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229 AMBIVALENCES AND ANXIETIES: CHARACTER REVERSALS IN SINCLAIR LEWIS' MANTRAP Sanford E. Marovitz Kent State University During the height of his career as a writer of fiction, Sinclair Lewis published what was for him an extraordinary book, a serialized romance called Mantrap.1 Many readers fairly familiar with Lewis' fiction have never heard of it. The novel first appeared in Collier's during the early months of 1926; in June of that year it was brought out in hard cover by Harcourt Brace. If the original serialized version was somewhat stretched out and diffuse because of hurried writing, Lewis did not neglect to trim and sharpen it before it went to press for Harcourt, as Martin Buceo concluded in his analysis of Lewis' serialized novels more than twenty years ago.2 Mantrap is the fictitious and often incredible account of a forty-yearold bachelor attorney in New York who is persuaded—in part by a wellto -do businessman with whom he golfs and in part by his own dreams of a macho change—to undertake a long canoe trip into the wilderness for the physical and spiritual renewal that he believes will come from temporarily dropping out of civilization. No daredevil at heart, Ralph Prescott, the lawyer, is nevertheless convinced that he not only must have the change but that he will find exactly what he needs in the wild back country to vitalize his latent manhood, long retarded in its development by his adoration of a mother, now dead for two years, from whom he had never been thoroughly weaned. During the course of his adventure, he is disgusted by the Indians and betrayed by Woodbury, his companion, who treats him with contempt; consequently, he deserts Woodbury when Joe Easter, an agreeable trapper and fur trader, stops at their campground and invites the disillusioned Ralph to join him as he returns home to his wife, Alverna, a flirtatious young manicurist he had met and wed in Minneapolis. They live in the small frontier community of Mantrap Landing, where he has a fur-trading post. Soon the excitement of frontier living diminishes for Ralph. He finds himself attracted to Alverna, who unexpectedly encourages him, and dismayed by the general life at Mantrap Landing, he leaves with a borrowed canoe and an Indian guide. Not far from the post, Alverna, also anxious to leave, awaits Ralph and persuades him to take her along. Eventually they become stranded lovers; their Cree guide steals the canoe and deserts them. Confronted by starvation and an expanding forest fire, they are spotted by Canadian agents on a mission, but the plane is too small for a rescue, so the stranded pair is left behind. Soon after, Joe Easter, who has been chasing them, catches up, but instead of shooting Ralph 230Notes in vengeance and anger, he tries to rescue the fleeing man from his temptress wife. Finally, they all find safety, and although Ralph plans to help Joe seek work in New York while Alverna returns to Minneapolis, the three go their separate ways, leaving this outlandish novel open-ended. Surprisingly, Mantrap came out to generally favorable reviews. Although some reviewers dismissed it as absurd—a potboiler clear and simple—a good many others accepted it as an entertaining romance, an engaging story with an element of satire. Few if any of the reviewers assessed it as a major achievement on a level with Main Street, Babbitt, or even Arrowsmith, but the romance was not met with the universal derision that hindsight would suggest of a book that is now so little known and read. To be sure, it may have been accepted by the more tolerant reviewers simply because it had come from the hand of Sinclair Lewis, and it was riding in the wake of those earlier great successes. "Sinclair Lewis Takes a Holiday in Canada" is the title of William Lyon Phelps's review, and "Babbitt Returns to Nature" headlines that of Joseph Wood Krutch.3 Clearly the inferior work under review is benefitting in part from the reflected glory of brilliant recent achievements. Now that more than half a century has passed, however, and even those cardinal novels are no longer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 229-236
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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