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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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.
References in periodicals archive ?
(1962) Sinclair Lewis: a collection of critical essays.
"How Good is Sinclair Lewis?" College English 9.4 (1948): 173-80.
Speaking of Sinclair Lewis, his Work of Art--also absent here--may offer the fullest account of an American business (hotel keeping, in this case) ever to appear in a good novel.
Fitzgerald's first book, This Side of Paradise, was to be his only highly successful book (1920), the same year as the other fictional best seller, Main Street--a novel by Sinclair Lewis, a fellow Minnesotan soon destined to become Fitzgerald's arch rival.
Thompson's prose, though improved by Sinclair Lewis, was straightforward and passionate; subtlety was not her strong suit.
Sinclair Lewis, 55, killed Julie Dorsett between 2002 and 2008, jurors at the Old Bailey were told.
Finally from Naxos we have an opera from 2007, by Robert Aldridge, based on Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis. Recorded in Milwaukee during its third production, this tells the tale of old time revivalist religion, its commercialisation and the opposition of the established church.
In the United States, Rush Lirnbaugh is the modern embodiment of Elmer Gantry, the hustling preacher in Sinclair Lewis's famed novel of the same name, and their form of showbiz gospel partly explains the immediate impossibility of a non-Christian U.S.
In 1915, for example, a then-unknown author named Sinclair Lewis submitted "Nature, Inc."--a satire about a pseudo-religious health farm--which landed in the Post's slush pile.
Most of the letters were written by ordinary Americans who wanted to help solve the problem; some letters were written by more famous Americans like Thomas Edison and Sinclair Lewis. The quality and depth of analysis for most solutions reflected the inexperience of the authors--for example, assigning black troops to the Cuban and Philippine campaigns because they were immune to tropical diseases; spraying German troops in World War I with a mild acid to dissolve their uniforms and cause them to return to Germany; or topping the U.S.
For example, author, activist, and civil libertarian Upton Sinclair did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Sinclair Lewis did).