Tag Archives: Thomas P. Riggio

a scholarly rip-off; the real identity of Theodore Dreiser’s chaplain

 

 

 

Chapter XLV of Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, is entitled “Curious Shifts of the Poor.” In this famous chapter, which has echoes of Stephen Crane, George Hurstwood — out of work, physically ill and desperate — is reduced to living in Broadway flophouses and to begging.

 

One afternoon, he goes to a theater where Carrie is appearing as a lead actress and hovers about the entrance, hoping to see her. He thinks he sees her alight from a carriage and enter the theater, but he is not sure it was her. He ambles downtown from 39th Street, where the theater is located, to the corner of 26th Street and Broadway.

 

He notices an “a peculiar individual [who invariably took his stand” at this particular spot: a chaplain, preacher, and charity worker (known as “the Captain”) collecting donations for homeless men on a freezing cold evening.

 

(See text below.)

 

 

 

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On November 5, 2016, I received an email from Dreiser scholar Thomas P. Riggio:

 

I just came across that section in Sister Carrie where the “Captain” gathers the homeless men and begs for small change to get them beds for the night. I’ve always felt that the description was so detailed and that the tone suggests that anyone familiar with New York life would recognize the character — sort of like Fleischmann’s bread line. I wonder if you ever came across anything in your research of the period or its newspapers that identified the original for the Captain? I’m almost willing to bet that he was a local well-known figure in the city.

 

Professor Riggio was convinced that the figure of the “the captain” in Dreiser’s novel must have been based on a real person. He actually had a name (which turned about the right one, something he did not know at the time), but he did not tell me so. Later, after publishing an article based upon my research (without having told me he planned to do so), Professor Riggio told me that he had had a name.

 

I went to the New York Public Library that day, on a weekend, to see if I could find anything about the real-life model for “the captain.”

 

To try and find the identity of a figure (perhaps hypothetical for all I knew) in New York City who might have matched Dreiser’s description of his activities. Over a period of a decade or more (sometime presumably in the 1890’s), using generic search terms such as “homeless,” “charity,” “beggar,” etc.?

 

I was practically in tears due to frustration and was about to give up, exhausted after searching for five or six hours, when I stumbled upon a newspaper article about some sort of chaplain who would solicit donations every evening near Madison Square Park to pay for beds for destitute men:

 

“Lodging for the Homeless; Evangelist Rotzler Collects Money for 126 Men and Marches the Shivering Crowd Away,” The New York Times, December 20, 1897

 

This has got to be the right person, I thought.

 

Now I had a name. Searching on Frederick Rotzler (the chaplain’s name), I found a lot of documentary material — newspaper and magazine articles — that described Frederick Rotzler’s activities as a chaplain before, during, and after the period when he was observed by Dreiser. Some of this material was unearthed by me on subsequent library visits. I promptly sent it all to Professor Riggio.

 

That same month, I got another email from Professor Riggio: “As to the blog on Rotzler, … I wonder if you could hold off on this for a while?”

 

I wasn’t quite sure what this vague communique meant. I had been thinking not so much of a blog — not precisely — I was thinking that since, as far as I knew, I had discovered the identity of “the captain” (pursuant to Professor Riggio’s request to research him), perhaps I should or could write an article in which I would explain the source of the figure in “Curious Shifts of the Poor.” It seemed — and was reasonable for me to assume, for all I knew — that I had made the discovery.

 

I received another email from Professor Riggio a couple of months later:

 

… if you could hold off for another five or six weeks, that would be helpful; this will give me time to complete my work on the subject which I began before we exchanged material on the subject. I know you have five or six items you have been trying to complete on your site, so there can be no rush on Rotzler for you.

 

Again, Professor Riggio was making assumptions about what I planned to do about the Rotzler materials. He was constructing a scenario that fit his plans and would give him “cover.” I did not know what he meant by “complete my work on the subject.” (He was being obscure on purpose.) What he was planning was to write an article, but he did not wish to tell me that, any more than he was willing to tell me at the outset that he already had a name for the person whom he suspected was “the captain.”

 

What he wanted to be able to do was sort of have his cake (for himself) and be able to eat it too (whenever he decided to) — in effect, to use the materials I had unearthed, whenever and however he saw fit, to write an article supposedly his, while ensuring that no one else would see or be able to use my findings, and that I would, not suspecting anything, honor his implicit request to not (for reasons he did not explain) publish an article myself.

 

His intention in asking me to do library research (pro bono) was to see what I could come up with — it would provide corroboration for his “theories” (surmises about “the captain’s” true identity) — but to make sure I did not think I was entitled to write an article about my findings. He certainly did not want me to write an article, nor to realize he was writing one, which would have perhaps induced me to think I was entitled to do it first.

 

The words “which I began before we exchanged material on the subject [“the captain”]” were meant to give him “cover,” to justify his writing an article using my materials, so that he could claim the article he was writing was based on his research, not mine.

 

Around a year later, to my surprise and consternation, the following article was published:

 

“Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square”

By Thomas P. Riggio

Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 11, no. 2 (Winter 2016)

 

 

The article was based largely (though not entirely) on my original research. I was given a perfunctory acknowledgment in a footnote. When I complained to Professor Riggio, he defended appropriating my research on the grounds that he did the writing. Of course he had, using my material without informing me of what use he planned to make of it; without it, he would have had no article.

 

When I read the article, I saw to my dismay that it was chock full of documentary material, including verbatim transcripts, photographs and illustrations, plus findings of mine such as the location of the square where Dreiser’s chaplain appeared each night (which Dreiser remembered not quite correctly) and data on Rotlzer in the 1910 census. The latter is the kind of documentary material that makes or breaks a scholarly article. They give the reader assurance that the scholar/author has done his homework. But in this instance, the homework wasn’t done by the author; it was done by me, with no credit. Professor Riggio used this information (Dreiser’s mistake about the exact location; census data, which it would never have occurred to him to check) without any footnotes acknowledging that the information came from me. And, almost all of the illustrative and documentary material in the article, he simply cut and pasted using the text and photos I had emailed to him. This I could readily see by merely glancing at the published article.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I have not gotten over this rip off and scam by Thomas Riggio, an emeritus professor who had no reason to take advantage of a more “junior,” less “credentialed” scholar. A similar instance of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s using someone else’s research comes to mind.

When I first saw Riggio’s article on line, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.

I telephoned him that same evening. I tried to be polite (or at least not rude) and non-confrontational.

His response befitted a Donald Trump. He didn’t seem concerned or interested in what I was saying. He kept trying to change the subject. He would not discuss or respond to specific instances of where in the article, it was plain to see, he had ripped off my research in primary sources.

Arrogance, on his part, was the operative word. And a feeling of entitlement.

His manner was totally condescending.

All else failing, he resorted to Trump-style counterattack. Saying that I am essentially a whiner (and loser) whose feelings were hurt because he didn’t get sufficient credit. If one reads his “acknowledgment,” it would appear that I copied a couple of library articles for him, that he knew what he was looking for. This was a deliberate distortion.

Then he counterattacked by trying to portray me as a chronic complainer and misfit who always does this to the Dreiser community and can’t get along with people in general. How he knew this is a mystery, since we hardly knew one another personally.

An example of this: He claimed I was feuding with the independent Dreiser scholar Michael Lydon. My friend Michael would be surprised to learn this.

The Trump/Riggio playbook? When caught red handed, deny, deny, deny. Concede nothing. Counterattack. With anything you can think of.

 

 

June 27, 2019

 

 

 

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COMMENTS

 

 

 

 

 

  1. elisabethm May 19, 2018

To me it seems outrageous that someone who calls himself a professor would simply ‘steal’ the results of your thorough research. You clearly thought that a fellow Dreiser scholar would acknowledge the results of your study, and instead he used them to his own advantage.

 

I hope that this bad experience doesn’t diminish your enthusiasm for Dreiser, and that you will keep up this blog and doing research for it.

 

All the best, Elisabeth

 

    1. Roger W. Smith May 19, 2018

Thank you so much for your thoughtful input, Elisabeth. At times like this, understanding of what I have experienced with this painful, and unasked and uncalled for, “event” (should I say scholarly interchange?) is greatly appreciated.

 

      1. elisabethm May 19, 2018 at 4:23 pm

A scholarly interchange would have meant acknowledging your research!

 

 

 

      1. Roger W. Smith May 20, 2018

Elisabeth — You might be interested in what Professor Riggio considered an “acknowledgment.”

 

Buried in a footnote to his article (which he claims was all his work) “Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square” (Studies in American Naturalism, Winter 2016) was the following footnote: “I want to express my thanks to independent researcher Roger W. Smith, who responded to my request for copies of the Rotzler materials from his seat at the New York Public Library. I am hopeful that he will make good on his intention to provide the full texts of the material on his extremely useful website.”

 

There was nothing specific about what materials I discovered or supplied or how essential they were to his “research,” and no mention by the professor here or elsewhere about the independent discoveries I made at his behest, for example: (1) “finding” Rotzler (he later told me he had a name all along, but he — incredibly — did not tell me this, giving me the unbelievably difficult task of finding his identity for myself); (2) sharing with him a trove of primary source materials, which he merely cut and pasted, not deigning to acknowledge that they came from me (other than to say that I “responded to [his] request for copies,” making it seem that he knew about them already and told me what materials to look for; he did no such thing); (3) not acknowledging that it was I who informed him about the mistake in Dreiser’s memory as to where “the captain” (chaplain Rotzler) would appear each evening in his charitable work; (4) or giving me credit for alerting him to the Rotzler entry in the 1910 census from New York. Items 3 and 4 were important because: The address where Rotzler solicited donations for the homeless places him in front of the Worth Monument in Worth Square in Manhattan. Dreiser’s mis-remembering the address was characteristic of Dreiser, who could be a careless writer. The census data (which Professor Riggio would most likely have never seen) enabled Professor Riggio to state (in reference to the census data I shared with him) that the census data “identifies Frederick Rotzler as having been born in New York City in 1859. … Both his parents were German immigrants, a factor that may have entered into Dreiser’s attraction to him.” These are important inferences, made on the basis of primary source materials. The problem with Professor Riggio’s use of them is that he did not acknowledge where the data came from: me.

 

If one merely eyeballed Professor Riggio’s article, one would see how much material is used from me. Text and illustrations (the text about Rotzler, the illustrations of him) jump out from the pages of his article, all of it supplied to Professor Riggio by me.

 

 

 

elisabethm May 23, 2018

 

It seems there’s a huge misconception on the side of Professor Riggio. Unfortunately I don’t expect he will ever admit that.

 

 

 

      1. Roger W. Smith May 23, 2018

No he won’t, Elisabeth. From the outset, when I first saw his article, he was totally unapologetic. He ignores many of the specific examples I have given of mis-appropriation of primary source materials and other research findings I shared with him, which provide conclusive proof of it.

 

As another follower of this blog who has been following this wrote in an email to me:

 

“Regarding Professor Riggio. How ironic. He attacks you when it is he who should apologize for not giving you credit.

 

“He completely turns the situation around and obfuscates the matter by trying to make it seem that you did something wrong.

 

“How unfortunate.”

 

      1. elisabethm May 23, 2018

Exactly!

