impressions and three different casings, two of which he has seen on both impressions of the sheets. One must remember that we are dealing here with mass-produced case bindings. Dodge apparently had at least two runs of the case prepared in red cloth, one with the title stamped in gold and the other with the title stamped in yellow. The blue casing (E) above is likely from a separate casing run, or it may be part of the gold-stamped run (A), prepared after the shop had run out of red cloth. I have also seen three copies of the Dodge Carrie (all first Dodge impressions) bound in a greenish gray cloth with "SISTER CARRIE" stamped in orange. What all this means is that for the Dodge Sister Carrie, the casing has no relation to the priority of the sheets. Runs of sheets and runs of casings were manufactured independently, and both impressions of the text were probably bound in all of the different casings. It is even possible that some copies were created by mixing sheets from the two impressions, but I have not discovered any such copies by applying standard bibliographical tests. And I have no idea what the priority of these various casings might have been.

The first printing of the Dodge Sister Carrie was sold out and, as we have seen, a second printing was executed. Dodge bound up only part of this second impression, however, waiting to see if sales would justify binding up the rest of the sheets. That was a wise decision. Sales did slow down sometime in 1908, and Dodge decided to dispose of its remaining unbound sheets to Grosset & Dunlap, the largest remainder and reprint house in the business. Grosset & Dunlap also received the plates of Sister Carrie. For the unbound sheets, Grosset & Dunlap had its own casing made up—identical to the yellow-stamped Dodge casing except that the foot of the spine now reads "GROSSET | & | DUNLAP". Interestingly enough one finds sheets from both Dodge printings in this Grosset & Dunlap casing, which indicates that some of the sheets from the first printing had never been bound up. Grosset & Dunlap later produced its own impression from the Sister Carrie plates. These copies have an integral Grosset & Dunlap title page and seven integral pages of ads in the final gathering.

To complicate matters further I have in my own collection a very unusual copy of the Dodge Sister Carrie in a variant red casing unlike any of the casings described above. This copy seems to be one of a lot prepared for the Canadian market in an effort to move left-over bound copies of the second Dodge impression. The title page of this copy is a cancel printed on cheap pulp stock; the lettering reads as follows: "[within a double-rule rectangle] Sister Carrie | By | Theodore Dreiser | [double rule] | [printer's ornament, intertwined vines and leaves] | Second Edition | Tenth Thousand | [rule] | Canadian Edition | [double rule] | B. W. DODGE & CO. | New York | 1907". The verso of this title page is blank, and there is a tipped-in tissue interleaf between the title page and the color frontispiece. This interleaf, not present in any of the other Dodge or Grosset & Dunlap copies I have examined, was probably inserted to keep the pulp title page (which was sure


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to oxidize quickly) from ruining the facing frontispiece. Because the original title/copyright leaf is gone, we cannot know if the copyright page carried the printer's legend or not, but gutter measurements confirm that this Canadian Sister Carrie is made up of sheets from the second Dodge printing (see note 13). The title page, in fact, reads "Second Edition"—a designation which in 1907 would have meant "second impression." And the title page also announces that this copy is part of the "Tenth Thousand," suggesting that in all Dodge manufactured and marketed (or sold to Grosset & Dunlap) some 10,000 copies (or sets of sheets) of Sister Carrie. That is a useful piece of information, because the only other clue we have to the size of the Dodge impressions is a single surviving royalty report from Dodge to Dreiser. This report, dated 1 September 1907, reveals that as of the end of August, Dodge had sold 4,617 copies of the reissue.[15] Unless other records turn up we will never know the sizes of each impression, but it is worth noting that in my searches over the past several years I have found a great many more copies of the first Dodge printing than of the second. One may speculate, then, that the first printing was perhaps 7,000 copies and the second perhaps 3,000 copies, of which possibly only 1,000-1,500 were bound up. The rest of the second printing was remaindered in sheets to Grosset & Dunlap, along with a few sheets left over from the first impression. The unsold bound copies, part of the "Tenth Thousand," were given a special title page and sent to the Canadian market. This Canadian issue was likely an afterthought. There was apparently no initial effort to address the Canadian buying public—at least Dreiser's most recent secondary bibliographers have found no 1907 Canadian reviews of Sister Carrie.[16] One therefore assumes that Dodge was simply trying to dispose of its left-over bound copies by marketing them north of the St. Lawrence.

What do these bits of information tell us about the B. W. Dodge Sister Carrie? They tell us first that Dreiser was quite eager to have his novel republished, eager enough to buy the plates and sign a poor contract in which he took much of the financial risk himself. And under this financial pressure he was anxious enough for high sales to twist the truth a bit—just enough to stimulate sales. Sister Carrie did well for Dodge: the many binding variants and the various attempts to move unsold copies and sheets show that the Dodge firm (with Dreiser as a director, we must remember) employed a great many strategies for marketing the book. Dodge was successful, selling perhaps 8,500 copies in a fairly short time and placing the unsold stock and plates


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with a good reprint house which would keep the novel on the market after the initial stir caused by its republication had died down. The B. W. Dodge Sister Carrie constitutes an interesting chapter the publishing history of the novel. The Dodge "edition" was pivotal: it kept Dreiser's name before the reading public, helped create the Sister Carrie legend, and prepared the way for the great success in 1911 of his second novel, Jennie Gerhardt.



Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie, historical editors, John C. Berkey and Alice M. Winters; textual editor, James L. W. West III; general editor, Neda M. Westlake (1981).


See James L. W. West III, "Nicholas Blood and Sister Carrie," Library Chronicle, 44 (1979), 32-42.


Typescript account by Doscher entitled "An Episode in the Life of 'Sister Carrie,'" in the Dodge correspondence file, Dreiser Papers, Univ. of Pennsylvania Library.


Contract between Dreiser and B. W. Dodge & Co., dated 6 June 1907, Dodge correspondence file, Dreiser Papers, Univ. of Pennsylvania Library.


See Neda M. Westlake, "The Sister Carrie Scrapbook," Library Chronicle, 44 (1979), 71-84, and Robert H. Elias, Theodore Dreiser: Apostle of Nature, emended ed. (1970), pp. 136-138.


Quoted in R. W. Stallman, Stephen Crane: A Biography (1968), p. 184; see also pp. 179-180 and 182.


See Joseph Katz, "Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane: Studies in a Literary Relationship," Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, ed. Katz (1972), pp. 174-204.


The important British reviews of 1901 and the significant American reviews of both 1900 and 1907 are republished in Theodore Dreiser: The Critical Reception, ed. Jack Salzman (1972). See also Salzman's "The Critical Recognition of Sister Carrie, 1900-1907," Journal of American Studies, 3 (1969), 123-133.


Sister Carrie, Pennsylvania edition, p. 530.


Correspondence which reveals these details is in Box 336 of the Dreiser Papers.


The copies from institutional libraries that I have examined are as follows: Univ. of Pennsylvania Library *AC9.D8144.900sc and 900s.1907, and 49-D-549; Lilly Library PS3507.R55.S6.1907, copies 1 and 2; Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ. PS3507.R55. S5.1907; SUNY Binghamton PS3507.R55.S5.1907, 1907b, 1907c, 1907d, and 1908. I have also worked with four copies in my personal collection. I am indebted to Marion Hanscom, Special Collections Librarian at SUNY Binghamton, for going to unusual lengths in order that I might examine the copies in his collection.


The original Doubleday, Page & Co. plates of Sister Carrie were signed in eights with arabic numerals, [1] 2-35, in the lower left corners of every sixteenth page. Most of the later reprints from these venerable plates were imposed in sixteens, but no one ever bothered to chisel off the signature markings. They are present as late as 1932 in the Modern Library reprint of Sister Carrie, which is itself gathered in sixteens.


McDonald, A Bibliography of the Writings of Theodore Dreiser (1928), p. 34. The two printings can also be differentiated by gutter measurements. The gutter distances in the first printing between pp. 134-135, 326-327, and 422-423 are respectively 37.5, 38, and 38 mm. The same measurements in the second printing are 35.5, 36, and 36 mm.


Orton, Dreiserana: A Book about His Books (1929), p. 24.


This report is part of the Dodge correspondence, Dreiser Papers. Under his agreement with Dodge, Dreiser received 15 &c.nt; each for the first 3,000 copies sold and 22½ &c.nt; for the remaining 1,617, for a total of $813.82. Also included on the report is a statement of Dreiser's theoretical salary, $35.00 a week for twelve weeks, or $420.00 Royalties and salary totalled $1,233.82, which was deducted from the $4,000 Dreiser owed the firm for the fifty shares of stock.


Donald Pizer, Richard W. Dowell, and Frederic E. Rusch, Theodore Dreiser: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1975), part two, sect. L.


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