Lot 7
  • 7

Dreiser, Theodore

25,000 - 35,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • ink and paper
An American Tragedy. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925

2 volumes. 8vo. Publisher’s cloth and paper over boards, gilt-stamped; largely unopened, but hinges tender and spines faded. In a cloth slipcase.


McDonald 18; Orton 34

Catalogue Note

A presentation copy of number 1 from deluxe issue of 750, inscribed to the publisher: “For Horace B. Liveright / Theodore Dreiser / Dear Liveright: / Since you so patiently and hopefully urged this work on me and have at last seen it come into being I venture to think you may like an inscribed copy. At any rate here is one. And with my acknowledgement of your long maintained faith and encouragement. Dreiser.”

Horace Liveright, known for taking financial risks to publish literature with literary merit but dubious popular appeal (early works of Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, Faulkner, O’Neill, O’Flaherty, Hart Crane, and Djuna Barnes come to mind), had taken a bath on several of Dreiser’s earlier works, but enthusiastically embraced An American Tragedy. He marketed it aggressively and even devised a promotional essay contest with a $500 cash prize for the best consideration of the question, “Was Clyde Griffiths Guilty of Murder in the First Degree?” Initial sales were brisk and reviews overwhelmingly positive, with the exception of conservative writers objecting on moral grounds and of H.L. Mencken, who penned a friendship-ending notice for the Mercury, calling it “a shapeless and forbidding monster—a heaping cartload of raw materials for a novel, with rubbish of all sorts intermixed—a vast, sloppy, chaotic thing of 385,000 words—at least 250,000 of them unnecessary!” (Lingeman, p. 271) In spite of such criticism, it was Dreiser’s first commercial success.