 

  1. Claire Bruyère May 20, 2018

Dear Roger, although not a Dreiser scholar, I have been following your work in recent years and have great respect for the tenacity and precision of your research. So I was surprised and shocked by the appropriation of many of your findings on who was the model for that character in “Sister Carrie” which was puzzling Prof. Riggio. All the more as I had a pleasant exchange with him several years ago when working on an article on contemporary adaptations of major American novels of the early 20th century. I wish he would give you more credit than a footnote.

 

Claire Bruyère, Prof. emerita, American literature/book history, Univ. Paris7/Denis Diderot

 

 

  1. Roger W. Smith May 20, 2018

Thanks for your perspicacious comments, Professor Bruyère. Having support from other members of the scholarly community in this case of what I consider to have been mis-appropriation of my research findings without my being informed beforehand of the use that would be made of them and with insufficient (to put it mildly) credit given is much appreciated by me.

 

 

  1. tamszion May 20, 2018

Roger,

 

After having partnered with you last winter on another, yet unrevealed, Dreiser research project, I know firsthand the quality, depth, and caliber of your work. Your unfortunate mistake was sharing your original findings with someone whom you thought was professional and trustworthy. My immediate reaction to the situation is that you should have been reimbursed for your time, and then each individual discovery of fact, when cited in the article, should have been attributed to you in a footnote.

 

This is an academic ethical issue. Taking someone’s research without explaining how you intend to use it, then making a profit off its use without sufficient recognition to the individual who did the original research, only diminishes the person who commits such an act.

 

— Tamie Dehler

 

 

  1. Roger W. Smith May 24, 2018

Regarding the source materials I shared with Professor Riggio, and what he already knew at the time — what he told me then and told me later, after his article had been published — is significant when it comes to assessing the use (one should say misuse) he made of my materials in writing his published article: “Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square” (Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 11, no. 2, Winter 2016).

 

On the evening of November 5, 2016, Professor Riggio wrote, in an email to me: “Roger, I figured there had to be an original for the Captain. Nice work! I had always wondered but never got around to checking it out.” From this I should have deduced that he really did have some information, let alone a name (which he later told me he did have)? And, if he did have a name for “the captain” (chaplain Rotzler) — as he told me months afterward — would it not have behooved him to give me the name when asking me to see if could find anything about Dreiser’s “captain,” so that I did not have to go on a wild goose chase in the library?

 

The next day (after I had gone to the library and struck gold), he emailed me: “Enjoyed learning about the Captain. Fascinating stuff. … if you have anything else on this matter, send it along. …” This does not seem fully forthcoming. He later claimed he had a name (the right one) but was looking for corroboration and additional source materials.

 

On September 10, 2017, Professor Riggio said in an email to me: “I had the essay outlined before you sent me anything. I only had two instances of the name Rotzler and wasn’t sure that was enough to claim him definitely—one the city death record of a ‘missionary’ and one a brief article about a chaplain by that name. The stuff you sent confirmed it without doubt.” What he does not explain is why he would not, at the outset, tell me what he DID know, such as the name of a chaplain he had found a couple of references to, before asking me to do research. It is also significant that, when it comes to Dreiser’s “captain,” he concedes that he had almost no information, which establishes the fact that almost of all the primary source materials in his article came from me.

 

On September 11 2017, Professor Riggio emailed me: “I thought I made clear when you began sending me the articles, that he was the fellow I had just a tiny bit of info on and that this stuff really filled out the portrait in ways I couldn’t have with the little I knew about him.” He did NOT do this, AT THE TIME. He said nothing at the time of my sending him stuff (or prior) about having had any information about “the fellow.” So, I thought (and there was no reason for me not to assume this) that it was I who had discovered the identity of Dreiser’s “captain.”

 

Professor Riggio deliberately kept me in the dark.

 

 

  1. Roger W. Smith May 24, 2018

Re this post of mine and the comments appended to it:

 

Professor Riggio continues to insist that my contributions to his article “Oh Captain, My Captain: Dreiser and the Chaplain of Madison Square” (Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 11, no. 2, Winter 2016), while appreciated and acknowledged (barely), were in the nature of helpful research but that they did not form the main body of the article, or that I shouldn’t claim to have done more research than him. And, that the main problem, as he sees it, is that I threw a “hissy fit” over not being given sufficient acknowledgment.

 

The facts prove otherwise.

 

The article in question (the above referenced article by Professor Riggio) concludes with a “WORKS CITED” section. Other than “my” source materials (i.e., those I discovered and sent by email to Professor Riggio), the works cited are mostly secondary sources.

 

There are citations of writings of Dreiser such as “A Touch of Human Brotherhood,” which appeared in Success magazine and which Professor Riggio had available in a published book of Theodore Dreiser’s uncollected magazine articles. And a chapter from Dreiser’s book “Twelve Men.” And so on.

 

An article by O. Henry, “A Madison Square Arabian Night,” is also cited by Professor Riggio.

 

What else is there? THIS IS SIGNIFICANT. Because what I am complaining about is mis-appropriation of source martials. Discovered and downloaded by me. Not known (as far as I knew) beforehand to Professor Riggio. Transmitted from me to him.

 

Here are the primary sources (other than writings of Dreiser and O. Henry) in the Works Cited section of Professor Riggio’s article:

 

Barton, Bruce. “Tending His Flock by Night.” The Continent 11 Dec. 1913

“Church Services Tomorrow.” New York Times 20 March 1910

“Father Lambert Welcomed.” New York Times 23 May 1894

“The Gospel through the Megaphone.” New York World 6 Sept. 1896

“Met at the Alter to Pray.” New York Times 15 March 1894: 11

“A Preacher Unordained.” New York Times 26 Nov. 1893

“Putting His Congregation to Sleep.” Literary Digest 17 Jan. 1914

“Shelters a Little Army.” New York Times 18 Nov. 1901

 

These articles were all discovered by me and shared by me with Professor Riggio. As far as I know, he had never seen any of them. Perhaps he will claim now that he already had them (!).

