Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis, 1885–1951, American novelist, b. Sauk Centre, Minn., grad. Yale Univ., 1908. Probably the greatest satirist of his era, Lewis wrote novels that present a devastating picture of middle-class American life in the 1920s. Although he ridiculed the values, the lifestyles, and even the speech of his characters, there is affection behind the irony. Lewis began his career as a journalist, editor, and hack writer. With the publication of Main Street (1920), a merciless satire on life in a Midwestern small town, Lewis immediately became an important literary figure. His next novel, Babbitt (1922), considered by many critics to be his greatest work, is a scathing portrait of an average American businessman, a Republican and a Rotarian, whose individuality has been erased by conformist values.

Arrowsmith (1925; Pulitzer Prize, refused by Lewis) satirizes the medical profession, and Elmer Gantry (1927) attacks hypocritical religious revivalism. Dodsworth (1929), a more mellow work, is a sympathetic picture of a wealthy American businessman in Europe; it was successfully dramatized by Lewis and Sidney Howard in 1934. In 1930, Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. During his lifetime he published 22 novels, and it is generally agreed that his later novels are far less successful than his early fiction. Among his later works are It Can't Happen Here (1935), Cass Timberlane (1945), Kingsblood Royal (1947), and World So Wide (1951). From 1928 to 1942 Lewis was married to Dorothy Thompson, 1894–1961, a distinguished newspaperwoman and foreign correspondent.

See memoir by his first wife, G. H. Lewis (1955); biographies by C. Van Doren (1933, repr. 1969), M. Shorer (1961), V. Sheean (1963), and R. Lingeman (2001); studies by S. N. Grebstein (1962, repr. 1987), D. J. Dooley (1967, repr. 1987), M. Light (1975), and M. Bucco, ed. (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Sinclair Lewis: New Essays in Criticism
James M. Hutchisson.
Whitston, 1997
The Art of Sinclair Lewis
D. J. Dooley.
University of Nebraska Press, 1967
With Love from Gracie: Sinclair Lewis: 1912-1925
Grace Hegger Lewis.
Harcourt Brace and Company, 1955
FREE! Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott
Sinclair Lewis.
Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920
Babbitt
Sinclair Lewis.
New American Library, 1961
The Small Town in American Literature
Ima Honaker Herron.
Duke University Press, 1939
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Sinclair Lewis begins on p. 368
Creating the Modern American Novel
Harlan Henthorne Hatcher.
Farrar & Rinehart, 1935
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Nine "Sinclair Lewis"
White Diaspora: The Suburb and the Twentieth-Century American Novel
Catherine Jurca.
Princeton University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Sinclair Lewis and the Revolt from the Suburb"
The Beginnings of Critical Realism in America, 1860-1920: Completed to 1900 Only
Vernon Louis Parrington.
Harcourt Brace, 1930
Librarian’s tip: "Sinclair Lewis: Our Own Diogenes" begins on p. 360
Cavalcade of the American Novel: From the Birth of the Nation to the Middle of the Twentieth Century
Edward Wagenknecht.
Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1952
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XIX "Sinclair Lewis and the Babbitt Warren"
The Saturday Review Treasury
John Haverstick.
Simon and Schuster, 1957
Librarian’s tip: "The Earlier Lewis" begins on p. 30, and "The Great Feud" by Bernard DeVoto and Sinclair Lewis begins on p. 265
I'm a Stranger Here Myself and Other Stories
Sinclair Lewis; Mark Schorer.
Dell, 1962
If I Were Boss: The Early Business Stories of Sinclair Lewis
Anthony Di Renzo; Sinclair Lewis.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1997
Jayhawker: A Play in Three Acts
Lloyd Lewis; Sinclair Lewis.
Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935
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