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American Literary History and the Turn toward Modernity$
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Melanie V. Dawson and Meredith L. Goldsmith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056043

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056043.001.0001

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Wavering in Delight

Wavering in Delight

Time, Progress, and the Turn of the Century in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie

(p.56) 2 Wavering in Delight
American Literary History and the Turn toward Modernity

Myrto Drizou

University Press of Florida

In this chapter, Drizou argues that Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie (1900) questions the rationalization of modern progress by depicting the turn of the century as a moment that wavers between the urgent incalculability of the future and the conventional knowledge of the past, embodied in the two main plotlines of the novel: Carrie’s hasty anticipation of the future and Hurstwood’s steady retreat to the past. For many scholars, the intersecting plotlines of Sister Carrie suggest the contrasting narratives of progress and decline that confirm the irreversibility of fate in turn-of-the-century naturalist texts. Dreiser complicates the teleology of this model, however, by dramatizing the temporal unpredictability of evolutionary tropes (change, adaptability, and chance) to illustrate wavering as a mode that allows his characters to measure their options and remain open to the future. This wavering mode furnishes a new paradigm of thinking about the fin de siècle as an incalculably open jangle that welcomes (and embodies) the resistance to rationalized discourses of modernity. In this sense, Dreiser’s novel prompts us to question and rethink our contemporary processes of rationalization, such as the standardization of knowledge through period-based models of teaching and temporally restrictive paradigms of scholarship.

Keywords:   Decline, Rationalization, Teleology, Naturalist, Evolution, Modernity, Incalculability, Theodore Dreiser

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