 

Professor Riggio’s article contains four illustrations. The following are the illustrations, with the captions and citations:

 

Fig. 1. A Preacher Unordained. (New York Times, 26 Nov. 1893: 6– 7)

Fig. 2. The Gospel through the Megaphone. (New York World, 6 Sept. 1896: 8– 9)

Fig. 3. The “Chaplain” of Madison Square. (“Putting His Congregation to Sleep,” Literary Digest, 17 Jan. 1914: 110)

Fig. 4. “The Chaplain” and a Section of His Transient Night Audience in Madison Square. (“Tending His Flock by Night,” The Continent, 11 Dec. 1913: 1740)

 

All of these illustrations were taken from the articles I sent Professor Riggio.

 

CONCLUSION: There is virtually no primary source material, and not that much research, in Professor Riggio’s article other than that which I supplied to him. In an email to Professor Riggio at the time the article was published, I wrote: “… the whole article focuses (with some consideration of related works of Dreiser’s) on the Captain directly or indirectly (he provides the hook), starts out with him; without my material, you would have not have been able to offer new material about this figure or explain who he was in real life. The title indicates the focus of your article, and there is a promise that the reader will find out something new about the background of the ‘Curious Shifts of the Poor’ chapter. The article is illustrated with scanned pages from newspaper and magazine articles that came from me.”

 

Professor Riggio obviously did the writing, and the concept of the article was his. But research is important in almost any work of scholarship, and readers are looking for new findings, new information, such as that there really was “a captain” who would have been known to Dreiser. To find this out and prove it, and then to flesh the article out and make it interesting with details about Rotzler and his charitable work, and illustrative material, “added” a great deal to the article — not just added, formed a major portion of the article. The reader looks for new discoveries by the author, and when they have been made, they should be properly credited.

 

 

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from Chapter XLV Sister Carrie

 

 

At that hour, when Broadway is wont to assume its most interesting aspect, a peculiar individual invariably took his stand at the corner of Twenty-sixth Street and Broadway—a spot which is also intersected by Fifth Avenue. This was the hour when the theatres were just beginning to receive their patrons. Fire signs announcing the night’s amusements blazed on every hand. Cabs and carriages, their lamps gleaming like yellow eyes, pattered by. Couples and parties of three and four freely mingled in the common crowd, which poured by in a thick stream, laughing and jesting. On Fifth Avenue were loungers—a few wealthy strollers, a gentleman in evening dress with his lady on his arm, some clubmen passing from one smoking-room to another. Across the way the great hotels showed a hundred gleaming windows, their cafés and billiard-rooms filled with a comfortable, well-dressed, and pleasure-loving throng. All about was the night, pulsating with the thoughts of pleasure and exhilaration—the curious enthusiasm of a great city bent upon finding joy in a thousand different ways.

 

This unique individual was no less than an ex-soldier turned religionist, who, having suffered the whips and privations of our peculiar social system, had concluded that his duty to the God which he conceived lay in aiding his fellow-man. The form of aid which he chose to administer was entirely original with himself. It consisted of securing a bed for all such homeless wayfarers as should apply to him at this particular spot, though he had scarcely the wherewithal to provide a comfortable habitation for himself.

 

Taking his place amid this lightsome atmosphere, he would stand, his stocky figure cloaked in a great cape overcoat, his head protected by a broad slouch hat, awaiting the applicants who had in various ways learned the nature of his charity. For a while he would stand alone, gazing like any idler upon an ever-fascinating scene. On the evening in question, a policeman passing saluted him as “captain,” in a friendly way. An urchin who had frequently seen him before, stopped to gaze. All others took him for nothing out of the ordinary, save in the matter of dress, and conceived of him as a stranger whistling and idling for his own amusement.

 

As the first half-hour waned, certain characters appeared. Here and there in the passing crowds one might see, now and then, a loiterer edging interestedly near. A slouchy figure crossed the opposite corner and glanced furtively in his direction. Another came down Fifth Avenue to the corner of Twenty-sixth Street, took a general survey, and hobbled off again. Two or three noticeable Bowery types edged along the Fifth Avenue side of Madison Square, but did not venture over. The soldier, in his cape overcoat, walked a short line of ten feet at his corner, to and fro, indifferently whistling.

 

As nine o’clock approached, some of the hubbub of the earlier hour passed. The atmosphere of the hotels was not so youthful. The air, too, was colder. On every hand curious figures were moving—watchers and peepers, without an imaginary circle, which they seemed afraid to enter—a dozen in all. Presently, with the arrival of a keener sense of cold, one figure came forward. It crossed Broadway from out the shadow of Twenty-sixth Street, and, in a halting, circuitous way, arrived close to the waiting figure. There was something shamefaced or diffident about the movement, as if the intention were to conceal any idea of stopping until the very last moment. Then suddenly, close to the soldier, came the halt.

 

The captain looked in recognition, but there was no especial greeting. The newcomer nodded slightly and murmured something like one who waits for gifts. The other simply motioned toward the edge of the walk.

 

“Stand over there,” he said.

 

By this the spell was broken. Even while the soldier resumed his short, solemn walk, other figures shuffled forward. They did not so much as greet the leader, but joined the one, sniffling and hitching and scraping their feet.

 

“Cold, ain’t it?”

 

“I’m glad winter’s over.”

