“The Tragedy of Desire: Christian Science in Theodore Dreiser’s The Genius”
Squires, L. Ashley. “The Tragedy of Desire: Christian Science in Theodore Dreiser’s The Genius.” American Literary Realism 45, no. 2 (Winter 2013): 95–117.
Squires takes up the 1915 novel, The Genius, by Theodore Dreiser and compares the many semi-autobiographical parallels between the novel’s main character, Eugene, and the life of Dreiser. Dreiser’s own personal philandering and materialism are reflected in how he portrays the fictional Eugene. Both, after having scandalous affairs with tragic consequences, grapple with their own crisis of morality by conversing with Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings in Christian Science. However, the radical denial of the body found in Christian Science comes in direct conflict with Dreiser’s/Eugene’s bodily desires and his aggressive pursuit of capitalist wealth. Throughout Dreiser’s/Eugene’s life there is an ambivalence between their manly desires and their “feminized” (101) interest in spirituality. Squires examines the Christian Science component in The Genius in light of the ongoing cultural conversation taking place among late 19th-century Social Darwinists and “the moral and economic consequences of desire” (97) debated within the New Thought movement which Squires considers “a dissenting offshoot of Christian Science” (102). The question on the minds of these social and religious movements is whether it is manly desire and competition, or womanly spirituality and altruism, that is key to human progress. In The Genius, Christian Science becomes the solution to the “carnal beliefs [that] defraud us” (S&H, 263).
Print ISSN: 1540-3084
For more on Theodore Dreiser, see also annotation: