Sinclair Lewis

Book Review – Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 masterpiece, Babbitt, told the story of a closet liberal living in a world of conservatives. This group of right wingers pursued conformity for conformity’s sake. And here I thought that Lewis’ 1935 work It Can’t Happen Here was a prescient harbinger of twenty first century America.

The story progression read like a bildungsroman. Many times such tales feature a young protagonist. George F. Babbitt aged into his mid-40s during this one. On the surface, the character appeared to experience what we now call a mid-life crisis. Lewis’ prose dug much deeper into the character’s psyche for such a glib description. The novel explored his personal awakening. It progressed into a classic of American tragedy.

The author selected the perfect setting for Babbitt’s conflict. Aside from his inner struggle, Lewis “institutionalized” him, if you will, in the homogenous community of Zenith.  It contained a very conservative social atmosphere.

Which of them said which has never been determined, and does not matter, since they all had the same ideas and expressed them always with the same ponderous and brassy assurance. If it was not Babbitt who was delivering any given verdict, at least he was beaming on the chancellor who did deliver it. (Location 2246)

The residents of Zenith adhered to a circumscribed belief system.

All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary. (Location 6163)

The book contained the best examples of Lewis’ satirical wit that I’ve read. The best included:

But Babbitt was virtuous. He advocated, though he did not practice, the prohibition of alcohol; he praised, though he did not obey, the laws against motor -speeding. (Location 729)

He stopped smoking at least once a month. He went through with it like the solid citizen he was: admitted all the evils of tobacco, courageously made resolves, laid out plans to check the vice, tapered off his allowance of cigars, and expounded the pleasures of virtuousness to every one he met. He did everything, in fact, except stop smoking. (Location 632)

The Zenith Athletic Club is not athletic and it isn’t exactly a club, but it is Zenith in perfection. (Location 850)

My personal favorite read as follows.

“Just the same, you don’t want to forget prohibition is a mighty good thing for the working-classes. Keeps ‘em from wasting their money and lowering their productiveness,” said Virgil Gunch.

“Yes, that’s so. But the trouble is the manner of enforcement,” insisted Howard Littlefield. “Congress didn’t understand the right system. Now, if I’d been running the thing, I’d have arranged it so that the drinker himself was licensed, and then we could have taken care of the shiftless workman—kept him from drinking—and yet not’ve interfered with the rights—with the personal liberty—of fellows like ourselves.” (Location 1827)

In spite of Babbitt’s moral shortcomings and self-delusion, I still wanted him to succeed. His struggle between individuality and conformity contains relevance almost a century following the book’s publication. That shows the timeless nature of Sinclair Lewis’ work.


Book Review – Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Aside from the years of his birth and death, Sinclair Lewis’ grave marker reads: “Author of Main Street.” That shows the importance the author placed on this one particular work. In it, he presented a critical portrayal of the provincialism he found in small town American life. An unflattering masterpiece resulted.

Main Street introduced readers to Carol Kennicott. An ambitious woman who worked as a librarian in St. Paul, Minnesota, she married a small town doctor, Will Kennicott. She began her new life with him in his home town, a small community called Gopher Prarie; a location the author based on his own birthplace, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

I liked how the author established the conflict at the very beginning of the story. Carol harbored the following ambition:

“That’s what I’ll do after college! I’ll get my hands on one of these prairie towns and make it beautiful. Be an inspiration. I supposed I’d better become a teacher then, but—I won’t be that kind of teacher. I won’t drone. Why should they have all the garden suburbs on Long Island? Nobody has done anything with the ugly towns here in the Northwest except hold revivals and build libraries to contain the Elsie books. I’ll make ‘em put in a village green, and darling cottages, and a quaint Main Street.” (Location 114)

When introduced to the residents of Carol’s new home, one would certainly have thought this would be a rather easy quest for the young protagonist. After all, the community featured some elite organizations such as the Jolly Seventeen and the Thantaposis club. Under her leadership, they even agreed to present a theatrical show. They would undoubtedly have shared the dream of making Gopher Prarie more sophisticated. Not with Sinclair Lewis writing about it they wouldn’t.

The author compared small town American life to a disease. That’s an interesting metaphor coming from somebody who grew up in one. Here’s an exchange between Carol and Mr. Pollock.

She asked impulsively, “You, why do you stay here?”

“I have the Village Virus.”

“It sounds dangerous.”

“It is. More dangerous than the cancer that will certainly get me at fifty unless I stop this smoking. The Village Virus is the germ which—it’s extraordinarily like the hook worm—it infects ambitious people who stay too long in the provinces. You’ll find it epidemic among lawyers and doctors and ministers and college-bred merchants—all these people who have a glimpse of the world that thinks and laughs, but have returned to their swamp. I’m a perfect example. But I shan’t pester you with my dolors.” (Location 2400)

Main Street didn’t include as many examples of sardonic wit as some of Lewis’ other books. It did contain a few good ones, however.

Virgins are not so virginal as they used to be. (Location 2365)

It is a “parasitic Greek civilization”—minus the civilization. (Location 4134)

He pressed fifty dollars upon her, and after that he remembered to give her money regularly…sometimes. (Location 1136)

And the most memorable:

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn’t get the Widow Bogart’s permission to enlist, he’d run away and enlist without it. He shouted that he “hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he’d die happy.” Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy named Adolph Pouchbauer for being a ‘damn hyphenated German”…This was the younger Pouchbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to war. (Location 4216)

I did concur with the usual criticism of Main Street. I found the book very long. At times the author provided excessive details when describing the setting. Had he not done so, the story would have progressed at a better pace.

I also thought Lewis restrained his vitriol in this book. Aside from referencing the “Village Virus” and detailing the variety of characters that moved out of the community, he didn’t deliver too negative an attack on his subject. In Elmer Gantry, he didn’t hold back. I expected a similar tone in Main Street.

It seems ironic that the author of Main Street’s final resting place is in the community he satirized in the book. That’s interesting since he passed away in one of the world’s most popular cities, Rome, Italy. Even death couldn’t prevent Mr. Lewis from succumbing to the Village Virus.


Book Review – It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis crafted the most dystopian vision of America’s future in the form of It Can’t Happen Here . It illustrated what can happen when a discontented citizenry determined that conventional leaders lacked the capability to cope with an uncertain world. A chilling image of a country rejecting its own political traditions and a culture of freedom resulted.

This 1935 masterpiece included Lewis’ signature writing techniques. The choice of distinct character names made this book one of the author’s best. My personal favorites included President Berzelius (Buzz) Windrip, Senator (later Attorney General) Porkwood and Bishop Paul Peter Prang. The protagonist’s appellation, Doremus Jessup, earned an honorable mention; as did his attorney, Mungo Kitterick.

Lewis possessed a unique genius for the clever use of sarcasm. It Can’t Happen Here contained its share of memorable passages.

Doremus had never heard Windrip during one of his orgasms of oratory, but he had been told by political reporters that under the spell you thought Windrip was Plato, but that on the way home you could not remember anything he said. (Page 73)

For three nights he was questioned and lashed—once late at night, by guards who complained of the inhumane callousness of their officers in making them work so late. (Page 268)

The D. A. R. (reflected the cynic Doremus Jessup, that evening) is a somewhat confusing organization—as confusing as Theosophy, Relativity, or the Hindu Vanishing Boy Trick, all three of which it resembles. It is composed of females who spend one half their waking hours boasting of being descended from the seditious American colonists of 1776, and the other more ardent half in attacking all contemporaries who believe in precisely those principles for which these ancestors struggled. (Page 18)

The story presented a rather eerie situation for the nation. Ardent populist, Senator Buzz Windrip managed to secure the Democratic nomination for President over incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With the aid of his “satanic” secretary, Lee Sarason’s, proficiency for public relations, he won the White House.

With what’s going on in the US right now, I’m sure some readers think I’m making this up. Here’s a direct quote from the book. In it, the new President spoke to the “Minute Men” who made up his de facto secret police force.

“I am addressing my own boys, the Minute Men, everywhere in America! To you and only you I look for help to make America a proud, rich land again. You have been scorned. They thought you were the ‘lower classes.’ They wouldn’t give you jobs. They told you to sneak off like bums and get relief. They ordered you into lousy C.C.C. camps. I tell you that you are ever since yesterday noon, the highest lords of the land—the makers of the new America of freedom and justice. Boys! I need you! Help me—help me to help you! Stand fast! Anybody tries to block you—give the swine the point of your bayonet!” (Page 127)

And there’s more.

Lewis selected an interesting structure for this book. In the chapters leading up to Windrip’s election, the author prefaced them with a paragraph from the candidate’s book, Zero Hour. The latter allegedly written by Lee Sarason. Here’s a paragraph describing the media that reads like something more contemporary.