 

“Looks as though it might rain.”

 

The motley company had increased to ten. One or two knew each other and conversed. Others stood off a few feet, not wishing to be in the crowd and yet not counted out. They were peevish, crusty, silent, eying nothing in particular and moving their feet.

 

There would have been talking soon, but the soldier gave them no chance. Counting sufficient to begin, he came forward.

 

“Beds, eh, all of you?”

 

There was a general shuffle and murmur of approval.

 

“Well, line up here. I’ll see what I can do. I haven’t a cent myself.”

 

They fell into a sort of broken, ragged line. One might see, now, some of the chief characteristics by contrast. There was a wooden leg in the line. Hats were all drooping, a group that would ill become a second-hand Hester Street basement collection. Trousers were all warped and frayed at the bottom and coats worn and faded. In the glare of the store lights, some of the faces looked dry and chalky; others were red with blotches and puffed in the cheeks and under the eyes; one or two were rawboned and reminded one of railroad hands. A few spectators came near, drawn by the seemingly conferring group, then more and more, and quickly there was a pushing, gaping crowd. Some one in the line began to talk.

 

“Silence!” exclaimed the captain. “Now, then, gentlemen, these men are without beds. They have to have some place to sleep to-night. They can’t lie out in the streets. I need twelve cents to put one of them to bed. Who will give it to me?”

 

No reply.

 

“Well, we’ll have to wait here, boys, until some one does. Twelve cents isn’t so very much for one man.”

 

“Here’s fifteen,” exclaimed a young man, peering forward with strained eyes. “It’s all I can afford.”

 

“All right. Now I have fifteen. Step out of the line,” and seizing one by the shoulder, the captain marched him off a little way and stood him up alone.

 

Coming back, he resumed his place and began again.

 

“I have three cents left. These men must be put to bed somehow. There are”—counting—”one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve men. Nine cents more will put the next man to bed; give him a good, comfortable bed for the night. I go right along and look after that myself. Who will give me nine cents?”

 

One of the watchers, this time a middle-aged man, handed him a five-cent piece.

 

“Now, I have eight cents. Four more will give this man a bed. Come, gentlemen. We are going very slow this evening. You all have good beds. How about these?”

 

“Here you are,” remarked a bystander, putting a coin into his hand.

 

“That,” said the captain, looking at the coin, “pays for two beds for two men and gives me five on the next one. Who will give me seven cents more?”

 

“I will,” said a voice.

 

Coming down Sixth Avenue this evening, Hurstwood chanced to cross east through Twenty-sixth Street toward Third Avenue. He was wholly disconsolate in spirit, hungry to what he deemed an almost mortal extent, weary, and defeated. How should he get at Carrie now? It would be eleven before the show was over. If she came in a coach, she would go away in one. He would need to interrupt under most trying circumstances. Worst of all, he was hungry and weary, and at best a whole day must intervene, for he had not heart to try again to-night. He had no food and no bed.

 

When he neared Broadway, he noticed the captain’s gathering of wanderers, but thinking it to be the result of a street preacher or some patent medicine fakir, was about to pass on. However, in crossing the street toward Madison Square Park, he noticed the line of men whose beds were already secured, stretching out from the main body of the crowd. In the glare of the neighbouring electric light he recognised a type of his own kind—the figures whom he saw about the streets and in the lodging-houses, drifting in mind and body like himself. He wondered what it could be and turned back.

 

There was the captain curtly pleading as before. He heard with astonishment and a sense of relief the oft-repeated words: “These men must have a bed.” Before him was the line of unfortunates whose beds were yet to be had, and seeing a newcomer quietly edge up and take a position at the end of the line, he decided to do likewise. What use to contend? He was weary to-night. It was a simple way out of one difficulty, at least. To-morrow, maybe, he would do better.

 

Back of him, where some of those were whose beds were safe, a relaxed air was apparent. The strain of uncertainty being removed, he heard them talking with moderate freedom and some leaning toward sociability. Politics, religion, the state of the government, some newspaper sensations, and the more notorious facts the world over, found mouthpieces and auditors there. Cracked and husky voices pronounced forcibly upon odd matters. Vague and rambling observations were made in reply.

 

There were squints, and leers, and some dull, ox-like stares from those who were too dull or too weary to converse.

 

Standing tells. Hurstwood became more weary waiting. He thought he should drop soon and shifted restlessly from one foot to the other. At last his turn came. The man ahead had been paid for and gone to the blessed line of success. He was now first, and already the captain was talking for him.

 

“Twelve cents, gentlemen—twelve cents puts this man to bed. He wouldn’t stand here in the cold if he had any place to go.”

 

Hurstwood swallowed something that rose to his throat. Hunger and weakness had made a coward of him.

 

“Here you are,” said a stranger, handing money to the captain.

 

Now the latter put a kindly hand on the ex-manager’s shoulder.

 

“Line up over there,” he said.

 

Once there, Hurstwood breathed easier. He felt as if the world were not quite so bad with such a good man in it. Others seemed to feel like himself about this.

 

“Captain’s a great feller, ain’t he?” said the man ahead—a little, woe-begone, helpless-looking sort of individual, who looked as though he had ever been the sport and care of fortune.

 

“Yes,” said Hurstwood, indifferently.

 

“Huh! there’s a lot back there yet,” said a man farther up, leaning out and looking back at the applicants for whom the captain was pleading.

 

“Yes. Must be over a hundred to-night,” said another.

 

“Look at the guy in the cab,” observed a third.

 

A cab had stopped. Some gentleman in evening dress reached out a bill to the captain, who took it with simple thanks and turned away to his line. There was a general craning of necks as the jewel in the white shirt front sparkled and the cab moved off. Even the crowd gaped in awe.

