Sinclair Lewis

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Lewis, Sinclair,

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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lewis, Sinclair


Born Feb. 7, 1885, in Sauk Centre, Minn.; died Jan. 10, 1951, in Rome. American writer. Son of a doctor.

Lewis’ first novels were not particularly successful. Main Street (1920), which showed the stagnation and conservatism of a backwater town, brought him wide recognition in the USA and Europe. George Babbitt, the hero of his next novel (Babbitt, 1922), was the classic personification of the average small businessman. In Arromsmith (1925, with P. de KruiO a talented doctor and researcher is pitted against moneygrubbers in science and medicine. Yet Lewis was inconsistent in criticizing the “dollar civilization”—for example, in Dodsworth (1929).

Lewis’ satire acquired a political orientation in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In his Utopian, lampooning novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935), Lewis foresaw certain aspects of the coming political reaction in the USA. However, his condemnation of fascism was tinged with fear of the danger “on the left” (the novel Prodigal Parents, 1938). Lewis experienced an upsurge in output during World War II, producing the screenplay for Storm in the West (1943, with D. Schary) and the novel Gideon Planish (1943). Apart from his sharply critical works, Lewis wrote a number of weak and saccharine novels (God-seeker, 1949, World so Wide, 1951). He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930.


Man From Main Street: A Sinclair Lewis Reader. New York, 1953.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1-9. Moscow, 1965.


Mendel’son, M. “Sinkler L’iuis.” In his book Sovremennyi amerikanskii roman. Moscow, 1964.
Gilenson, B. Amerika Sinklera L’iuisa. Moscow, 1972.
Sinkler L’iuis: Biobibliograficheskii ukazate’. Moscow, 1959.
Schorer, M. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York, 1961.
Dooley, J. D. The Art of Sinclair Lewis. Lincoln, Neb., 1967. (Bibliography, pp. 269-77).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lewis, (Harry) Sinclair

(1885–1951) writer; born in Sauk Center, Minn. He studied at Yale (1903–06), left to join Upton Sinclair's socialist colony in New Jersey, then returned and finished at Yale (1908). For the next few years he worked as a journalist, editor, and free-lance writer in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City, but by 1916 he was devoting himself to his own writing, which would fall into three distinct periods. His first novels and short stories—all eminently forgettable—were a search for subject matter and a style. His second phase, essentially the 1920s, produced virtually all his important works, several of which provided names that would become proverbial stereotypes: Main Street (1920), a satirical portrait of a conservative small town in the Midwest; Babbitt (1922), equally satiric in its portrait of a conservative American businessman; Elmer Gantry (1927), also satirical in its portrait of religious hypocrisy. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith (1925) but refused it because he felt his views of American life did not conform to the idealized view of America espoused by the Pulitzer panel. He did, however, accept the Nobel Prize in literature (1930), the first American so honored. His fiction thereafter went into marked decline on the literary scale, although in such works as It Can't Happen Here (1935) and Kingsblood Royal (1947), he did anticipate certain social issues. He was married to the journalist, Dorothy Thompson, from 1928 to 1942, but theirs was a stormy relationship, aggravated by his severe alcoholism. He spent the last two decades of his life traveling around the U.S.A. and Europe—he died in Rome—as though avoiding the one place he truly knew, the American Midwest.

Lewis, Sinclair

See Lewis, (Harry) Sinclair.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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