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Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2007 11:42:20 -0700 (PDT)

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Subject: Babbitt (novel) is a 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis 9-20-07 (My Review - I can RELATE)

Why? Quite simply, because it's not a particularly good novel. It is a reasonably well-
written slice of satirical social commentary, and little more. Today, it is merely a cultural
relic from the twenties, kind of like the abominably bad "Great Gatsby," which dilettantes
rave over as if it were actually a good novel. It isn't, and neither is "Babbitt." But for those
interested in how America saw itself just before the Great Depression, books like these
might be informative.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

• Ten things you didn't know about images on Wikipedia •

Jump to: navigation, search
Babbitt (novel) is a 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis. It can also refer to:

• A now-rare epithet derived from the Sinclair Lewis book of the same name; it can be loosely
defined as an uncultured, "square", typically middle-aged and middle-class businessman
characterized by timidity and ignorance of their philistinism.

Editorial Reviews
From Library Journal
First published in 1922, Babbitt is an authentic modern American classic, a biting satire of middle-
American values that retains much of its poignancy today. George F. Babbitt, Lewis's outwardly
successful but inwardly unhappy real estate salesman, still seems real. His story makes
engrossing reading and is ideal for audio listening. With Babbitt himself at the center of every
scene, it is impossible for listeners plagued by frequent interruptions to lose track of the story line.
Narrator Wolfram Kandinsky has a voice that many listeners may find grating; however, his
reading here conveys an appropriate ironic tone that is especially apt when he reads Babbitt's
own lines. Recommended for general fiction collections. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From AudioFile
Not especially known for its prose style, Sinclair Lewis's art is often based on accumulation; he
adds detail to detail until a larger picture sharpens. This classic novel portrays middle-aged

George Babbitt and his irreconcilable urges to conform to social standards and to satisfy his
deeper inner restlessness. Lewis delineates and satirizes Babbitt's bourgeois nature with small
and large data, such as his booster button, his slang ("tux" for "dinner jacket"), his jingoism, his
hypochondria, his naive politics, his worries about his clothes. Such a style makes George
Guidall's measured narration a bit inappropriate--Guidall's deliberate approach sometimes lingers
needlessly over individual sentences that do not repay such scrutiny. The many conversational
scenes come off as more lively and are much better. Overall, this is a serviceable reading, but the
paradigm for Babbitt on cassette remains the multi-voiced, unabridged performance by L.A.
Theatre Works. G.H. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or
unavailable edition of this title.

Dan Sullivan, Los Angeles Times

"This is world-class radio theatre with, for once, an American label." --This text refers to an out of
print or unavailable edition of this title.

“[It is] by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis’s work excels.”—Virginia

Joseph Keppler, Booklist, October 15, 1989

Sinclair Lewis' classic satire of the ignorantly entrapped entrepreneur gains relevance as a radio
play. [T]his sumptuous production features such talents as Amy Irving, Marsha Mason, and
Richard Dreyfuss. Edward Asner plays George F. Babbitt with the resolute gusto of the
stereotypical American businessperson. . . . [T]his lavish recording sets a magnificent standard. --
This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

?[It is] by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis?s work excels.??Virginia
Woolf --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description
When Babbitt was first published in 1922, fans gleefully hailed its scathing portrait of a crass,
materialistic nation; critics denounced it as an unfair skewering of the American businessman.
Sparking heated literary debate, Babbitt became a controversial classic, securing Sinclair
Lewis’s place as one of America’s preeminent social commentators.

Businessman George F. Babbitt loves the latest appliances, brand names, and the Republican
Party. In fact, he loves being a solid citizen even more than he loves his wife. But Babbitt comes
to resent the middle-class trappings he has worked so hard to acquire. Realizing that his life is
devoid of meaning, he grows determined to transcend his trivial existence and search for greater
purpose. Raising thought-provoking questions while yielding hilarious consequences, and just as
relevant today as ever, Babbitt’s quest for meaning forces us to confront the Babbitt in ourselves
—and ponder what it truly means to be an American.

Download Description

George E. Babbitt, a conniving, prosperous real estate man from Zenith, Ohio, revels in his
popularity, his success, and, especially, in the material rewards they bring. He bullies his wife,
flirts with other women, and patronizes the less successful. But when his best friend is sent to
prison for killing his wife, Babbitt's middle-class complacency is shattered, and he rebels, seeking
a more "meaningful" life. His small revolt is quickly defeated, however, by public opinion and his
own need for acceptance. Babbitt captures the flavor of America during the economic boom years
of the 1920s, and its protagonist has become the symbol of middle-class mediocrity, his name an
enduring part of the American lexicon.

Inside Flap Copy

Following the critical and commercial success of Main Street, Sinclair Lewis directed his barbs at
the American businessman in Babbitt. The central character, George Follansbee Babbitt, is a
middle-aged realtor living in Zenith, the Zip City. He is unimaginative, self-important, and
hopelessly middle class. Vaguely dissatisfied with his position, he tries to alter the pattern of his
life by flirting with liberalism and by having an affair with an attractive widow, only to find that his
dread of ostracism is greater than his desire for escape. He does, however, encourage the
rebellion of his son, Ted. Lewis's seventh novel defined an American type and gave the language
a name for the smug person who readily conforms to middle class standards and conventions.

From the Back Cover

“[It is] by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis’s work excels.”—Virginia
Woolf --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930, the first American novelist
to be so honored. He was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the son of a doctor. After an extremely
unhappy childhood, he went to Yale but left before graduation to work in Upton Sinclair’s socialist
colony at Helicon Hall in Englewood, New Jersey. Unable to make a living as a freelance writer,
he returned to Yale and graduated in 1908. In 1914 he published his first novel, Our Mr. Wrenn:
The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man. But it was not until his sixth novel, Main Street
(1920), that he won recognition as an important American novelist, the first to challenge the myth
of the happy quintessentially American small town. His major works are Babbitt (1922),
Arrowsmith (1925), which won a Pulitzer Prize that Lewis refused to accept, Elmer Gantry (1927),
Dodsworth (1929), and It Can’t Happen Here (1935), which he also wrote as a play in 1936.
Married and divorced twice, the second time to pioneering newspaperwoman Dorothy Thompson,
Lewis was a prolific writer, publishing dozens of books and innumerable articles throughout his
career. He died alone in Rome on January 10, 1951, and his ashes were returned to Sauk
Centre, the “Main Street” he’d rejected so many decades before but which in death took him back
as its own.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and
limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but
frankly and beautifully office-buildings.

The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the Post Office with its shingle-
tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted
windows, wooden tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but the
clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and on the farther hills were shining
new houses, homes—they seemed—for laughter and tranquillity.

Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless engine. These people in
evening clothes were returning from an all-night rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic
adventure considerably illuminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze of
green and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twenty lines of polished steel
leaped into the glare.

In one of the skyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing down. The telegraph
operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades after a night of talking with Paris and Peking.
Through the building crawled the scrubwomen, yawning, their old shoes slapping. The dawn mist
spun away. Cues of men with lunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of new factories,
sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where five thousand men worked beneath one
roof, pouring out the honest wares that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt. The
whistles rolled out in greeting a chorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of labor in a city built
—it seemed—for giants.


There was nothing of the giant in the aspect of the man who was beginning to awaken on the
sleeping-porch of a Dutch Colonial house in that residential district of Zenith known as Floral

His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made
nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling
houses for more than people could afford to pay.

His large head was pink, his brown hair thin and dry. His face was babyish in slumber, despite his
wrinkles and the red spectacle-dents on the slopes of his nose. He was not fat but he was
exceedingly well fed; his cheeks were pads, and the unroughened hand which lay helpless upon
the khaki-colored blanket was slightly puffy. He seemed prosperous, extremely married and
unromantic; and altogether unromantic appeared this sleeping-porch, which looked on one
sizable elm, two respectable grass-plots, a cement driveway, and a corrugated iron garage. Yet
Babbitt was again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream more romantic than scarlet pagodas by a
silver sea.

For years the fairy child had come to him. Where others saw but Georgie Babbitt, she discerned

gallant youth. She waited for him, in the darkness beyond mysterious groves. When at last he
could slip away from the crowded house he darted to her. His wife, his clamoring friends, sought
to follow, but he escaped, the girl fleet beside him, and they crouched together on a shadowy
hillside. She was so slim, so white, so eager! She cried that he was gay and valiant, that she
would wait for him, that they would sail—

Rumble and bang of the milk-truck.

Babbitt moaned, turned over, struggled back toward his dream. He could see only her face now,
beyond misty waters. The furnace-man slammed the basement door. A dog barked in the next
yard. As Babbitt sank blissfully into a dim warm tide, the paper-carrier went by whistling, and the
rolled-up Advocate thumped the front door. Babbitt roused, his stomach constricted with alarm. As
he relaxed, he was pierced by the familiar and irritating rattle of some one cranking a Ford: snap-
ah-ah, snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah. Himself a pious motorist, Babbitt cranked with the unseen driver,
with him waited through taut hours for the roar of the starting engine, with him agonized as the
roar ceased and again began the infernal patient snap-ah-ah—a round, flat sound, a shivering
cold-morning sound, a sound infuriating and inescapable. Not till the rising voice of the motor told
him that the Ford was moving was he released from the panting tension. He glanced once at his
favorite tree, elm twigs against the gold patina of sky, and fumbled for sleep as for a drug. He who
had been a boy very credulous of life was no longer greatly interested in the possible and
improbable adventures of each new day.

He escaped from reality till the alarm-clock rang, at seven-twenty.


It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern
attachments, including cathedral chime, intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt
was proud of being awakened by such a rich device. Socially it was almost as creditable as
buying expensive cord tires.

He sulkily admitted now that there was no more escape, but he lay and detested the grind of the
real-estate business, and disliked his family, and disliked himself for disliking them. The evening
before, he had played poker at Vergil Gunch’s till midnight, and after such holidays he was
irritable before breakfast. It may have been the tremendous home-brewed beer of the prohibition
era and the cigars to which that beer enticed him; it may have been resentment of return from this
fine, bold man-world to a restricted region of wives and stenographers, and of suggestions not to
smoke so much.

From the bedroom beside the sleeping-porch, his wife’s detestably cheerful “Time to get up,
Georgie boy,” and the itchy sound, the brisk and scratchy sound, of combing hairs out of a stiff

He grunted; he dragged his thick legs, in faded baby-blue pajamas, from under the khaki blanket;
he sat on the edge of the cot, running his fingers through his wild hair, while his plump feet

mechanically felt for his slippers. He looked regretfully at the blanket—forever a suggestion to him
of freedom and heroism. He had bought it for a camping trip which had never come off. It
symbolized gorgeous loafing, gorgeous cursing, virile flannel shirts.

He creaked to his feet, groaning at the waves of pain which passed behind his eyeballs. Though
he waited for their scorching recurrence, he looked blurrily out at the yard. It delighted him, as
always; it was the neat yard of a successful business man of Zenith, that is, it was perfection, and
made him also perfect. He regarded the corrugated iron garage. For the three-hundred-and-sixty-
fifth time in a year he reflected, “No class to that tin shack. Have to build me a frame garage. But
by golly it’s the only thing on the place that isn’t up-to-date!” While he stared he thought of a
community garage for his acreage development, Glen Oriole. He stopped puffing and jiggling. His
arms were akimbo. His petulant, sleep-swollen face was set in harder lines. He suddenly seemed
capable, an official, a man to contrive, to direct, to get things done.

On the vigor of his idea he was carried down the hard, clean, unused-looking hall into the

Though the house was not large it had, like all houses on Floral Heights, an altogether royal
bathroom of porcelain and glazed tile and metal sleek as silver. The towel-rack was a rod of clear
glass set in nickel. The tub was long enough for a Prussian Guard, and above the set bowl was a
sensational exhibit of tooth-brush holder, shaving-brush holder, soap-dish, sponge-dish, and
medicine-cabinet, so glittering and so ingenious that they resembled an electrical instrument-
board. But the Babbitt whose god was Modern Appliances was not pleased. The air of the
bathroom was thick with the smell of a heathen toothpaste. “Verona been at it again! ’Stead of
sticking to Lilidol, like I’ve re-peat-ed-ly asked her, she’s gone and gotten some confounded
stinkum stuff that makes you sick!”

The bath-mat was wrinkled and the floor was wet. (His daughter Verona eccentrically took baths
in the morning, now and then.) He slipped on the mat, and slid against the tub. He said “Damn!”
Furiously he snatched up his tube of shaving-cream, furiously he lathered, with a belligerent
slapping of the unctuous brush, furiously he raked his plump cheeks with a safety-razor. It pulled.
The blade was dull. He said, “Damn—oh—oh—damn it!”

He hunted through the medicine-cabinet for a packet of new razor-blades (reflecting, as

invariably, “Be cheaper to buy one of these dinguses and strop your own blades,”) and when he
discovered the packet, behind the round box of bicarbonate of soda, he thought ill of his wife for
putting it there and very well of himself for not saying “Damn.” But he did say it, immediately
afterward, when with wet and soap-slippery fingers he tried to remove the horrible little envelope
and crisp clinging oiled paper from the new blade.

Then there was the problem, oft-pondered, never solved, of what to do with the old blade, which
might imperil the fingers of his young. As usual, he tossed it on top of the medicine-cabinet, with a
mental note that some day he must remove the fifty or sixty other blades that were also
temporarily piled up there. He finished his shaving in a growing testiness increased by his
spinning head- ache and by the emptiness in his stomach. When he was done, his round face

smooth and streamy and his eyes stinging from soapy water, he reached for a towel. The family
towels were wet, wet and clammy and vile, all of them wet, he found, as he blindly snatched them
—his own face-towel, his wife’s, Verona’s, Ted’s, Tinka’s, and the lone bath-towel with the huge
welt of initial. Then George F. Babbitt did a dismaying thing. He wiped his face on the ...
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Customer Reviews
Average Customer Review:
Write an online review and share your thoughts with other customers.
The book for which Lewis won the Nobel Prize., May 3 2004
By A. E. Kaiser (Eugene, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
"Babbitt," published in
1922, was the second straight publishing phenomenon for Sinclair Lewis, who had become a
household name in 1920 with "Main Street." By 1930, Lewis had published three more notable
novels ("Arrowsmith," "Elmer Gantry," and "Dodsworth"), declined the Pulitzer Prize in a fit of
pique, and finally became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The 1920s
were his prime years, and none of his novels was more renowned than "Babbitt," which merited
special recognition from the Swedish Academy when Lewis won the Nobel Prize.
So what is one to make of this novel now? It can be dreadfully dull, and could (indeed should)
have been cut in half. It wanders around in search of a plot, and though many of its insights can
be funny, overall one has to marvel at how genteel the literature of 1920s was in order to make
this book a national sensation.
Basically, it is the story of George F. Babbitt, a solidly Republican, supremely self-satisfied,
deeply stupid real estate man, who has a sort of midlife crisis in the course of the novel before
returning desperately to his earlier state of censorious complacency by the last chapters. Lewis
designed him to be an exemplar of his class, and many thought he was. The term "Babbitt"
became a popular way of referring to chubby, materialistic businessmen. And then, by the
1940s, the novel had largely faded into oblivion, except in college classes or high school
reading lists.
Why? Quite simply, because it's not a particularly good novel. It is a reasonably well-written
slice of satirical social commentary, and little more. Today, it is merely a cultural relic from the
twenties, kind of like the abominably bad "Great Gatsby," which dilettantes rave over as if it
were actually a good novel. It isn't, and neither is "Babbitt." But for those interested in how
America saw itself just before the Great Depression, books like these might be informative.

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The Quintessential American, Jun 8 2002
By J.W.K "" (Nagano, Japan) - See all my reviews
Babbitt, the main
character of the book, is nothing less than the quintessential American, albeit satirically
stereotyped. Exuberant, practical, naive, progressive, blindly optimistic, cheerful (on the
surface), and out to get the bucks. Of course, not all Americans are exactly like Babbitt, but if
America was said to have a national character, or some sort of behavioral and psychological
mean, Babbitt would be it (see, for example, "The Ugly American"). He is the common man. The
self-made businessman. He's the kind of guy that wouldn't ask for directions from his wife. He's
the lover of gadgetry and automobiles. The smoker of fine cigars. The conservative Republican.
The loyal tax-payer. The supporter of the troops. The anti-communist. In short, he is the man in
the middle who makes it all happen -- and as it is today, the man in the oval office who really
makes it all happen. This book will split your sides it is so funny at times. At other times, it will
make you feel like crying, as Babbitt's nagging sense of alienation and dishonesty reminds you
of many people you see around you, perhaps even yourself. Sinclair had a commanding grasp
of the American Spirit, and it scared the Bejezus out of him. Read this and you will be frightened
too. If you live in America, you will find that there is something all too familiar between these
covers, like waking up with a hang-over and staring into the mirror for too long. The image is
distorted, aging, and less-than-ideal. As I read, I kept thinking to myself, This is like the tale of
an American Ivan Illich, only he never quite wakes up to the innanity of it all. Sobering.

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Everybody is a clown when playing to be respectable, May 30 2002
By Juan Carlos Uribe (Bogota, Colombia) - See all my reviews
The old phrase of "Do not judge
a book by its cover" is full applicable in this case. Here we have a guy who was trained to not
think by itself while believing that he does. All the nasty effects of conformity and its permanent
conflict with social ambition are perfectly displayed in a humorous tone with makes the satire of
the author even more piercing.
While Babbitt struggles to find his place in the web of social fabric, he also is feeling lost about
what is his role as a family man and what is the sense of coming back each evening to a boring
and fat wife, who also happens to care for him. He is also boring, bald, ugly and fat himself but
incapable to perceive these facts or at least acknowledge them. So, to a large degree he feels
that life is unfair with him.
This explosive cocktail takes him in a quest to figure out what is he really capable of and to
demand from existence what he believes it owes him.
While the reader accompanies Babbitt, he is easily submersed in his skin and laughs at him.
Here is were the author does the magic trick and before you know it you are not laughing about
the character misfortunes but to our own lack of understanding of everything. That is what this
work a fantastic piece of literature.

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a period piece but a good one, Feb 5 2002

By Michael Lewyn (Jacksonville, FL) - See all my reviews
As some other readers have noted,
this is not Lewis's best work (I always liked "It Can't Happen Here", Lewis's story of how fascism
could have come to America) - but I liked it. I am not sure Lewis has much of a grasp of the
eternal characteristics of the human heart, but he does a good job of sketching a specific type of
person in a specific place and time, kind of like Tom Wolfe today. Unlike some reviewers, I don't
think Lewis is unnecessarily venomous towards Babbitt -- at the end (when Babbitt tells his son
to do what he enjoys instead of what his father did) he reveals himself to be somewhat of a
mensch. I also don't think Babbitt is as much of a role model as some other reviewers think; his
business ethics are too borderline, his attitude towards First Amendment values too cavalier.
Generally, I liked Lewis more as a teenager than I do now; I think high schools should use his
books more.

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A Lot of Hilarious Shilly-Shallying, Flip-Flopping and Fun, Nov 14 2001
Reviewer: A customer
If you ask me. And I mean it, I mean, I really mean it. I mean, the people in this book are, well,
as peppy and interesting as any folks can ever be, know what I mean? I liked the dinner party
parts and the ladies' looking alike and the gentlemen not looking alike until you got to know 'em
and then you realized it was the reverse. The men all acted just about the same, know what I
mean? Always repeating themselves and acting like they were the Big Cheese and such. Also, it
was quite a bit of amusement hearing about Prohibition, what it was really like, if you get my
meaning. How people in the Big Little Cities like Zenith defended it but in private couldn't wait to
get their hands on a bottle of gin and go on about their Rights and Liberties, by golly, and how
nobody had the right to tell them what to do in their own homes and in America and such.
Hypocrisy. Boosterism. Crony-ism. Now, those were the days. (They're still the days.)

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Hmmm, have I become a Babbitt?, Nov 6 2001

By David E. Levine (Peekskill , NY USA) - See all my reviews
Much of my reading is non fiction,
particularly American history. However, as a history enthusiast, I sometimes like to read
American fiction since such literature gives a first hand flavor of cultural history. I read this book
many years ago and in rereading this past week, I realize how timeless it is. Since I first read it,
I have become a middle aged adult active in local civic organizations. Additionally, I am basically
conservative both politically and socially. Thus, this book gives me pause as I wonder, "have I
become Babbitt?" I hope not since Babbittism (is that a word?) is a state of mind, not a
superficial demographic profile. If you are a Babbitt, you are a self satisfied blowhard, yet are
not free of underlying self doubts and insecurities. Such fatuous swellheads come in all political
and social stripes.
This novel satirizes the conservative, semi ignorant, civic minded business person but, there is
a much more subtle satire running through the book. At one point, Babbitt fancies himself as
"broad minded and liberal." For a time, he starts to run around with a different sort of crowd.
Although this particular satire doesn't hit you up side the head, if you read carefully, the trendy
liberals of that time (1920s) are also satirized.
Ultimately, this book is about the power of conformity. When this book was written, the author
saw it as a nearly irresistable force. His examination of this issue may well be relevant today.

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Sinclair Lewis
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

• Have questions? Find out how to ask questions and get answers. •

Jump to: navigation, search
Sinclair Lewis

February 7, 1885
Sauk Centre, Minnesota, USA
January 10, 1951
Rome, Italy
Occupation: Novelist, Playwright, Short story writer
Nationality: American Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885
— January 10, 1951) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930 he
became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his vigorous and
graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters."
His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American society and capitalist
values. His style is at times droll, satirical, and yet sympathetic.

• 1 Biography
o 1.1 Boyhood and Education
o 1.2 Early career
o 1.3 Commercial Success
o 1.4 Private Life
• 2 Quotations
• 3 References

• 4 External links [edit] Biography

[edit] Boyhood and Education

Born Harry Sinclair Lewis in the village of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he began reading books at a

young age and kept a diary. He had two siblings, Fred (born 1875) and Claude (born 1878). His
father, Edwin J. Lewis, was a physician and, at home, a stern disciplinarian who had difficulty
relating to his sensitive, unathletic third son. Lewis's mother, Emma Kermott Lewis, died in 1891;
little is known of whatever influence she may have had on him. The following year, Edwin Lewis
married Isabel Warner, whose company young Lewis apparently enjoyed. Throughout his lonely
boyhood, the ungainly Lewis -- tall, extremely thin, stricken with acne, and somewhat popeyed --
had trouble gaining friends and pined after various local girls. At age 13, he unsuccessfully ran
away from home, wanting to become a drummer boy in the Spanish-American War.[1]
In fall 1902, Lewis left home for a year at Oberlin Academy (the then-preparatory department of
Oberlin College) to help himself qualify for acceptance by Yale University. While at Oberlin, he
developed a religious enthusiasm that waxed and waned for much of his remaining teenaged
years. He entered Yale in 1903 but did not receive his bachelor's degree until 1908, having taken
time off to work at Helicon Hall, Upton Sinclair's cooperative-living colony near Englewood, New
Jersey, and to travel to Panama. Lewis's unprepossessing looks, "fresh" country manners, and
seemingly self-important loquacity did not make it any easier for him to win and keep friends at
Oberlin or Yale than in Sauk Centre. Some of his crueller Yale classmates joked "that he was the
only man in New Haven who could fart out of his face." Nevertheless, he did manage to initiate a
few relatively long-lived friendships among students and professors, some of whom recognized
his promise as a writer.[2]

[edit] Early career

Lewis's earliest published creative work -- romantic poetry and short sketches -- appeared in the
Yale Courant and the Yale Literary Magazine, of which he became an editor. After his graduation
from Yale, Lewis moved from job to job and from place to place in an effort to make ends meet,
write fiction for publication, and chase away boredom. While working for newspapers and
publishing houses (and for a time at the Carmel writers' colony), he developed a facility for turning
out shallow, popular stories that were purchased by a variety of magazines. At this time, he also
earned money by selling plots to Jack London. Lewis's first published book was Hike and the
Aeroplane, a Tom Swift-style potboiler that appeared in 1912 under the pseudonym Tom Graham.
His first serious novel, Our Mr. Wrenn: The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man, appeared in
1914, followed by The Trail of the Hawk: A Comedy of the Seriousness of Life (1915) and The
Job: An American Novel (1917). That same year also saw the publication of another potboiler,
The Innocents: A Story for Lovers, an expanded version of a serial story that had originally
appeared in Woman's Home Companion. Free Air, another refurbished serial story, was
published in 1919. Each of Lewis's serious books -- Our Mr. Wrenn, Trail of the Hawk, and The
Job -- demonstrated a steady development in skill and brought increasingly positive reviews,
despite lackluster sales.[3]

