Authors: Thomas Dixon, Jr.

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and playwright

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden, 1902

The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia, 1903

The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, 1905

The Traitor: A Story of the Fall of the Invisible Empire, 1907

Comrades: A Story of Social Adventure in California, 1909

The Root of Evil: A Novel, 1911

The Sins of the Father: A Romance of the South, 1912

The Southerner: A Romance of the Real Lincoln, 1913

The Victim: A Romance of the Real Jefferson Davis, 1914

The Foolish Virgin: A Romance of Today, 1915

The Fall of a Nation: A Sequel to “The Birth of a Nation,” 1916

The Way of a Man: A Story of the New Woman, 1919

The Man in Gray: A Romance of North and South, 1921

The Black Hood, 1924

The Love Complex, 1925

The Sun Virgin, 1929

Companions, 1931

The Flaming Sword, 1939

Drama:

The Clansman, pb. 1905 (adaptation of his novels The Leopard’s Spots and The Clansman)

The One Woman: A Drama, pb. 1906 (adaptation of his novel)

The Traitor, pb. 1907 (with Channing Pollock)

The Red Dawn, pb. 1919 (adaptation of his novel Comrades)

A Man of the People: A Drama of Abraham Lincoln, pb. 1920

Screenplays:

The One Woman, 1918 (adaptation of his novel)

Comrades, 1919 (also known as Bolshevism on Trial; adaptation of his novel)

The Mark of the Beast, 1923

Nonfiction:

Living Problems in Religion and Social Science, 1889

Dixon on Ingersoll: Ten Discourses Delivered in Association Hall, New York, 1892

The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes, 1896

Dixon’s Sermons, Delivered in the Grand Opera House, 1898-1899, 1899

The Life Worth Living: A Personal Experience, 1905

Wildacres: In the Land of the Sky, 1926

The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy, 1932 (with Harry Daugherty)

A Dreamer in Portugal: The Story of Bernard Macfadden’s Mission to Continental Europe, 1934

Biography

The fame of Thomas Dixon, Jr., as a writer rests on his novel The Clansman, the source for D. W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Raised by poor parents on a North Carolina farm, Dixon graduated from Wake Forest College in 1883 with high honors and then attended The Johns Hopkins University, where he became friends with Woodrow Wilson, later president of the United States. In 1884 Dixon left Johns Hopkins to make a career in the New York theater, but he quickly returned to North Carolina, where he was elected to the state legislature. He completed law school and began a brief career as an attorney in 1885, but the following year he married Harriet Bussey and was ordained as a Baptist minister, a career he pursued in North Carolina, Boston, and New York, while he lectured throughout the United States.{$I[A]Dixon, Thomas, Jr.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Dixon, Thomas, Jr.}{$I[tim]1864;Dixon, Thomas, Jr.}

Another career change occurred in 1902, when he published his first novel, The Leopard’s Spots, which concerned the Reconstruction period in American history. Upset at what he considered to be an unfair portrait of southern life in the theatrical adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Dixon wrote a trilogy of novels about black-white relationships during Reconstruction. While he abhorred slavery, he was not convinced that the races were equal and feared that African Americans would be easily manipulated by white politicians. In The Clansman, the second novel, he glorified the Ku Klux Klan but also was aware that in the wrong hands the Klan could brutalize and oppress minorities. The Traitor, the third novel, depicts what happened to the Klan when it became oppressive; and The Black Hood, a sequel to The Traitor, was Dixon’s warning to people who attempt to overthrow authority. Because The Clansman, as novel and drama, was extremely successful, and its controversial film adaptation was responsible for riots in cities where it was shown, it is the novel for which Dixon is best known.

Dixon also wrote three novels about Civil War heroes: The Man in Gray presents an idealized portrait of General Robert E. Lee, The Victim concerns Jefferson Davis, and The Southerner depicts Abraham Lincoln as “southern” in character and thought. Another trilogy (The One Woman, Comrades, and The Root of Evil) concerns the perils of socialism, although The Root of Evil also attacks unbridled capitalism. In The Flaming Sword, published in 1939, Dixon extended his attacks on socialism to include what he saw as the Communist menace. In the novel, the United States, with the apathetic citizenry that Dixon deplored, is conquered by Russia. Not one to shirk from political issues, Dixon also addressed the women’s issues of the 1910’s. Because he regarded women as the finer sex, the defenders of morality and idealism, Dixon did not want them sullied by contact with the political world of men. In his novels he draws women whose inexperience, naïve idealism, and pacifist beliefs result in unfortunate consequences for them and for the United States. In The Way of a Man, he demonstrates how a woman’s belief in sexual freedom destroys her relationship with her lover.

In addition to his novels, Dixon wrote some plays, mostly adaptations of his novels. Despite his earlier failure in New York, he became a fine actor with a commanding presence and a voice developed by his preaching and lecturing tours. Dixon, however, grew restless and wanted to make films. As early as 1911, he had tried to form a corporation to produce a film adaptation of The Clansman. In 1913 he sold his scenario for the adaptation to Harry E. Aitken, who hired Griffith to direct the film. The Birth of a Nation, in which Dixon had a 25 percent interest, made him a millionaire and whetted his appetite for making his own films. In the next few years he adapted three of his novels to films and met with some success. The Mark of the Beast, his only original film, failed at the box office.

After his film venture, Dixon turned to real estate, investing in Florida and North Carolina, where he planned a community (inspired by Chautauqua, New York) called Wildacres, but the project failed, leaving him destitute. He reentered North Carolina politics, but was discouraged after suffering the death of his wife and a cerebral hemorrhage. He married Madelyn Donovan, who helped him in his political work, but he gave up politics in 1943 and died in 1946.

BibliographyCook, Raymond Allen. Fire from the Flint: The Amazing Careers of Thomas Dixon. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1968. A thorough biography, accompanied by several photographs and an extensive bibliography, that also provides some criticism of Dixon’s work.Cook, Raymond Allen. Thomas Dixon. New York: Twayne, 1974. An abbreviated version of his Fire from the Flint, Dixon’s volume also contains a chronology, some new criticism, and a selective bibliography.Wagenknecht, Edward. Cavalcade of the American Novel. New York: Henry Holt, 1952. Finds The Clansman coarser and more sensational than Thomas Nelson Page’s Red Rock (1898), another Reconstruction novel.
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