First edition (publ. John Lane) The "Genius" is a semi-autobiographical novel by Theodore Dreiser, first published in 1915. The story concerns Eugene Witla, a talented painter of strong sexual desires who grapples with his commitment to his art and the force of his erotic needs. The book sold 8,000 copies in the months immediately following publication but encountered legal difficulties when it was declared potentially obscene. Dreiser's publisher was nervous about continuing publication and recalled the book from bookstores, and the novel did not receive broad distribution until 1923. When The "Genius" was reissued by a different publisher, the firm of Horace Liveright, it immediately sold more than 40,000 copies.