 

“That fixes up nine men for the night,” said the captain, counting out as many of the line near him. “Line up over there. Now, then, there are only seven. I need twelve cents.”

 

Money came slowly. In the course of time the crowd thinned out to a meagre handful. Fifth Avenue, save for an occasional cab or foot passenger, was bare. Broadway was thinly peopled with pedestrians. Only now and then a stranger passing noticed the small group, handed out a coin, and went away, unheeding.

 

The captain remained stolid and determined. He talked on, very slowly, uttering the fewest words and with a certain assurance, as though he could not fail.

 

“Come; I can’t stay out here all night. These men are getting tired and cold. Some one give me four cents.”

 

There came a time when he said nothing at all. Money was handed him, and for each twelve cents he singled out a man and put him in the other line. Then he walked up and down as before, looking at the ground.

 

The theatres let out. Fire signs disappeared. A clock struck eleven. Another half-hour and he was down to the last two men.

 

“Come, now,” he exclaimed to several curious observers; “eighteen cents will fix us all up for the night. Eighteen cents. I have six. Somebody give me the money. Remember, I have to go over to Brooklyn yet to-night. Before that I have to take these men down and put them to bed. Eighteen cents.”

 

No one responded. He walked to and fro, looking down for several minutes, occasionally saying softly: “Eighteen cents.” It seemed as if this paltry sum would delay the desired culmination longer than all the rest had. Hurstwood, buoyed up slightly by the long line of which he was a part, refrained with an effort from groaning, he was so weak.

 

At last a lady in opera cape and rustling skirts came down Fifth Avenue, accompanied by her escort. Hurstwood gazed wearily, reminded by her both of Carrie in her new world and of the time when he had escorted his own wife in like manner.

 

While he was gazing, she turned and, looking at the remarkable company, sent her escort over. He came, holding a bill in his fingers, all elegant and graceful.

 

“Here you are,” he said.

 

“Thanks,” said the captain, turning to the two remaining applicants. “Now we have some for to-morrow night,” he added.

 

Therewith he lined up the last two and proceeded to the head, counting as he went.

 

“One hundred and thirty-seven,” he announced. “Now, boys, line up. Right dress there. We won’t be much longer about this. Steady, now.”

 

He placed himself at the head and called out “Forward.” Hurstwood moved with the line. Across Fifth Avenue, through Madison Square by the winding paths, east on Twenty-third Street, and down Third Avenue wound the long, serpentine company. Midnight pedestrians and loiterers stopped and stared as the company passed. Chatting policemen, at various corners, stared indifferently or nodded to the leader, whom they had seen before. On Third Avenue they marched, a seemingly weary way, to Eighth Street, where there was a lodging-house, closed, apparently, for the night. They were expected, however.

 

Outside in the gloom they stood, while the leader parleyed within. Then doors swung open and they were invited in with a “Steady, now.”

 

Some one was at the head showing rooms, so that there was no delay for keys. Toiling up the creaky stairs, Hurstwood looked back and saw the captain, watching; the last one of the line being included in his broad solicitude. Then he gathered his cloak about him and strolled out into the night.

 

“I can’t stand much of this,” said Hurstwood, whose legs ached him painfully, as he sat down upon the miserable bunk in the small, lightless chamber allotted to him. “I’ve got to eat, or I’ll die.”

Henry Miller

 

 

 

‘Henry Miller’

 

(Note: a downloadable Word document of this essay is attached above.)

 

 

 

In my late high school years, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn in a recently published Grove Press paperback with a bright red cover, which I found in my father’s bedroom — the obscenity ban had just been lifted by the courts. I had never heard of Miller.

I got interested in the book and eventually took it to my bedroom across the hall. I kept it for weeks. My father eventually noticed this and commented on it, but he did not insist on my returning the book.

The reason I kept the book is that I liked Miller. At first, I noticed the sexy parts – there were lots of them. I was a teenager curious about and inexperienced in sex. The “good parts” were explicit, more so than other naughty books that I had hitherto peeked at. Besides being erotic, they were well written, amusing, and fun.

Soon — very quickly — I got caught up in the whole book and in Miller’s narrative style and I was no longer interested in the sexy parts alone. And, I found that I enjoyed the sex scenes not only for their explicit erotic content, but also for the humor and the good, zesty writing.

Tropic of Capricorn is part of a trilogy that also includes Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring. I have never read Black Spring, which features surrealistic writing. I have read goodly portions of Tropic of Cancer but must admit that I have never read it in its entirety — I dipped into the book without reading it sequentially from beginning to end. Cancer is better known than Capricorn, but I prefer the former book and think it is underrated. In my opinion, it is by far Miller’s best book. I would deem it a classic of American literature. Few, it seems, would concur.

Tropic of Capricorn is an autobiographical novel, taking the reader from the point where Miller is in New York working for a telegraph company modeled on Western Union (where Miller actually worked) to the end of the book, where Miller gives up his conventional workaday life with a wife who bores him (and makes him feel like a captive) and leaves for Paris.

The book has an irresistible narrative flow and momentum. It seems to be written off the cuff — is written pell-mell as if someone were speaking in that fashion — yet it is constructed with a prefect authorial “ear”; pitched at just the right level and tone (or narrative voice); fashioned so that one episode follows another with undeniable cogency. It’s like a piece of music that is irresistible to the mind and ear.

I kept reading Miller. I spent a great deal of time reading him in my senior year in college — neglecting my studies — and then continued to read him avidly for another year or so. I basically devoured him.

