Lewis, Sinclair: Main Street
(researched by Brooke Brower)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Sinclair Lewis. Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920. Copyright 1920 by Harcourt, Brace and Howe Inc. First British edition in 1921, published by Jonathan Cape.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First edition in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
234 leaves, pp. [12] 1-451 [5]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is not edited. There is an introduction that talks about the universality of the story. The introduction is one page in length and italicized. The book is dedicated to James Branch Cabell and Joseph Hergesheimer.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations in the book.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Type size: 71R Page dimensions: 188mm by 125mm Text dimensions: 156mm by 94mm The text is easily readable. It is well printed and the margins are adequate. Chapters are numbered with Roman numerals and there are subsections with smaller font Roman numerals. The first word in a chapter is printed in all upper case with thte first letter slightly larger than the rest.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is printed on one type of paper throughout with the exception of the first and final leaves of the book which are of the same glossy and heavy stock as the inside of the cover of the book. The book is in fairly good condition for its age. Wiremarks are not detectable on the pages. The wear is even throughout the book with some yellowing of the pages.
11 Description of binding(s)
Blue dotted-line grain, trade cloth binding with orange stamping. Front cover: MAIN|STREET|[By] Sinclair|Lewis Spine: MAIN|STREET|[By] SINCLAIR|LEWIS|HARCOURT,BRACE|AND HOWE---
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: MAIN STREET|THE STORY OF CAROL KENNICOTT|BY|SINCLAIR LEWIS|[HBH logo printed in center]|NEW YORK|HARCOURT,BRACE AND HOWE|1920 Verso: COPYRIGHT 1920 BY HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE INC.|FIRST PRINTING OCTOBER 1920|SECOND PRINTING OCTOBER 1920| THIRD AND FOURTH PRINTING NOVEMBER 1920|FIFTH SIXTH SEVENTH EIGHTH AND NINTH PRINTING DECEMBER 1920| TENTH AND ELEVENTH PRINTING JANUARY 1921|THE QUINN AND BOWEN COMPANY|RAHWAY, NJ
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
NA
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The book is signed on the third page by Marjorie L. Churchill.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Harcourt only ever published one edition of Main Street. According to Stephen Pastore: "A typographer working at Quinn & Boden, the printer in Rahway, New Jersey, reported that there were several broken letters and they should be fixed. Harcourt told him, 'don't stop the press until it collapses.' These typographical defects were never repaired and even appear in the Collier and Grosset and Dunlap reprints of the 1940s! As a further and, perhaps, fitting absurdity, these defects appear in the 1996 edition of the book published by the Limited Editions Club ostensibly as a copy of the true first edition." Source: Pastore, Stephen A. _Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography_. New Haven: Yale Books, 1997. National Union Catalog WorldCat
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There are at least 19 printings of the original Harcourt, Brace and Howe edition. Source: National Union Catalog.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Collier. New York, 1920. 451 pages. Hodder and Stoughton. London, 1920. 451 pages. The original British publishers. American House. Mattinuck,NY, 1920. 439 pages. Grosset and Dunlap. New York, 1921. 451 pages. Cape. London, 1923. 447 pages. The Albatross. Paris, 1934. 476 pages. Lakeside Press. Chicago, 1937. 367 pages. 1500 copies made for the members of the Limited Editions Club. Harcourt Brace. New York, 1943. 451 pages. Inside reads "This book...is manufactured under wartime conditions." World Publishing Co. New York, 1946. 480 pages with illustrations. HBJ. New York, 1948. 438 pages. New American Library. New York, 1948. 439 pages. International Collectors Library. New York, 1948. 438 pages. Penguin Books. New York, 1950. 508 pages. Random House. New York, 1953. 371 pages. Panther Book Series. London, 1961. 447 pages. New American Library. New York, 1961. 432 pages. Hamilton & Co. 1961. 447 pages. Harcourt, Brace, and World. New York, 1961. 914 pages(with Babbitt). World Publishing Company. New York, 1962. 480 pages. New American Library. New York, 1963. 439 pages. Heritage Press. Norwalk,CT, 1965. 367 pages. Easton Press. Norwalk,CT, 1965. 367 pages.(with illustrations by Grant Wood) Heritage Club. Avon,CT, 1970. 367 pages. Edito-Service. Geneva, 1973. 440 pages. Buccaneer Books. New York, 1976. 432 pages. Franklin Library. Franklin Center,PA, 1978. 443 pages. Franklin Library. Franklin Center,PA, 1979. 436 pages. Penguin. New York, 1980. 439 pages. Penguin Books. New York, 1985. 415 pages. HBJ. San Diego, 1989. 486 pages. Vintage. London, 1994. 415 pages. Penguin. New York, 1995. 415 pages. Prometheus Books. New York, 1996. 451 pages. Bantam. New York, 1996. 521 pages. Carroll & Graf. New York, 1996. 486 pages. First Edition Library. Shelton,CT, 1996. 451 pages. A facsimile edition of the original H,B&H edition. Signet Classic. New York, 1998. 474 pages. Modern Library. New York, 1999. 454 pages. Dover. New York, 1999. 400 pages. Sources: National Union Catalog and WorldCat.
6 Last date in print?
February 2000.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
930,929 copies sold through 1975. Source: Hackett's 80 Years of Publishing.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
295,000 copies sold in 1921. Source: Hackett's 80 Years of Publishing.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Harcourt, Brace and Howe placed a full page ad in the November 13,1920 edition of Publisher's Weekly which was arranged in the following manner: At the top, two lines in a box running the width of the page,"'Main Street' would add to the distinction of the contemporary literature in any country."--The Nation Three personal claims to the quality of the novel followed this, each occupying roughly one third of the page. The names were larger and bolder in print. They appeared as follows: John Peter Toohey, writes us: "I stayed up this morning until 1:15 reading Sinclair Lewis's 'Main Street', and if it isn't the best novel written in these United States in a decade, I'll eat my hat. It is as good as Arnold Bennett at his best, and then some. I have just written Henry Mencken to out and grab a copy, and I am calling Booth Tarkington's attention to it in a letter I am sending him." Charles Flandrau, writes: "He has written a most remarkable amd most important book. It was of absorbing interest to me, and although I am no longer with the Pioneer Press, I shall simply have to give them a few columns' comment on 'Main Street'. If you can stand my saying so ( I say it in all sincerity) there are in the book's attitude and method some of the most admirable qualities of both Tolstoi and Flaubert." Philip Curtiss, author of "The Ladder" and other Harper novels, writes to us: "I have done no work for three days and very little sleeping because of 'Main Street'. It is one of those books which makes a family like ours sly and treacherous. We slip away from the table early so as to get it before anyone else. Really this is an incredible big book. No story of American life in our generations even in its class." At the bottom of the page in italics: We shall advertise it very heavily, straight through into next year. Third printing within two weeks. $2.00
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
The November 6,1920 edition of Publishers' Weekly contained a brief synopsis of the novel which said the following: Living in a small town is a very difficult thing looking back on it- the small town of our youth didn't bother us with its incessant gossip; we weren't worth gossiping about at that age. But for adults- Sinclair Lewis tells just what Main Street did to an eager girl who went from a happily inconspicuous city life to live in the fish-bowl existence of a doctor's wife in a small town where every movement is commented upon, every timid suggestion for the beautifying of Main Street ridiculed. Only in the end does she learn the great secret of life in being content with a real world in which it is never possible to create an ideal setting. The problems of ten million people in ten thousand towns are here expressed- the people who are fighting to transform the Main Streets of America. (Harcourt, B.&H.) $2.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The Warner Brothers film 'Main Street' premiered April 25, 1923 in Los Angeles. Harry Beaumont directed the film. Julien Josephson adapted the novel to a screenplay. _Dramatic Higlights from Main Street_. 1 cassette. 56 minutes. 1969. NBC Theatrical Adaptation. 1 cassette. 1977. Blackhawk Films. 1 cassette. 1980. NBC University Theater Radio Dramatization. 1 cassette. 1983. Books on Tape. 13 casettes read by Dick Estell. 1987. Audio Book Contractors. 12 casettes narrated by Flo Gibson. 1995. Recorded Books. 13 cassettes read by Barbara Caruso. 1996. American Printing House for the Blind. 4 cassettes. 1997. Source: The American Film Institute Catalog: Feature Films 1921-30, WorldCat
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Calle Mayor; historia de Carol Kennicott. [Spanish] Translated by Carlos de Onis. Madrid: Editorial Canit, 1931. 556 pages. Calle Mayor;Historia de Carol Kennicott. [Spanish in Mexico] Mexico: Editorial Nueva Espana, 1944. 701 pages. A Fo-utca. [Hungarian(?)] Translated by Schopflin Aladar. Budapest: Franklin-Tarsulat. No publication year given. Grand-rue. [French] Translated by Suzanne Flour. Paris: Editions Jacques Haumont, 1932. 706 pages. Main Street. [French] Translated by Lucienne Escoube. Paris: Nouvelle Edition, 1947. 622 pages. Die Haupsrausse; Carola Kennicotte Geschichte. [German] Translated by Franz Fein. Berlin: T. Knaur Nachf, 1931. 383 pages. Ta Chieh. [Chinese] Hong Kong:World Today Press. 637 pages. Ulica Glowna. [Polish] Translastion by C. Jastrzebiec-Kozlowski. Wroclaw:Wydawn, 1995. 728 pages. Ulica Glowna. [Polish] Warszawa:Czytelnik, 1957. 550 pages. Novelas Escogidas. [Spanish] Madrid:Arguilar, 1957. 1280 pages(anthology with Arrowsmith and Babbitt). Mein sut'urit'u. [Korean] Translated by Sang-hui Kim. Soul T'ukpyolsi: Hagmonsa, 1983. 574 pages. De hoofdstraat. [Dutch] Translated by P.H. Ritter. Belgium: Uitgeverij Heideland, 1957. 492 pages. Honcho dori. [Japanese] Translated by Hirochiro Maedako. Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1931. 691 pages. Calle Mayor. [Spanish] Barcelona: Jose Janes Editor, 1948. 785 pages. Hlavni trida. [Czech] Praha: Odeon, 1984. 478 pages. Fo Utca. [Hungarian] Translate dby Schopflin Alador. Budapest: Europa Konyukiado, 1966. 503 pages. Valtakatu. Translated by Helmi Krohn. Helsingissa: Kustannusosakeyhtio Otava, 1931. Die Hauptstrasse:Carol Kennicotts Geschichte. [German] Berlin: Th. K. Nachf, 1927. 383 pages. Die Hauptstrasse:Carol Kennicotts Geschichte. [German] Berlin: Th. K. Nachf, 1927. 493 pages. Rua Principal. [Portugeuse] Lisbon:Edicao 'Livros do Brasil', 1970. Glavnaia ulitsa. [Russian] Moscow: Khudozhestennaia literatura, 1989. 862 pages(with Babbitt). Glavna ulica. [Serbocroatian] Beograd: Nolit, 1950. 488 pages. Calle Mayor. [Spanish] Beunos Aires: Anaconda, 1941. 542 pages. Source: National Union Catalog, WorldCat
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
The novel was not serialized. Source: Pastore
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
There were no sequels or prequels to Main Street. Source: Pastore National Union Catalog
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Please refer to an introductory biographical sketch of Sinclair Lewis under Babbitt. Sinclair Lewis had published five novels prior to the release of Main Street in October 1920. The books were well received, but none of them would propel Lewis into fame like Main Street. Put simply, Main Street was a phenomenal success. When the book in production, Lewis played a leading role in the presentation and reception of the novel. Lewis suggested the idea for the dust jacket, which shows a silhouette of Carol Kennicott standing on the sidewalk of Main Street. Harcourt wanted the figure to be holding a travel bag, but Lewis insisted that this was a bad idea because it was too suggestive of his previous novel Free Air, which had been widely criticized (Pastore p.92). Indeed, Lewis feared that critics would pan the book without really reading it, so he strongly encouraged Harcourt to write letters to critics asserting the seriousness and strength of the novel compared to his previous works. Ultimately, the book was released with Lewis's stamp of approval and a fury of activity ensued. Harcourt was amazed by the demand for the book and ordered multiple reprintings within the first year. Critics varied on their reactions, but regardless, it seemed as though everyone was reading it (Schorer p.269). Many saw the novel as shockingly illustrative of contemporary society. Robert Littell wrote at the time, "If Main Street lives, it will probably be not as a novel but as an incident in American life." (Lewis at Zenith p.viii) Biographer Mark Schorer suggested America would forever think of small towns in the way that Lewis presented them in Main Street (Lewis at Zenith p.viii). The novel, though, was as much about Lewis's own life as it was about small town life in general. As Lewis worked on the drafts of the story from 1916 to 1919, he shifted the focus of the story from Guy Pollock to Carol Kennicott, which is attributed by some critics to his then new wife. Schorer wrote that this change of focus was a result of Lewis's speculation of what his own life might have been like had he been more like his father and not left the small town (Schorer p.287). Lewis did inscribe to his wife, "To Gracie, who is all the good part of Carol." However, readers and critics ultimately discovered that Carol was more closely related to Lewis himself than to his wife. Lewis told Charles Breasted in an interview, "Yes, Carol is 'Red' Lewis: always groping for something she isn't capable of attaining, always dissatisfied, always restlessly straining to see what lies just over the horizon, intolerant of her surroundings, yet lacking any clearly defined vision of what she really wants to do or be" (Schorer p.286). Warner Brothers purchased the rights to make a film version of Main Street for $40,000. Lewis was not involved in the production, but did suggeset that it be advertised as "M.D.B." or the "most discussed book" of the last twenty and perhaps the next twenty years (Schorer p.325). Incidentally, Warner Brothers reported a loss on the movie after its release in 1923 (Schorer p.405). Likewise, when the stage version of Main Street was in development, Lewis offered advice to the dramatists Harriet Ford and Harvey O'Higgins. He emphasized the importance that "the Carol part does not require someone with brains....there might be some eager quite-unknown youngster playing with some Highbrow Organization of the Provincetown-Theaterguild type who would not merely make a good Carol but would actually be Carol"(Schorer p.286). Lewis began lecturing in 1921, but quickly ceased because he did not enjoy it. It was then that he began work on his next novel, Babbitt, which would not generate as much hype as Main Street had, but would receive more critical acclaim (Van Doren p.74). Essayist H.L. Mencken commented in the years following