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  • Recent Research on Sinclair Lewis
  • Robert E. Fleming (bio)

In 1980 Sinclair Lewis: A reference guide (Ed. Robert E. Fleming and Esther Fleming. Boston: Hall) offered an annotated bibliography of secondary material on Lewis published between 1914 and 1978. This survey is intended to supplement that bibliography by noting previously published items that it did not include and by adding materials published since 1978.

Biography, Letters, Documents

After Mark Schorer's massive biography, there seemed to be little work left for biographers to do, but Martin Light's essay on Lewis in American Novelists, 1910-1945 (DLB. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale, 1981. 169-185) is a succinct and useful appraisal of Lewis and his fiction. Another brief biographical essay is John T. Flanagan's "Sinclair Lewis" in Memorable Americans: 1750-1950 (Ed. [End Page 609] Robert B. Downs, John T. Flanagan, and Harold W. Scott. Littleton: Libraries Unlimited, 1983. 185-187).

More specialized studies are John J. Koblas' Sinclair Lewis: Home at Last (Bloomington: Voyageur, 1981) and Mary Byrd Davis' "Helicon Hall: An Experiment in Living" (Kentucky Review 1 [1980]: 29-51). Davis' essay is a study of Upton Sinclair's utopian community where Lewis lived briefly in 1906. Koblas deals exclusively with Lewis in Minnesota, from his boyhood in Sauk Centre through later periods of residence in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mankato, Duluth, and other Minnesota communities. The primary thesis of Home at Last, perhaps too complimentary to Lewis' native state, is that Lewis maintained an abiding love for Minnesota despite the fact that it was the butt of his satire or criticism in works such as Main Street, Cass Timberlane, and Kingsblood Royal. Barnaby Conrad, who briefly served as Lewis' secretary in the late 1940s, offers another of his personal memoirs in "A Portrait of Sinclair Lewis: America's Angry Man" (Horizon Mar. 1979: 40-44, 47-51).

Two biographical essays in American Literature examine Lewis' experience with literary awards. Fritz H. Oehlschlaeger's "Hamlin Garland and the Pulitzer Prize Controversy of 1921" (51 [1979]: 409-414) reviews the controversy that led to Wharton's The Age of Innocence being selected over Main Street and reprints Hamlin Garland's letter to Frank D. Fackenthal, secretary of Columbia University. Garland voted for Main Street but did so in such weak terms that his letter amounted to an endorsement of Wharton's novel. Coincidentally, Ellen Phillips Dupree deals with a related subject in "Wharton, Lewis and the Nobel Prize Address" (56 [1984]: 262-270). Dupree summarizes eight letters from Wharton to Lewis and reprints her letter of congratulation over his winning the Nobel Prize.

Except for From Main Street to Stockholm (1952), there has been no attempt to collect the Lewis correspondence; therefore several new publications that reprint letters are of special interest. Selected Letters of Sinclair Lewis (Ed. John J. Koblas and Dave Page. Madison: Main Street P, 1985) offers 85 letters to Lewis' father, E. J. Lewis; to his brother Claude; to Claude's children, Virginia and Freeman; to writer August Derleth and to actress Kitty Carlisle. Selected Letters also reproduces a number of photographs and facsimile letters. Margaret A. Van Antwerp's Dictionary of Literary [End Page 610] Biography: Documentary Series (Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1982. 361-423) reprints seven letters as well as two interviews, photos, and miscellaneous reviews and articles. Fritz H. Oehlschlaeger's "Sinclair Lewis, Stuart Pratt Sherman, and the Writing of Arrowsmith" (RALS 9 [1979]: 24-30) reprints four letters from Lewis to Sherman in this assessment of the latter's influence on Lewis. T. M. Pearce's Literary America, 1903-1934: The Mary Austin Letters (Westport: Greenwood, 1979. 132-143) prints three letters from Lewis to Austin and one from Austin to Lewis. Dorothy Commins quotes from several letters and notes from Lewis to her late husband, Random House editor Saxe Commins, in her What Is an Editor? Saxe Commins at Work (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978. 92-95). And finally, Roger K. Blakely's "Sinclair Lewis and the Baxters: The History of a Friendship" (Minnesota History 49.5 [1985]: 166-178) prints twenty-eight letters from Lewis to Minneapolis friends John and Mary Baxter.

An important biographical source published in its...


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