“The Stoic”, a literary analysis of Theodore Dreiser’s novel

The third volume, a conclusion to the Trilogy of Desire, was published in 1947 after two years of the author’s death. There Dreiser described the last London period in the life of the outstanding American financier, millionaire, and developer of a public transport network in Chicago – Frank Algernon Cowperwood.

The work remained unfinished, but the story line was followed to its logical end: ambitious plans for the development of the London Underground and the last great love of Frank Cowperwood to Berenice Fleming / Charles Tyson Yerkes to Emilie Grigsby / ends with the death of the lead character by Bright’s disease – nephritis. As in life, in the novel less than one million dollars is left from the multimillion funds of Cowperwood. The London projects continue to grow rapidly without his participation. Berenice Fleming like Emilia Grigsby, being a delicate girl, who appreciates the beauty, starts looking for the meaning of life in the Indian philosophy. She remains alone forever and cherishes the memory of her extraordinary, energetic beloved.

In “The Stoic” Frank Cowperwood represents a perfect and completely formed character of an experienced businessman and Don Juan, which can slightly change under the influence of serious life circumstances. Berenis Fleming, a red-haired noble and beautiful woman, has a beneficial effect on the nature of the protagonist. She responds to the betrayals of her man far otherwise than his legitimate wife Aileen Butler: without hysterics, retaliations and attempts to harm the rival or herself.

Frank Cowperwood sees something more than just a mistress, wife and friend in a young, cool-headed, enough tough-minded girl. She conceals an ineradicable attainment of beauty, which leads her to the God. While the Chicago millionaire lives according to his desires to gain profit and satisfy his sensuality, Berenice Fleming enjoys life in all its external manifestations. She is fascinated by the ancient English cathedrals, Norwegian lappers and Indian sacred groves.

The difference between Frank and his young lover is revealed during their visit to the Canterbury Cathedral. It makes Cowperwood yawn and Berenice think of “the mystery and immensity of voiceless time and space”. The internal view of the girl is directed to the past and future, Frank thinks objectively about things around him and lives in the present. He doesn’t treat “the noble dead” buried in Canterbury as romantically as Berenice does. He looks at them realistically, associating with “selfish and self-preserving creatures like himself”. At this moment of his life Cowperwood sums up the morality of all mankind, whose true history is spelled by “wars, vanities, pretenses, cruelties, greeds, lusts, murder”. Unlike Berenice, Frank does not seek the God – he denies it. He believes that it’s just a myth of the weak and another attempt to enslave the strong.

Movement of Cowperwood to London and his business affairs related to the city underground are described in the novel as a natural state of a man, accustomed to deal with large-scale financial operations. Frank comes to a new stage thanks to Berenice. Her delicate support relieves his defeat in the Chicago City Council and opens up new business prospects. But Cowperwood already understands that “this new job”, as he says to his subordinate de Sota, “can’t mean so much”. The hero doesn’t need money and fulfills the natural needs of a man “to eat a little, drink a little, play about a little” to the full.

A sea voyage with Berenice in Norway reveals a different world of human values ​​unfamiliar to Frank. It is based on “sheer beauty” and “simple comfort”. The thing that impressed him most was the fact that “it represented such a sharp and socially insignificant phase of a world”. Projecting the future, Cowperwood sees only “subways”, “art galleries” and “irritations due to public opinion”. He realizes that he lives wrongly and it is time to stop and end up in this picturesque place together with Berenis and the classics of the world literature, whose works he never managed to learn, but … work first.

Death from appendicitis of thirty-five years old Caroline Hand and an accidental visit to the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise suggests to Cowperwood the idea of frailties of life. But when he faces his own death, he acts exclusively businesslike: arranges the papers, orders a tomb in Greenwood Cemetery, and discusses with his wife the fulfillment of his postmortem wishes. According to Aileen, Frank “seemed to be considering his prospective death as practically as he had taken his business affairs”.

Being deeply in love with her husband Mrs. Cowperwood represents another type of “the Stoic” in the novel – a character that is frozen in her feelings, and can neither grow nor break the endless circle of love and suffering, but die. Aileen Butler dies a few years after Frank’s death. She cannot preserve her husband’s fortune or fulfill his wishes. On the contrary, we have Berenice Fleming, who tries to get the meaning of life in India during four years. Back in America, she decides to set up a hospital for the poor in Bronx, which is the only one reasonable postmortem wish of Cowperwood according to her. The girl, guided up to now by vain dreams of wealth and high society, voluntarily refuses illusory values ​​imposed by public opinion. She focuses on charity, being all for sick children.

“The Stoic” is a philosophical and psychological novel in many respects. But it is also interesting from a descriptive point of view. As Frank Cowperwood’s wealth and financial appetite grow, the whole world is opened before him and, accordingly, before the reader. America (New York), Europe (London, Paris, Norway), Asia (India) are represented by general pictures of the cities life and by the local sketches of the famous Parisian restaurant Maxim, the Canterbury Cathedral, the picturesque English estates, the refined everyday life of the European nobility, including the Queen of Great Britain, with whom Frank, Berenice and Lord Stane drink tea, and the life arrangement of the Norwegian sailors, fisherfolk and Lapps and the poor population of India.

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