Lewis's initial successes, "The theory lately in Greenwich Village that the merit and success of Main Street constituted a sort of double-headed accident, probably to be ascribed to a case of mistaken identity on the part of God-- this theory blows up with a frightful roar toward the middle of Babbitt. The plain truth is, indeed, that Babbitt is at least twice as good a novel as Main Street was-- that it avoids all the more obvious faults of that celebrated work, and shows a number of virtues that are quite new"(Bloom p.5). Nonetheless, Main Street would continue to serve as the hallmark of Lewis's career for its impact on the American consciousness. Biographer Carl Van Doren commented, "He will always be best known as the author of Main Street, not because he was first known for it, but because he is still most to be known in it. It is the book of half his life"(Van Doren p.56). In the years following the release of Babbitt in 1922, Lewis would produce five more novels, three of which were bestsellers, including Arrowsmith-for which Lewis declined the Pulitzer Prize before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. Sources: Bloom, Harold, editor. Modern Critical Views: Sinclair Lewis. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Lewis, Sinclair. Lewis at Zenith: A Three-Novel Omnibus. New York: Harcourt, 1961. Lundquist, James. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. (not cited, but contained useful factual data) Pastore, Stephen. Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Haven: Yale Books, 1997. Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. Van Doren, Carl. Sinclair Lewis: A Biographical Sketch. New York: Doubleday, 1933.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
As stated in the previous section, Lewis took it upon himself to ensure a positive response to his latest novel. Whether or not the positive reviews for Main Street were influenced by Lewis and Harcourt's efforts is unknown, nonetheless critics reacted quite enthusiastically to this then relatively unimportant author. The positive critiques of Main Street were all the more significant because of who was giving some of them. H.L. Mencken, famed American essayist and social commentator, said, "It is, in brief, good stuff. It presents characters that are genuinely human, and not only genuinely human but also authentically American; it carries them through a series a transactions that are all interesting and plausible; it exhibits those transactions thoughtfully and acutely, in the light of the social and cultural forces underlying them; it is well written, and full of a sharp sense of comedy, and rich in observation, and competently designed."(1) Mencken's analysis embodied how many contemporary critics reacted to Lewis's novel. They respected it as a vivid depiction of small town America, which May Sinclair called a "highly complex organism."(2) In addition to its American-ness, critics appreciated the apparent universality of the story. Stanton Coblentz said, "It is the universal tragedy of human life, a tragedy far more profound than that of the hero of the epic; it is the tragedy of the denizen of office and factory and apartment house; the tragedy of the decay of youth and of youthful aspirations; the tragedy of the all-consuming drabness of life; of the normal, the conventional, and the commonplace?. It must be said for Mr. Lewis that he has made his case convincing."(3) These two qualities, the American-ness and universality of the novel, are the dominant topics of Main Street's contemporary criticism. Carol Kennicott's tale was well-received because critics and the general populous found it to be a true depiction of their modern life. Lewis began work on Babbitt before he had finished Main Street, and after Babbitt emerged, many, including Mencken, declared that it was an even more impressively crafted work about small town America. Mencken said, "The plain truth is, indeed, that Babbitt is at least twice as good a novel as Main Street was."(4) 1 "Consolation-I-An American Novel" The Smart Set, Vol. LXIV, No. 1, January 1921. 2 "The Man from Main Street" The New York Times Book Review, September 24, 1922. 3 "Main Street" A Shelf of Recent Books, Vol. LII, No.5, January, 1921. pp.357-358. 4 "Portrait of an American Citizen" Sinclair Lewis: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Mark Schorer. 1962.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
