As I was reading some of the early pages of Ragtime, I began to notice similarities between E.L. Doctorow’s style and that of Theodore Dreiser (who you may remember as the author of An American Tragedy).
Doctorow’s writing is much better than Dreiser, who has been called one of the “worst best writers of the 20th Century,” but their style of writing–the tone, the structure of their stories, their “voice”– seemed very similar to me. Literally, a few minutes after I thought that, I read this passage in the book…
Historically, men have done stupid things because of their lady friends.
I think it’s just a fact of life. It’s not that women—at least most of them—intentionally turn guys into idiots. But, somehow, dudes turn into blubbering fools who make horrible decisions when a woman smiles at them.
Clyde Griffiths, our unbelievably stupid male protagonist in An American Tragedy, is no exception. In fact, when it comes to stupid dudes, Clyde may very well take the proverbial cake.
Many bad movies have been made from great novels. But I’d say that very few bad novels have been turned into great movies.
So when a novel is turned into a feature film that wins 6 Academy Awards and the first Golden Globe for Best Picture, you can safely assume that the original novel was excellent.
An American Tragedy was published in 1925. Twenty-five years later, the novel was turned into a wildly successful film called A Place In The Sun—starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelly Winters, “three flaming young stars,” according to the movie’s trailer below.
The real-life story that An American Tragedy is based on is full of so many twists and turns that it’s almost hard to believe.
Had Chester Gillette murdered Grace Brown in 2006 instead of 1906, he might go down as one of the most notorious criminals in American history. That said, his murder case was still well known enough to prompt Dreiser’s novel and an Academy Award Winning movie, A Place In The Sun.
But even bigger than both of those things (insert sarcasm) was the story’s appearance in the television show Unsolved Mysteries. It’s not the murder case itself that was unsolved, but, supposedly, the ghost of Grace Brown still haunts a small lodge on Big Moose Lake, the lake where she was murdered by Gillette.
As a general rule, I’ll say it’s probably a bad idea to take dating advice from novels.
At the bare minimum, I’d say it’s a horrible idea to take dating advice from Clyde Griffiths, the protagonist in An American Tragedy.
Clyde is fond of the obsessive stalker approach—a technique he uses throughout the novel on 4 or 5 different females–all of which he’s pretty much just met. It takes all of 7 seconds for Clyde to fall in love and express that to his female companion with the passion of a man who’s been in love for years.
Although I’m totally out of the dating game, I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is a horrible approach. Ladies, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
In today’s post, I’ve pulled out some of Clyde’s obsessive quotes from An American Tragedy. Following each quote is my interpretation of what Clyde was actually trying to say—what was going on in this young man’s infatuated, stalker mind.
As you might know from reading my preview of An American Tragedy, this novel is based on a true story—the Chester Gillette murder case of 1906.
After dropping out of prep school, Gillette took a job at his rich uncle’s skirt factory. There, he met Grace Brown, another worker at the factory. They began a relationship which soon turned sexual, with Brown believing Gillette would marry her soon.
Wikipedia describes the rest of the story this way:
Settle in, friends. This could be a long one.
Outside of Infinite Jest and Gone With The Wind, An American Tragedy will be the longest novel I’ve read to this point.
It’s a beast at a little more than 900 pages.
An American Tragedy is based on a true story—the notorious Chester Gillette murder case in New York in 1906. The book follows Clyde Griffiths, the poor son of a street preacher, as he aspires to move out of poverty and make a name for himself—riding on the tails of his rich uncle. But he gets in over his head when he falls in love with a rich, society girl.
A little more about the book and its author, Theodore Dreiser: