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Sinclair Lewis (Harry Sinclair Lewis) Biography

(1885–1951), (Harry Sinclair Lewis), Our Mr. Wrenn, The Trail of the Hawk, The Job

American novelist, born in Sauk Center, Minnesota, educated at Yale University; he was the son of a country doctor of Welsh descent whose life provided details for some of his later fiction. Lewis held a variety of jobs, mostly connected with publishing; for a short time, he worked as the janitor of Upton Sinclair's socialist colony, Helicon Hall, in New Jersey. In 1916, after publishing the two novels Our Mr. Wrenn (1914) and The Trail of the Hawk (1915), and several short stories in periodicals, he became a freelance writer. He produced several further novels including The Job (1917), The Innocents (1917), and Free Air (1919). He achieved an international reputation with Main Street (1920), a satiric caricature detailing the drabness, conformity, and materialism of small town middle America. The ensuing decade saw the emergence of his best fiction. Babbitt (1922) portrayed a petit-bourgeois businessman in a middle-sized Midwestern city, who vainly attempts to break out of a stifling conformity to achieve his own freedom. Next came Arrowsmith (1925), a study of the medical profession which is contrasted with an idealized view of scientific research; Mantrap (1926); Elmer Gantry (1927), an extravagantly comic satirical attack on the Protestant ministry; The Man Who Knew Coolidge (1928); and Dodsworth (1929), a satirical perspective of the American businessman abroad. He continued his prolific writing during the 1930s with a scrutiny of the career woman in Ann Vickers (1933); a look at the hotel industry in Work of Art (1934); and It Can't Happen Here (1935), a study of fascism. These works lacked the satiric power and intensity of his earlier works as Lewis became increasingly conservative. His later novels include Prodigal Parents (1938), about radical and irresponsible children; Bethel Merriday (1940), about the education of a young actress; an attack on organized philanthropy in Gideon Planish (1943); Cass Timberlane (1945), an account of an American marriage; an unconvincing parable about racial issues in Kingsblood Royal (1947); The God-Seeker (1949), about the early settlement days in Minnesota; and World So Wide (1951). He wrote two plays entitled Hobohemia (1919) and Jayhawker (1934), and his letters were edited by Harrison Smith in From Main Street to Stockholm (1952). He refused the Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith in 1926, but he was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire