Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Genius

Theodore Dreiser's novel, "The Genius", first came out in 1915 or thereabouts. Its central character, Eugene Witla, when growing up, felt himself a fish out water, for his father was manufacturer of sewing machines in Alexandria, a town in Illinois. Eugene couldn't think of anything worse than being a manufacturer of sewing machines, for he had the soul of an artist.

As soon as Eugene had accumulated enough money after leaving high-school, he headed for Chicago, where he hoped to be rid of the sewing machine ambiance for ever. In Chicago he is employed in menial jobs, but at night takes art courses, where he meets the sort of people, artistic free spirits, who he feels more at home with than with the people he meets when doing menial jobs.

Eventually Eugene lands a job as an illustrator at a big Chicago newspaper. It being the late 19th century, photography was still primitive, so people still drew pictures when today they would take photos. Therefore if you could draw, there were more jobs, like in newspapers and magazines, waiting for you than today.

Eugene, in addition to liking doing drawing, also likes young women. When in Chicago he got involved with two of them - Ruby Kenny and Angela Blue. They were opposites, for Ruby, who was an artist model among other things, was a young woman of relatively easy virtue. Angela, a schoolteacher, was rather prim and proper, and so wasn't of easy virtue.

Eugene considered Ruby good to have fun with, rather than to take seriously. Angela, on the other hand, Eugene did take seriously. Angela's primness and properness inflamed Eugene's passion for her.

***

If normal, you'll probably condemn Eugene for having affairs with two women at the same time, and that he kept each of them ignorant of the other. You will call him a two-timer, a bounder, a cad, or something similar.

But, didn't Eugene's two simultaneous affairs draw attention to the fact that no one woman can supply all a man's wants? So he must go to another woman for meeting the unmet wants that the other woman can't supply? If more married men today did as Eugene did then, there'd be a lot less divorces.

***

Why did Dreiser call the central character "Eugene", rather than William, Robert, or Edward? Is it because the novel is called, "The Genius"? You will surely see that "Genius" is quite like "Eugene". I haven't noticed any literary critics talking about this.

***

I'm only a seventh of the way through "The Genius". I may write of it again another time.

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