While in college, I read the first two books of Miller’s trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion — Sexus and Plexus — and enjoyed them greatly. Some critics thought these were disappointing books, poorly written and a big comedown from the Tropics. One of these critics was Miller’s (and Anaïs Nin’s) friend Lawrence Durrell. But I liked them, to put it mildly. There were plenty of rollicking sex scenes and lots of colorful characters drawn from Miller’s own life. I think Miller helped (note that I say helped) to liberate me sexually and give me a healthier appreciation of sexuality. It was eroticism (one would have said then, pornography) plus damned good writing.

I went on to read other works of Miller, including much of his nonfiction, which did not have sexual content, and got a real feeling for his range and scope – as well as appreciation for his intellect (to an extent). I say “to an extent” because my admiration for Miller is not primarily admiration for his essays or theories. He was, however, a man with a keen intellect and a man of wide reading and knowledge. He was basically self educated, having only briefly attended college. His interests included music and art as well as literature. He was an amateur pianist and painted thousands of watercolors that are now in major collections.

Miller once wrote (I forget where) that he used to go to bed every night listening to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Reading this, I felt kinship with him, since the Egmont Overture has never failed to inspire me.

Miller dropped out of City College after a semester. One reason, he said, perhaps flippantly, was that he couldn’t bring himself to read Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Again, I felt kinship with Miller. In my junior year in college, I took an English course which included The Faerie Queene; I had great difficulty getting through it.

In the second semester of my senior year in college, I took an independent study course, Readings in Henry Miller, with Professor Sacvan Berkovitch, a brilliant up and coming American Studies professor who had a distinguished career.

I have a collection of books by and about Miller (some of them rare) and some by and about his literary circle.

I do, however, find it hard now to get back into him.

I recently tried to read Crazy Cock, one of Miller’s early trial novels, but gave up after a few pages, which I reread several times in the vain hope that I could get into the book. It is a failure, which I’m certain that Miller himself in his later years would have conceded. He hadn’t found his narrative voice yet. A critic once remarked somewhere that Miller had to write in the first person. (Crazy Cock and other early, then unpublished novels by Miller were written in the third person.) I agree.

I recently reread portions of Miller’s Plexus. I was surprised at how well the book stood up after all those years (meaning the forty-five plus years since I read it), and how well written it is, in my opinion. The characters are well drawn, the narrative flows, the language is just right. Miller very skillfully mixes narrative with exposition; anecdotal material with riffs of a quasi-philosophical nature. The characters are drawn from Miller’s days in New York; you can tell that they were real people – with their idiosyncrasies exaggerated.

One gets the impression – it seems that this was the actual truth – of Miller pounding away at his typewriter, writing at a furious pace. I believe (this is an aside) that it is probable that Miller nowadays would be diagnosed as bipolar.

I have read some of Miller’s letters. One gets the same impression. He can go on for ten or twenty pages. It can get tedious. It can also be spellbinding.

My favorite Miller letter is a long one he wrote on March 9, 1930 to Emil Schnellock, a commercial artist who was a lifelong friend of his, beginning when they both were students at P.S. 85 in Brooklyn. In the letter, Miller describes his first Sunday in Paris: “Perhaps the most wonderful Sunday of my life!”

Miller was born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan and was raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn (his father was a tailor); he worked in Manhattan as a young man. The anecdotes and characters he relates and portrays from his New York City years – mainly the 1920’s — are colorful and engrossing. He was a raconteur’s raconteur. His books reflect what it seems was a time when New York was peopled by colorful characters, rich and poor, of various ethnicities. Miller’s prejudices are plain for all to see. Yet, you get the feeling that he was not a mean or vindictive person. I feel somewhat the same way about Miller’s attitude towards women, for which he has been attacked harshly by feminist critics such as Kate Millet. He denigrates women; he also worships them.

My former psychiatrist once said about Miller that he was a “born writer” — it was, in my psychiatrist’s opinion (which I think is dead on), indisputable fact. The way he put it was that — whatever one might say pro or con about Miller (whom my psychiatrist in fact admired as a writer), whatever critics or guardians of public morals might say against him — one thing had to be conceded: he could WRITE.

I have seen two films based on Miller’s works: Tropic of Cancer (1970) and Quiet Days in Clichy (1970), both set in Paris; and a third, Henry and June (1990), also set in Paris, about Henry Miller, June Miller (Miller’s second wife, his Beatrice), and Miller’s lover and fellow writer Anaïs Nin, in which the lead actor, Fred Ward, does a very good job of portraying Miller. (Quiet Days in Clichy — a short, whimsical work — was one of my favorite Miller books.) I thought the film Tropic of Cancer was just so so, and was a letdown. Quiet Days in Clichy, I recall, was well done. The film was a sincere attempt to catch the essence of Miller.

Henry Miller died at his home in Pacific Palisades, California on June 7, 1980 at the age of 88. I read his obituary in The New York Times. I felt a genuine sense of loss and was saddened that we wouldn’t have him around to amuse and goad us any more. He was a free spirit who referred to himself in Tropic of Cancer as “the happiest man alive.” Reading him made me feel liberated, better about myself, and happy. It seems that this has been the case with many of his other readers.

One criticism I would make of Miller is that at a certain point in later life he stopped developing, as a writer. This point was made by Miller’s former Paris friend Alfred Perlès in a book by Perlès that seems to be forgotten: My Friend Henry Miller (New York, 1956). Perlès felt that, after Miller returned to the United States from France, he lost an important source of stimulus and became “stagnant.” I agree. I think that there was something about the challenge of living a hand to mouth existence while experiencing a tremendous surge of sexual and social liberation, cultural novelty, and intellectual stimulation in Paris during the 1930’s (as Perlès noted) that brought out the best in Miller and enabled him to achieve a literary breakthrough whereby he produced many of his best works.

