I am still speeding along with Eugene Witla, who, after his breakthrough has a breakdown. His health, both physical and mental, is falling apart. He cracks under the pressure to be a genius.
And what mends him? Work. Regular labor in the salt mines, you might say. By watching and working with the masses, he slowly comes back to his senses. He decides to sketch one day and his working class mates are deeply impressed. He’s an artist! Slowly Eugene comes back to some idea of his old self by being back with the world, not just the art world.
Of course Dreiser doesn’t write it out quite like that. The journey is one thick book filled with innuendoes. But I recognize this bit of the journey because I, too, have sometimes cracked under the specialized, beautiful, elite but be-damned-pressure of the glorious art world. And I also I know what it is like for someone to stare at whatever I was drawing, while we’re on the time clock and muse gee, you really are an artist. What the hell are you doing here?
From there, Eugene is back on his way. He climbs a mean streak of one art director job after another, until he is running a publishing house – a huge empire, moneyed, full of beautiful and talented women, the best wines and country houses, the fast lane and fast cars.
His wife misses her artist though. She thinks he will someday return to making those big paintings which made everyone think he was a genius, instead of the very clever ad man he’s become. She brings it up, says she is saving money so he can go back to being an artist.
But Eugene wants nothing to do with that. He says the starving was just not all that interesting to him! - I think it’s more than that. The pressure to make brilliant art under big expectations and with no money was bigger than any advertising house.