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H. G. WELLS AND SINCLAIR LEWIS: FRIENDSHIP, LITERARY INFLUENCE, AND LETTERS* By Martin Light (Purdue University) The correspondence between H. G. Wells and Sinclair Lewis does more than give evidence of friendship and admiration. It calls attention to the fact that Lewis began as a disciple of Wells and it expresses Lewis's gratitude for the effect that Wells had upon his work. Lewis derived from Wells not only a background of social ideas but also a way of shaping such ideas into novels. He modeled his early characterizations upon those of Wells, imitated the Wellsian satire and the Wellsian tenderness, and thereby achieved a breakthrough for the stirrings that had been wasted in "Tennyson and water" poetry (as he called it) and bland short fiction of little merit. When he was able to bring his first novel, OUR MR. WRENN (1914), to completion after a four-year struggle, it was, according to his own description seven years later, "a rather Kipps- or Wheels of Chancelike study of a little boarding-house man"; such a figure was archetypal Iy Wellsian. Thus Wells enabled Lewis to begin the career that culminated In the Nobel Prize for Literature In 1930 (an award denied to the older writer). Although Lewis eventually developed a voice of his own, it can safely be said that to him Wells was always the most important and most influential writer alive. The letters printed here, with their frank enthusiasm and their hopeful devotion, suggest this. So do presentation inscriptions in books, remarks made in speeches and to interviewers, and the three essays Lewis wrote about Wells. It is likely that in America Lewis was the most faithful purveyor of Wellsian social and political ideas and novelistic method. Wells, for his part, was generous in praise of Lewis, both in this correspondence and elsewhere. The following introduction wi11 place the letters in a context of Wells's and Lewis's essays, their encounters with each other, and the current of ideas. While tracing the lines of influence in their fiction, one should not forget other writers of importance to Lewis, as for example Mencken, or Masters and Garland and a wave of critics of the village. Yet Lewis himself pointed to Wells as his teacher. In 1935, momentarily ignoring much else that had influenced him, but acting in kindness and enthusiasm, he inscribed a gift copy of IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE as follows: "To H. G. Wells with the gratitude of one who has learned from him all that he knows." w I wish to thank the following people and institutions for permissions to print letters of Lewis and Wells, and for help: Melville H. Cane and Pincus Berner, Executors of the Estate of Sinclair Lewis; Mrs. Marjorie Wells and the Executors of the Estate of H. G. Wells; Professor Harris Wilson, in charge of the Wells Archive at the University of Illinois, where the letters from Lewis to Wells are located; Dr. Gordon Ray, formerly in charge of the Archive; R. B. Downs and the University of Illinois Library; Mrs. Charles Shattuck of the Wells Archive at Illinois; Donald Gallup and the Yale University Library, where the letters from Wells to Lewis are located, along with Lewis's copies of Wells's books inscribed by Wells; Miss Marjorie G. Wynne of the Rare Book Room at Yale; Thomas R. Buckman and the University of Kansas Library, where resides the copy of IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE inscribed by Lewis; Professor Mark Schorer; Professor Louis Cornell; the Swedish Academy; and McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. Wells was nineteen years old at the time of Lewis's birth in I885. Before Lewis was twenty, Viel Is had published, among other books, THE TIME MACHINE (1895), THE WHEELS OF CHANCE (I896), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1897), THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (I898), LOVE AND MR. LEWISHAM (1900), and KIPPS (1905). He was an established writer in several senses — in reputation, in method, and in social vision. According to Mark Schorer, Lewis, a devourer of books, had read some Wells at Yale during the 1904-05 school year.2 But most likely the influence of Wells on Lewis awaited his reading TONO-BUNGAY...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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