- Sinclair Lewis, Max Gottlieb, and Sherlock Holmes
The character of Max Gottlieb, the pure scientist of Sinclair Lewis' best seller Arrowsmith (1925) and the inspirer of its protagonist Martin Arrowsmith, is, in the words of Paul de Kruif, Lewis' scientific collaborator on Arrowsmith, "a muddy mélange of my revered chief, Professor Novy, and of Jacques Loeb, who was my master in a philosophy of the mechanistic conception of life" (97-98). Paul de Kruif is correct in identifying two parts of the "muddy mélange": Jacques Loeb (1859-1924), the German-American physiologist, famous for his work with tropisms and artificial parthenogenesis, and de Kruif's colleague for two years at the Rockefeller Institute; and Frederick Novy (1864-1957), professor and chairman of the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Michigan for many years and de Kruif's much-admired teacher. Perhaps the murkiness of the mélange that went into the formation of the character of Lewis' scientific genius Max Gottlieb prevented de Kruif from identifying a third element in [End Page 565] Lewis' creation: Arthur Conan Doyle's renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Sinclair Lewis makes the comparison between Max Gottlieb and Sherlock Holmes in the thirteenth chapter of Arrowsmith: "However abstracted and impractical, Gottlieb would have made an excellent Sherlock Holmes—if anybody who would have made an excellent Sherlock Holmes would have been willing to be a detective. His mind burned through appearances to actuality" (138).
Perhaps even more convincing to show the relationship between Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Lewis' Max Gottlieb is their shared hawk imagery, suggesting keenness and strength of spirit. Sherlock Holmes's "thin, hawk-like nose" (A Study in Scarlet 1: 153) and "his hawk-like nose" thrust into the matter of "The Red-Headed League" (1: 428) reappear in Gottlieb's "jut of his hawk nose" (141) and "his hawk nose bony" (277) in Arrowsmith. Again Holmes's "clear-cut, hawk-like features" (1: 616) in The Sign of the Four remind one of Gottlieb's "hawk eyes" (11). Lewis even carries the hawk image from face to fingers, supplying Gottlieb with "talon fingers" (12).
Thinness, tallness, and asceticism are other characteristics that Lewis appropriated for his scientist from Doyle's detective. Holmes's "tall, lean figure" (1: 510) in The Valley of Fear could readily be mistaken for Gottlieb's "lean, tall figure" (356) in Anowsmith. Similarly, Holmes's "thin hands" (1: 481) in the same story match the scientist's "thin hands" (12) in Lewis' novel. In lengthier quotation from each source, the reader will notice not only a mutual thinness but asceticism and the power of abstraction. In The Valley of Fear Watson describes how Holmes's "thin, eager features became more attentuated with the asceticism of complete mental concentration" (1: 504); Lewis depicts Gottlieb emerging from his University of Winnemac laboratory at midnight: "a tall figure, ascetic, self-contained, apart. His swart cheeks were gaunt, his nose high-bridged and thin. . . . He was unconscious of the world" (10).
Both men are nervous pacers. Gottlieb "pacing the floor, his long arms fantastically knotted behind his thin back" (278), is close to Holmes as he "paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks, and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long thin hands" (1: 402) in "The [End Page 566] Five Orange Pips." And Holmes's "long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel" (2: 527) in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" would fit readily into Gottlieb's laboratory. Indeed, Gottlieb taking "a hypodermic needle from the instrument-bath" (34) and exerting "a quick down thrust of the hypodermic needle" (35) on a guinea pig is not all that different in technique from Holmes punching his arm with a hypodermic needle for his cocaine injection. With Sherlock Holmes as one of his progenitors, it's no wonder that Max Gottlieb made this suggestion to Martin Arrowsmith if he should have trouble with a research problem: ". . . when you get stuck in a problem, I have a fine collection of detective stories in my office" (278).
Paul de Kruif's Sweeping Wind shows that the Lewis references...