I know the press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pockets by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne. (Page 43)

With an antagonist consumed by such animosity for reporters, it didn’t surprise that Lewis selected a newspaper editor (Doremus Jessup) as his hero. As disturbing as I found America’s decent into a fascist state, the true tragedy for me concerned Jessup’s internal struggle with his own disillusionment. He expressed the following thoughts on idealism.

“Is it just possible,” he sighed, “that the most vigorous and boldest idealists have been the worst enemies of human progress instead of its greatest creators? Possible that plain men with the humble trait of minding their own business will rank higher in the heavenly hierarchy than all the plumed souls who have shoved their way in among the masses and insisted on saving them?” (Page 111)

Later in the book, Jessup experienced another sullen realization.

The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work. It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup! Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jessups who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest. (Page 169)

While written over 80 years ago, Sinclair Lewis crafted a timeless book that’s relevance never seems to wane. In a preface to George Orwell’s 1984, Walter Cronkite commented something to the effect that: “while 1984 might not arrive on time, there’s always 1985.” In It Can’t Happen Here, Doremus Jessup observed that “it can’t happen here” even while it happened here.


Book Review – Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

There’s an old maxim declaring, “Napoleon is the limit of a madman”; meaning that no person could reach a level of insanity greater than the Emperor’s. After reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1926 classic, it seems that Elmer Gantry established the limit of human ambition. While earning the nickname “Hell Cat” in his youth, he changed his ways upon reaching adulthood; or so it seemed. Following his ordination as a Baptist minister he attempted a series of careers before finding his true calling. Despite myriad ethical failings, the Reverend Dr. Gantry aspired to be the morality emperor of the world. His quest towards that goal made for one of the finest fictional studies of hypocrisy ever written.

One has to credit Sinclair Lewis. He came up with the greatest opening line in the history of American literature. It’s the one beginning I’ve read that really hooked me. The sentence that followed interested me even further. They read: Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. (Location 52) At that point, I knew then that the book would make for one fascinating read.

Sinclair Lewis’ writing style made me enjoy the story much more. The author utilized a writing technique more common to comedy and horror than literary fiction. He expressed many of his ideas by using a set-up and then a twist at the end. Throughout this novel he applied this method to illustrate the protagonist’s insincerity. Some memorable examples included:

His kiss promised it. His heart almost promised it. (Location 4629)

But the diversions—He thought about it so much that he made a hasty trip to Cato, and came back temporarily cured forever of any desire for wickedness. (Location 1325)

He was certain that he would never again want to guzzle, to follow loose women, to blaspheme; he knew the rapture of salvation—yes, and of being the center of interest in the crowd. (Location 1009)

The best line in the book came from another preacher named Frank Shallard. He delivered an intriguing take on his profession. He observed, What a lying, compromising job this being a minister. (Location 7524)

Mr. Lewis used another unorthodox method to liven the narrative. He included a bit of self-deprecating humor. When one of the characters mentioned a series of contemporary authors he expressed the following thoughts on his own author.

Sinclair Lewis (Lord, how that book of Lewis’, Main Street, did bore me, as much of it as I read; it just rambled on forever, and all he could see was that some of the Gopher Prairie hicks didn’t go to literary teas quite as often as he does! – and that was all he could see among those splendid heroic pioneers)! (Location 7560)

In The Art of Fiction Ayn Rand cited another one of Lewis’ works, Arrowsmith, for examples of a story that didn’t seem believable. Elmer Gantry contained several instances of this shortcoming, as well. When he decided to attack vice, Elmer became a de facto police lieutenant who led raids. I found his decision to marry too fast. His subsequent boredom with his new bride occurred much too quickly, as well.

I had to admit that while I didn’t find the story credible I still enjoyed reading it. What it lacked in realism it compensated for with entertainment value.