[edit] Commercial Success

Sinclair Lewis, circa 1930, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
As early as 1916, Lewis began taking notes for a realistic novel about small-town life. Work on
that novel continued through the summer of 1920, when he finally completed Main Street
(published in October of that year). As biographer Mark Schorer has stated, the phenomenal
success of Main Street "was the most sensational event in twentieth-century American publishing
history."[4] Based on sales of his prior books, Lewis's most optimistic projection was a sale of
25,000 copies. In the first six months of 1921 alone, Main Street sold 180,000 copies, and within
a few years sales were estimated at two million.[5]

[edit] Private Life

Lewis married the writer Grace Livingstone Hegger, whom he met while working in New York City,
on April 15, 1914.[6]
Lewis was known for giving strong characterization to modern working women and for his
concern with race. Some of his most famous books were Main Street and Babbitt. He was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 — which he rejected — for Arrowsmith, a novel about an
idealistic doctor. Elmer Gantry was the story of an opportunistic evangelist, if not an outright
charlatan. It was banned in Boston and other U.S. cities; Main Street, Babbitt, Kingsblood Royal,
and Cass Timberlane all were banned in their turn. In his Nobel Prize lecture, he lamented that "in
America most of us — not readers alone, but even writers — are still afraid of any literature which
is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues," and
that America is "the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the
world today."
In 1928 he married journalist Dorothy Thompson and in 1930 their son Michael Lewis was born.
The restless Lewis traveled much, and in the 1920s would spend time with other great artists in
the Montparnasse Quarter in Paris, France where he would be photographed by Man Ray. His
last great work was It Can't Happen Here, a speculative novel about the election of a fascist U.S.
Alcohol played a dominant role in his life; he died of advanced alcoholism in Rome.
He created the fictional cities of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota and Zenith, Winnemac.

[edit] Quotations

• "I love America, but I don't like it."

• "This is America - a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little
groves. The town is, in our tale, called 'Gopher Prairie, Minnesota'. But its Main Street is the
continuation of Main Streets everywhere."
• "Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods,
particularly if the goods are worthless."
• "Winter is not a season, it's an occupation."
• "There are two insults which no human will endure: the assertion that he hasn't a sense of humor,
and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble."
• "American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead."

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Sinclair Lewis
[edit] References

1. ^ Schorer, M.: Sinclair Lewis: An American Life, pages 3-22. McGraw-Hill, 1961.
2. ^ Ibid., pages 47-136.
3. ^ Ibid., pages 139-264.
4. ^ Ibid., page 268.
5. ^ Ibid., pages 235, 263-69.
6. ^ Ibid., page 215.

• Lingeman, Richard ed. Sinclair Lewis: Main Street & Babbitt (Library of America, 1992) ISBN 978-
• Lingeman, Richard ed. Sinclair Lewis: Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth (Library of America,
2002) ISBN 978-1-93108208-2
• Mark Schorer, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life, 1961.
• D. J. Dooley, The Art of Sinclair Lewis, 1967.
• Martin Light, The Quixotic Vision of Sinclair Lewis, 1975.
• Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 31.3, Autumn 1985, special issues on Sinclair Lewis.
• Sinclair Lewis at 100: Papers Presented at a Centennial Conference, 1985.
• Martin Bucco, Main Street: The Revolt of Carol Kennicott, 1993.
• James M. Hutchisson, The Rise of Sinclair Lewis, 1920-1930, 1996.
• Glen A. Love, Babbitt: An American Life.
• Stephen R. Pastore, Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1997.

[edit] External links

• Online collection of works

• Works by Sinclair Lewis at Project Gutenberg
• Sinclair Lewis at the Internet Movie Database
• Sinclair Lewis at the Internet Broadway Database
• his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new
types of characters.
• Sinclair Lewis Society
• Autobiography
• WBGU-PBS documentary about Sinclair Lewis
• Hutchisson, The Rise of Sinclair Lewis, 1920-1930, Penn State Press, 2001 ISBN 0-271-02123-3

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