"...defying the great material fact of human mortality..."
In Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920, Carl S. Smith discusses the “Trilogy of Desire” novels of Theodore Dreiser, which revolve around Frank Cowperwood, finance tycoon, art collector and serial philanderer:
Cowperwood’s commercial success enables him to understand as few men can the limits of this success. He woos his women and collects his paintings against his increasingly firm belief that the urban world he dominates is of little worth, that the basic terms of common experience are the meaninglessness of life and the mystery of death. The ideal of beauty becomes for him a means of defying the great material fact of human mortality. What he wants from women is their youth, freshness and vitality, and what he desires in arts is its timelessness. He rejects most modern art because it is “dated” in its newness in a way Old Masters are not since they have survived the test of time. He is disloyal to all his women - even Berenice - because they cannot stay young in years or in his affections. “Truth to say,” Dreiser explains, “he must always have youth, the illusion of beauty, vanity in womanhood, the novelty of a new untested temperament, quite as he must have pictures, old porcelain, music, a mansion, illuminated missals, power, the applause of the great unthinking world.”
I’m adding, at a minimum, the first book of the trilogy (The Financier) to my reading list. If that goes well, I’ll then read The Titan and maybe - just maybe - complete the troika with The Stoic. But the reading will be very spread out and certainly not back-to-back-to-back. I love Dreiser’s masterpiece, Sister Carrie (enough to have read it twice), but even that was slow, careful reading, and I can’t imagine tackling three long-ish Dreiser novels in a row. I'll be interested to see my reaction to Cowperwood. Smith makes it sound as if Dreiser all but deifies him, but with my guarded and skeptical stance toward the corporate world, I suspect I'll feel much differently.