In the book’s beginning, the author wrote: Elmer assumed he was the center of the universe and that the rest of the system was valuable only as it afforded him help and pleasure. (Loc 167) I’m not sure that “getting religion” dissuaded the Reverend Dr. Gantry from that view. He would’ve disagreed, however. As he eloquently preached:

“–and I want to tell you that the fellow eaten by ambition is putting the glories of this world before the glories of Heaven! Oh, if I could only help you understand that it is humility, that it is simple loving kindness, that it is tender loyalty, which alone make the heart glad! Now, if you’ll let me tell a story: It reminds me of two Irishmen named Mike and Pat—“ (Loc 8135)


Book Review – Cass Timberlane by Sinclair Lewis

American literary fiction would’ve been much duller without Sinclair Lewis’s offerings. Because of works such as Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and It Can’t Happen Here I along with many others decided to try writing novels. I’ve always believed that Sinclair Lewis’ worst far exceeded the best novels I’ve read…until now. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration for me to write that reading Cass Timberlane ranked among the biggest disappointments of my adult life. I read this book because Cass and Jinny Timberlane crossed over into the follow-up novel Kingsblood Royal. Lewis would’ve been wiser to save them for that piece.

The word pedestrian best described the overall premise of this book. The tale centered around a middle-aged man infatuated with a much younger woman. Is anyone still reading this review? Really? Okay, I’ll continue. Without the two knowing each other very well, they decided to espouse. I’m serious: does this plot line hook anybody? Could the overall concept be more banal? I hate to write it, but the answer is: yes. Predictably, trouble ensued due to the age difference. Imagine that. As the story wore on Cass suspected his wife of, you’ll never believe this, infidelity! Judge Timberlane tried to do everything he could to please her, yada, yada, yada.

But Cass Timberlane got worse. Sinclair Lewis possessed a genius for crafting sentences. I loved the way he’d begin with a phrase that led the reader to come to one conclusion. He would then throw a twist in the next one to reverse the meaning. Most times he’d do this while satirizing the foibles in American society. I didn’t read many such passages in Cass Timberlane. In the interest of fairness, Mr. Lewis did include several memorable lines. I’ll provide them here.

Fortunately Hudbury did remember him, and fortunately he did not remember that he had hated Congressman Timberlane after a party caucus at which the fellow had suggested that even Republicans ought to know that there was a new invention called labor unions. (Location 2837)

Here’s another sample of vintage Lewis.

The Senator looked confused, but he was used to it. For years and years he had been confused over something or other, and he would continue to be confused until someone in his State discovered that he was their Senator, and had him defeated. (Location 2849)

The best flash of Lewis’ clever expression occurred in the following.

During his first five readings of the masterpiece, he twice decided that she liked him, once that she loved him furiously, once that this was merely a routine answer with all the romantic flavor of payment of a gas-bill, and once that she was bored by him and intended, on his evening of oratory, to go off dancing with some treacherous swine like Elno Roskinen. (Location 1556)

Textual flourishes like the above first interested me in Sinclair Lewis. Cass Timberlane dissatisfied for not including enough of them.

One critique that Lewis received over the years entailed his not qualifying as a “modern writer.” A critic, who’s name escaped me as I wrote this, called his works more similar to those of Anthony Trollope than someone like William Faulkner. Structurally, I thought Lewis tried to make 1945’s Cass Timberlane more contemporary. At the end of several chapters, Lewis inserted a section called “An Assemblage of Husbands and Wives.” In it, he described the travails of married folk in his fictitious setting of Grand Republic. None of these couples had any role in the overall story. It distracted from the narrative flow and did nothing to enhance the overall narrative. Lewis should’ve stayed with the methods he did best.

I can’t believe Sinclair Lewis wrote a boring book. It took me a week of long, ponderous reading to discover this unfortunate fact. There’s no reason for Sinclair Lewis fans to mope. If they want to read Lewis’ take on a troubled marriage: read Dodsworth. If they’d like to read a good example of plot development: read Elmer Gantry. If they read Kingsblood Royal and would like to learn more about Grand Republic or the Timberlanes, read Kingsblood Royal again. While the quality of Lewis’ other novels set my expectations quite high Cass Timberlane fell abysmally short of them.

Book Review – Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis

Only an author with the caliber of Sinclair Lewis could make 1940’s Minnesota look like the Deep South of the 1860s. In his racially charged, Kingsblood Royal, he did just that. I remember hearing a story that someone invited him to his own lynching following the 1927 publication of Elmer Gantry. I think it fair to say Mr. Lewis didn’t increase his popularity when he wrote this piece twenty years later; certainly not in Minnesota.

            Kingsblood Royal painted a disturbing picture of a racially divided America during the Second World War. Lewis used a number of creative techniques to accomplish this. He set many of his earlier works in the fictitious state of Winnemac. This story took place in Lewis’ home state of Minnesota. It occurred in a fictional town called “Grand Republic”. The fact he selected a northern state not well known for racial strife really added to the emotional resonance of the story. The name of the town clarified the author’s intention the story be applicable to the nation as a whole.  

