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twist of his mouth or flicker of his eyelids. Lewis was not fooled, and when, as he sometimes did, he spoke harsh words indicating that he was not really taken in, his arrogance was commented on and his personal downfall calculated with as much care as the sun's eclipse.
Having for the first time some money, he went abroad and played around. Many English authors and their familiars were stung by the extreme informality of his approach; but be not deceived, some of the best liked him. (By "best" I do not necessarily refer to anything but personal qualities.) "I was with Sinclair Lewis the other day and liked him better than ever", writes Frank Swinnerton. "We had a jolly lunch."
A small band of Amherst alumni were chiefly instrumental in the political advancement of Calvin Coolidge. Possibly it was a mistake. for Sinclair Lewis to go to Yale, but probably not, for he was to become too articulate, anyway.
The "swelled head" did not prevent him from writing "Babbitt", and all the best critical opinion is unanimous that "Babbitt" is a great advance upon "Main Street". It is, in many ways. It is better satire because more on the hour and minute and because more kindly. It is a better novel, having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Between "Main Street" and "Babbitt" there is no real comparison in readability. "Main Street" is hard sledding; "Babbitt" can hardly be let alone after one has got past the first page or two. The only technical objection to the portrait of the man from Zenith is its utter compositeness. We have all known fifty men of whom the things Lewis assigns to George F. Babbitt were true; but to have them all wrapped up in a single package tends
to produce, after a time, occasional moments of incredulous unreality.
But this, after all, is Lewis's peculiar faculty, the ability to sum up everything at once a power of
generalization perhaps without a parallel in the history of fiction. In some sense, I suppose this generalizing faculty is anti-fictional; it is so, without doubt, in so far as fiction consists of the study of individual lives. There is a strain in Sinclair Lewis which allies him to the statistician and the census taker. And this tendency is constantly asserting itself, wherever it exists, in the direction of ideas and away from persons. We shall come to it presently in Lewis's new novel, "Arrowsmith".
I have no intention of writing a treatise on this tendency. For one thing, I don't know enough about it. It will perhaps help in the identification of it if I suggest some American writers in whose work it constantly asserts itself: Samuel Hopkins Adams, Arthur Bullard, Winston Churchill, Floyd Dell, Thomas Dixon, Will Irwin, Owen Johnson, Charles G. Norris, Upton Sinclair (nth degree), Stewart Edward White (in "The Glory Hole"), Brand Whitlock, Helen R. Martin, Dorothy Canfield, Honoré Willsie MorThese examples are enough to show that the tendency is emotional as well as intellectual it is a love of an idea, of an attitude toward life, of sufficient intensity to color the writer's work. It is a sort of polarity as opposed to a kind of detachment. Its greatest danger is the fact that it can be expressed abstractly, with beautiful clearness, as an idea. Its effect is too often to rob the personages of a story of rich and rugged characterization; they appear thin, deficient in vitality; they either become anæmic or remain attenuated because the author's idea or
attitude is all-important and he has neither the patience nor, indeed, the active imagination to present his characters with human detail and in their human texture.
Now Sinclair Lewis has this trait in as great a degree as any of his contemporaries, American or others, but in him it is met, mingled with, and tempered by a truly enormous pacity for the assimilation of individuals as such. The idea-tendency or attitude-tendency is plain throughout "Main Street", but this does not for one moment prevent the complete and acute characterization of Doc Kennicott, Carol, Guy Pollock, Sam Clark, Mrs. Bogart, Fern Mullins, Vida Sherman, and you-can't-rememberhow-many others. Mr. Lewis's nearest parallel in this respect is H. G. Wells, who also writes with the ideatendency and the attitude and who similarly teems with lifelike portraits. In both cases it is the amazing fertility of Charles Dickens combined with something Dickens had not. Or rather, I should say that Dickens never ranged beyond a specific indignation against English boarding schools, the chancery courts, and so on.
It has been remarked that Mr. Lewis's first novel, "Our Mr. Wrenn", ✓obviously owes its character to such work of H. G. Wells as "Mr. Polly"; but Mr. Lewis owes much more to Wells, in the way of inspiration and example, than his first book. The same incurable restlessness belongs to both men; the same superb discontent with everything as it is; the same passionate warmth and width of human interest. Wells showed Lewis how to combine the idea-tendency or attitude with the mental notebook which never missed jotting down the quirks of human appearance, speech, and behavior. But Lewis has something
that Wells hasn't something that was either born in him (as I think) or else was learned from Balzac a determination to get everything in. Now it may or may not be true that art consists in selection, in elimination; I do not pretend to know, although I am suspicious of anything so easy to say. But if that is art, then Balzac and Sinclair Lewis are not artists. Both are masters of the cheek-by-jowl.
"Arrowsmith" is about as long as "Main Street" and is much more akin to "Main Street" than to "Babbitt". The circumstances under which it was written should be pretty well known by this time. In the summer of 1922, Mr. Lewis met Paul H. de Kruif, a bacteriologist who had been with the Rockefeller Institute. "Babbitt" was out of the way. A prolonged discussion of medical education in the United States led Lewis to the determination to write a novel about "a doctor who, starting out as a competent general practitioner, emerges as a real scientist, despising ordinary success". We are told that "then, with Kruif, he wandered for three months from Barbadoes to Panama to Europe. They saw leper asylums and hospitals and small dispensaries among the Barbadoes canefields. They spent hours in laboratories in Panama, in London, in Paris. And with all their wandering they managed five or six hours of intense work every day, finally rounding out a complete plan for the book in some 60,000 words. To produce the actual novel required a year, Lewis working by himself in London and in the country near Fontainebleau.
Kruif has given a good picture of Lewis in the preliminary stage:
A passenger ship is plowing along through the smooth, mysteriously weedy waters of the Sargasso Sea in mid-Atlantic.
Down below in a snug little stateroom, before a typewriter on a little folding table, sits Sinclair Lewis, a lank, tously, redhaired figure in an impossibly gaudy silk dressing-gown. Ever and again with two powerful fingers he makes the flimsy machine resound with a staccato racket like machine gun fire. Now and then he stops to fumble a little hurriedly and nervously among the confused pile of maps, huge books, diagrams and papers that litter the table, the couch on which he sits, the floor, the washstand and the lifepreserver-racks. Failing to find what he seeks, he rasps out in no very choice language, "Paul, what the devil have you done with Manson's "Tropical Medicine"?" A hot argument ensues, through abusive personalities to religion and philosophy, through science to the arts, dying away at last amid a renewed clattering of the typewriter.
There was also this autobiographical factor, according to Lewis:
A small boy whose memory is of being awakened by his father's talking to a patient, down at the door; of catching 3-A. M. phrases: "Where is the pain? Eh? Well, all right, but you ought to have called me earlier. Peritonitis may have set in." A small boy who was permitted to peep at anatomical charts and ponderous medical books in The Office. Then his brother going off to medical school gossip of classes, of a summer's interneship, of surgery versus general practice. And behind father and brother, a grandfather and uncle who were also doctors.
With such a background, the work and ideals of the doctors have always been more familiar to me than any others, and when I began to write novels (I started my first one just twenty years ago, and the first that was ever published fourteen years ago) I thought of some day having a doctor hero. Part of that ambition was satisfied in Dr. Kennicott, of "Main Street", but he was not the chief character, and furthermore I desired to portray a more significant medico than Kennicott
- one who could get beneath routine practice into the scientific foundation of medicine one who should immensely affect all life.
What of the result? "Arrowsmith" is a panorama of modern medicine as overwhelming in its completeness and its detail as "Main Street". It is a book that will have to go on the doctor's shelf as surely as Osler's "The
Principles and Practice of Medicine" or the volume on gynecology. It might profitably go on the shelf of the ordinary home along with Holt's "The Care and Feeding of Children". For like these books it is essentially a standard treatise.
I do not mean that it is not a story. There is a very definite story. But the feature of the work is elsewhere. (It lies in the unsparing presentation of all the aspects of medical education and practice. The crass commercialization in spots, the idealism in other spots, the working adjustment that is commonest in the profession, the blind alleys, the political factor which enters in when public health administration functions - all these trunk lines and many a branching are explored. Sometimes the exploration is very thorough; but even when it is brief the swift searchlight of Lewis gives you all the essentials.
(The book is a vivisection; its subject is alive and quivering. The book is new; its subject is to the ordinary reader the most mysterious on earth. The book is human; its characters lack nothing that Lewis can give them. The idea-tendency or attitude is marked, as in "Main Street", and those who consider "Babbitt" Lewis's best novel will not be shaken in their conclusion by "Arrowsmith".
What the medical profession will say, I have no means of knowing. Their opposition will help the book very much. Their approval, I suppose, is not likely. They may merely poohpooh it gently, which attitude, without hurting it particularly, would help it least. The doctors have never mastered the arts of publicity - except here and there individually and they have no established channels through which to make their conclusions widely heard and accepted. Had Lewis
carried out an earlier intention to review the law in a novel as he reviews medicine in "Arrowsmith", the case would be different. Lawyers can do anything, and do.
He was born at Sauk Centre, Minnesota, February 7, 1885, the son of Dr. Edwin J. Lewis and Emma (Kermott) Lewis. A country boyhood. He went east to Yale and was graduated in 1907. He was a reporter in New Haven and San Francisco and then a magazine editor for several years. I think the only magazine of the lot now surviving is "Adventure". Then he did work for two book publishing houses. Having sold several short stories to "The Saturday Evening Post", he began free lancing in 1916. He had tried it unsuccessfully for a year and a half before that; but this time it worked.
"Main Street" made a small fortune for him. He is one of the four authors who have actually received $50,000 for the serial publication rights of a novel - this sum being paid for "Arrowsmith". In the best sense, money does not mean a great deal to him. He has kept enough to furnish an income for life, but he will hardly stop working, and working hard. So far as the money goes, he could have stopped after "Main Street" or at worst have been obliged to do only a nominal task for years to come. But the picture of him at work on "Arrowsmith" is the answer.
By Helen Anthony
talk of autumn fires, but have you smelled
In early spring? And seen it float upon