Miller was given at times — not surprising in view of his prodigious output and method of composition — to making fatuous statements. He would get carried away by his enthusiasms. He titled an essay about his lover Anaïs Nin “Un Être Étoilique” (A Heavenly Being). This was overpraise for Nin.

Miller was regarded, besides being the writer who managed almost single-handedly to break down barriers against obscenity, as a forerunner of the Beat Generation. I never considered him to be a beatnik or proto-hippie.

Yet, once in the early 1970’s, I picked up a hitchhiker, a bearded hippie. It turned out he was an intellectual and we started talking about writers. I mentioned that Henry Miller was one of my favorite writers, thinking he would have never heard of Miller, much less read him. “Henry Miller is one of my all time favorites,” he said.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     June 2016

 

 

 

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Addendum:
The following exchange of emails with Thomas P. Riggio, Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut, occurred in November 2016, subsequent to my posting of the above essay.

 
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Roger,

Your journey with Henry Miller is very interesting. During my teaching years, I used to be the only one in a large department who assigned books by Miller. I became an object of discussion among the bookstore managers. As a result, I remember members of my department, often very liberal and well educated types, dismissing his work as pornography.

I was a big fan of his work, and like you, think Capricorn is his masterpiece. I recall that my students had very polar reactions to his work — many (especially men) felt him as a liberating voice and others (mainly women) were turned off by him. It got to the point, beginning with the culture wars of the 1990’s, where I found it not worth the angst to teach him any longer.

By the way, apropos of your references to Spenser, I’ve always thought that the figure of Una in Capricorn and elsewhere — the idealized figure of virtue, truth etc. — was a reference to Una in The Faerie Queene … writers sometimes talk trash about some of their influences to throw readers/critics off their trail. Though, that said, I can’t imagine Spenser as among Miller’s favorite writers.

Black Spring has a lot of good writing in it, including the essay on childhood and relationship to his tailor father. The writing is very unlike the style of the two Tropics.

Glad to learn you are a fan. Yes, I can see that he would be harder to read as we age. He touches everything in us, and youthful hormones are not the least of them.

P.S. Do you know his comments on Dreiser in The Books in My Life? And, did you know his first unpublished book, written at the telegraph office, was inspired by Dreiser’s Twelve Men?

 

 

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response by Roger W. Smith

 

Thanks a lot for your feedback. Some thoughts, in no particular order.

Regarding the hassles of teaching Miller, because he was pornographic, I also have a blog post about the so called “dirty books” I encountered as an adolescent (without really reading most of them). See Roger W. Smith, “‘dirty’ books” at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/07/02/dirty-books/

I had an outstanding high school English teacher … he was a realist and knew that it wasn’t worth fighting the authorities to teach books like The Catcher in the Rye and Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which there was the occasional obscenity or sex scene.

I’m glad you agree with me about Tropic of Capricorn. An ex-friend of mine, a poet living in Manhattan, was a voracious reader who would put me to shame, he was so well and widely read, steeped in the classics, fully conversant with poetry and with challenging modern authors (e.g., Thomas Pynchon).

Henry Miller was by no stretch of the imagination his favorite, but I was surprised when he told me one day that he was reading Black Spring. He commented on how impressed he was with the brilliant writing (read, style).

Of course, we know that Kate Millet had Miller in her sights and, in part, made her reputation attacking him. Regarding Miller’s misogyny, though it didn’t bother me, she had a point.

The Una-Spenser-Miller reference of yours is intriguing.

I didn’t know at the time when I was becoming a Miller fan that Miller was a Dreiser fan. As a matter of fact, I was almost completely unaware of Dreiser, aside from the fact that there was a paperback of Sister Carrie on my older brother’s bookshelf; it was on his syllabus in college.

I was recently looking for Miller writings about Dreiser. It turns out there is very little.

Many of Miller’s works are hard to come by, very hard, if one can even identify and find them. I found that some scholar or other published a comprehensive two volume Miller bibliography not long ago: Henry Miller: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources (1979) and Henry Miller: A Bibliography of Primary Sources (1993-94). It may have been a limited print run. Very few libraries seem to have the book, and, if they do, they usually do not have both volumes.

I am a bibliophile and book collector, but I am not an antiquarian and I don’t collect books for profit. I found that both volumes of the Miller biblio were available for sale on the Internet. I purchased them. They were in mint condition. They are fascinating to browse.

I have read that early works by Miller — trial works, as it were –either came close to getting completely lost or, in some cases, can not be found. For example, I think the ms. of “Clipped Wings” has been lost.

I read that some early writings of Miller such as Crazy Cock were unearthed from the possessions of Miller’s second wife June, who may have possibly become reclusive in old age. I believe she survived Miller.

I did put one post about Miller and Dreiser on my Dreiser blog. See

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/henry-miller-and-dreiser/

I am ashamed to admit it! I was actually a fan of Anais Nin for a while. I bought some books by and about her and Miller at the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan. A little while later, after my short lived enthusiasm for Nin had waned, a friend made the remark to me, which I feel is true, “she’s unreadable.” One word that seems to apply to her diaries is solipsistic.

I never really read Lawrence Durrell.

I am vaguely aware of Miller’s comments about Dreiser in The Books in My Life. Thanks for reminding me about them.

Miller was never the type of writer to appeal to academics — there seem to be very few scholarly papers or monographs about him. It is interesting to hear that you actually taught him.

Nowadays, it seems quite possible if not probable that curriculum watchdogs would not approve of his works as passing ideological muster.

I did know about the influence on Miller of Dreiser’s Twelve Men. See the post of my Dreiser site at

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/henry-miller-and-dreiser/

 

 

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