            I really enjoyed the action that spurred the narrative. Dr. Kingsblood asked his son to investigate the family history. As an amateur genealogist, I could relate. The doctor heard an old family tale that the Kinsgsbloods descended from British royalty. He asserted this made them the rightful heirs to the Throne, hence the surname.

Neil’s research uncovered a much different family history. At first he discovered that an ancestor married a Native American woman. While uncomfortable with that finding, he later determined the ancestor in question happened to be African-American. 

            Following this, Neil went on a personal voyage to understand what it was like to be an African-American man living in America. Keep in mind that Neil was only 1/32nd African-American. Under the laws of some states at the time of publication, that would’ve made him 100% African-American. The story centered on his internal debate over whether or not to reveal his discovery to his friends, family and coworkers. Lewis described this series of events with a uniqueness all his own.

            I would caution readers that this book contained a lot of language that a modern audience would consider offensive. I’d suspect it made a good portion of its 1940’s audience uncomfortable as well. The narration clearly exhibited Lewis’ abhorrence for racial bigotry. He chose the best means possible to get that across to his readers.

            It wouldn’t have been a Sinclair Lewis novel without quirky characters and raw satire. Lewis did an exceptional job of fusing the two in this book. I emphasize again that some of this language will make modern readers uncomfortable. I personally find any form of bigotry offensive. In the interest of textual integrity I shall share some of them. Here is his depiction of two men pondering whether or not Neil violated the terms of a restrictive covenant.

No, not yet, but everybody knew that it would, because everybody knew that all Negroes like this fellow (Neil Kingsblood) were unbathed and noisy, and while he, Mr. Stopple, had no prejudices, and neither had he, Mr. Eisenherz, still facts were facts. Weren’t they?

Bertie Eisenherz had been very fond of the mulatto mistress he had had for two years while he was with the legation in Portugal, and he was irritated by all this insular imbecility, but he needed the money, he always needed the money, for the maintenance of his precarious conviction that he was a great gentleman. And though he was devoted to his Renoir and his autographed set of Henry James, he was legitimately the grandson of Simon Eisenherz, the shrewdest and most resolute pilferer of Indian forest-land titles in Northern Minnesota. (Page 308)

Nice guys.

            Lewis’ best satirical portrayal showed shades of Elmer Gantry. This preacher added a dose of white supremacy to his hypocrisy.  

Among these latter-day Barnums of Grand Republic was one Jat Snood, who had not finished high school, but was a Doctor of Divinity. He was the owner and chief ballyhooer of a vast shed down on South Champlain Avenue and East Winchell Street, in the South End, and he had romantically named it “God’s Prophesy Tabernacle: Founded on the Book: Christ for All and All for Christ.”

It is true that the Reverend Doctor had never been able to stay in any one town for more than five years, because he knew only fifty sermons and fifty vaudeville tricks, and even his faded and gnarled and gum-chewing audiences got sick of him. But while it lasted, he did very well financially, because he titillated his crowds with ginger and hell-fire and made Swedish hired girls and German grocery-clerks and Yankee lineman feel that if they could not meet Hiram Sparrock at the Federal Club, they could meet God and His angels and the souls of the elect at God’s Prophesy Tabernacle: contributions voluntary (but frequent). Jat screamed at them, in high-toned polysyllables flavored with jazz and slang, that if they were ill-used by the snobs among old Americans, still they could be snobs themselves, and he invited them to look down, contemptuously, upon all Jews, Negroes, Catholics, and Socialists. (Page 159)

While I expected more proficient syntax from a Yale graduate, Lewis’ acerbic and amusing description allowed me to look past it.

            Kingsblood Royal is an underrated masterpiece in the Sinclair Lewis catalog. Who else could present a story about a Caucasian banker being victimized by Jim Crow Laws in Minnesota? Once again, the author presented a thoroughly troubling, yet entertaining depiction of the American experience’s darker side. While the some of the language will offend modern readers, Lewis used it in a manner that illustrated his personal contempt for the racial bigotry permeating society during the late 1940’s. It personalized the story for me. I could get a true emotional sense of what Neil experienced. Readers ignore the lessons of this tale at their peril.

Book Review – Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis

Rare authors have possessed the capability to portray American society with a unique combination of both wit and disdain. Even fewer have shown the requisite proficiency in the craft of writing to do so while utilizing a setting mostly outside of America’s borders. Sinclair Lewis managed to accomplish all three of these feats, not just in the course of a single career, but in the span on one novel. Dodsworth demonstrated the epitome of the artist’s craft while at the same time, presenting sarcasm on par with that of Johnathan Swift.

No Sinclair Lewis novel would be complete without his use of irony and sardonic humor. Dodsworth fulfilled this expectation. The attached description of a British aristocrat demonstrated how.

Lady Ouston was a beautiful woman and very commanding. She had a high, quick, passionate voice and many resolute opinions. She was firm and even a little belligerent about the preferability of Jay’s to Poiret in the matter of frocks, about the treachery of the Labor (sic) Party, about the desirability (entirely on behalf of the country) of Sir Francis becoming Prime Minister, about the heinousness of beer-drinking among the working classes, about the scoundrelism of roast chicken without a proper bread sauce, and particularly about the bad manners, illiteracy, and money-grubbing of the United States of America.

She had been born—and her father and mother before her—in Nashville, Tennessee. (Location 1556)

Lewis wrote Dodsworth, as he did most of his best novels, during Prohibition. Like his other work during the time frame, he colorfully worked his views on the subject into his tale.

Judge Turpin—an eye-glassed sparrow of a man who seemed to admire Sam, and showed his reverence for the law by taking illicit drink for drink with him. (Location 486)

In the event readers missed the point. Lewis included the following several sentences later.

Tub jabbed at Judge Turpin for sentencing bootleggers while he himself enjoyed his whiskey as thoroughly as anyone in Zenith. (Location 520)

While I enjoyed reading Lewis’ “zingers” on American mores, the disintegration of Dodworth’s marriage served as the central theme. Supposedly, Lewis based the novel on his own marital issues with Dorothy Thompson. Dodworth’s marital woes weren’t spared from the author’s acerbic pen. I supposed that’s why Dodsworth’s emotions and thoughts regarding his wife Fran seemed so genuine, as in the following passage.

…he had suddenly grasped something which he had never completely formulated in their twenty-three years of marriage: that she was not in the least a mature and responsible woman, mother and wife and administrator, but simply a clever child with a child’s confused self-dramatizations. (Location 3907)

This passage represented only one view of Dodsworth’s wife. Not all of Lewis’ prose described her so favorably.

Another element that made this novel so believable to me was the way Dodsworth perceived himself. The quotation below shows Dodsworth’s reaction to his wife’s suggestion they travel through Europe after his retirement.

I’ve learned that Life is real and Life is earnest and the presidency of a corporation is its goal. What would I be doing with anything so degenerate as enjoying myself? (Location 632)

I recall a story that Ms. Thompson once wrote a letter to Lewis stating to the effect, “Either you’re working, drinking or recovering from drinking.” The above quote seemed a roundabout reference to that sentiment.

Later in the story Lewis presented Sam Dodsworth as the poor, helpless victim of an unfaithful partner.

But between blurred drowsinesses, he saw with clarity that he was utterly a man alone, that his work, his children, his friends, his habitual routine of life, and at last his wife, all the props and crutches with which he had been enabled to hobble through life as a Good Fellow, were gone, and that he had nothing upon which to depend except such solaces as he might find in his own brain. No one really needed him, and he was a man who had never been able to depend on any one to whom he could not give. (Location 6091)

What a requiem for a selfless altruist. Then towards the conclusion of the story (I should point out to readers that I’m shaking my head as I’m writing this) Dodsworth attempted to reconcile with his wife. After deep, difficult reflection he chose to return to his new girlfriend. The novel ended with the following line.

He was, indeed, so confidently happy that he completely forgot Fran and he did not again yearn over her, for almost two days. (Location 7171)

Without any firsthand knowledge of Lewis’ marriage to Ms. Thompson, Dodsworth left me with the impression Lewis didn’t see himself as responsible in any way for the relationship’s decay.

I would call Dodsworth an absolute must-read for Sinclair Lewis fans. It possessed all the elements of a great novel by America’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature. Since it took place mainly in Europe, I’d recommend people unfamiliar with his work start out with books he set in the United States such as Elmer Gantry, Main Street or Babbitt. Dodsworth made a cameo appearance in the latter. The fact I read those books enabled me to appreciate the sharp jocularity of Dodsworth and its author even more.