As stated in the previous section, Lewis took it upon himself to ensure a positive response to his latest novel. Whether or not the positive reviews for Main Street were influenced by Lewis and Harcourt's efforts is unknown, nonetheless critics reacted quite enthusiastically to this then relatively unimportant author. The positive critiques of Main Street were all the more significant because of who was giving some of them. H.L. Mencken, famed American essayist and social commentator, said, "It is, in brief, good stuff. It presents characters that are genuinely human, and not only genuinely human but also authentically American; it carries them through a series a transactions that are all interesting and plausible; it exhibits those transactions thoughtfully and acutely, in the light of the social and cultural forces underlying them; it is well written, and full of a sharp sense of comedy, and rich in observation, and competently designed."(1) Mencken's analysis embodied how many contemporary critics reacted to Lewis's novel. They respected it as a vivid depiction of small town America, which May Sinclair called a "highly complex organism."(2) In addition to its American-ness, critics appreciated the apparent universality of the story. Stanton Coblentz said, "It is the universal tragedy of human life, a tragedy far more profound than that of the hero of the epic; it is the tragedy of the denizen of office and factory and apartment house; the tragedy of the decay of youth and of youthful aspirations; the tragedy of the all-consuming drabness of life; of the normal, the conventional, and the commonplace?. It must be said for Mr. Lewis that he has made his case convincing."(3) These two qualities, the American-ness and universality of the novel, are the dominant topics of Main Street's contemporary criticism. Carol Kennicott's tale was well-received because critics and the general populous found it to be a true depiction of their modern life. Lewis began work on Babbitt before he had finished Main Street, and after Babbitt emerged, many, including Mencken, declared that it was an even more impressively crafted work about small town America. Mencken said, "The plain truth is, indeed, that Babbitt is at least twice as good a novel as Main Street was."(4) 1 "Consolation-I-An American Novel" The Smart Set, Vol. LXIV, No. 1, January 1921. 2 "The Man from Main Street" The New York Times Book Review, September 24, 1922. 3 "Main Street" A Shelf of Recent Books, Vol. LII, No.5, January, 1921. pp.357-358. 4 "Portrait of an American Citizen" Sinclair Lewis: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Mark Schorer. 1962.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
The Legacy of Main Street as a Bestseller In 1920, Sinclair Lewis transformed himself from a somewhat known writer of several novels to a renowned illustrator of contemporary small town America. It was in that year that Harcourt, Brace and Howe released Lewis's Main Street. The introduction to the novel proclaimed, "This is America-a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves. The town is, in our tale, called 'Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.' But its Main Street is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere. The story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky or Illinois, and not very differently would it be told Up York State or in the Carolina hills." Lewis intended for the novel to be 'American,' and the popularity of the story stemmed from his conscious effort. Main Street teaches many lessons about bestsellers in general. Sinclair Lewis, a writer who was not a household name when Main Street debuted, managed to sell 295,000 copies of his novel in its first year, taking it to the top spot on the bestseller list for 1921. The novel's success shows that a relatively obscure writer may explode into wide readership almost overnight through the good marketing of a good story. Furthermore, the novel shows that the fast fame of a phenomenon like Lewis can then lead to even greater reception of a novel. The novel also shows that stories that touch the public mood on current affairs are quite successful. Along the same lines, Main Street shows that books that differ greatly from one another can be bestsellers at the same time. I. A Good Book First of all, Main Street was a fairly well written book. As stated earlier, Lewis had produced five novels prior to Main Street with mild success. Critics and readers alike seemed astounded by Lewis's story. Harcourt's own promotional advertisement in Publisher's Weekly boasted John Peter Toohey's remark, "[If] it isn't the best novel written in these United States in a decade, I'll eat my hat" (11/13/20). The reception to Main Street was overwhelmingly positive. As shown in earlier sections, everyone from H.L. Mencken to the average reader attested to their enjoyment of the novel. Stanley Coblentz remarked on the impressiveness of the universality of this "tragedy of the denizen and factory and apartment house; the tragedy of the decay of youth and of youthful aspirations; the tragedy of the all-consuming drabness of life; of the normal, the conventional, and the commonplace"(A Shelf of Recent Books, 1/21). Coblentz's commentary leads into the next apparent reason for Main Street's success; the novel addressed many of the thoughts of the general American public. II. A Good Pitch Lewis participated closely in the plans to market the novel critics and the general public. To avoid a lackadaisical reception to the novel, Lewis encouraged Harcourt to campaign heavily with critics to ensure a fair assessment of Main Street. Lewis made a strong effort to have Harcourt convince critics that Main Street was "far more serious and important" than anything that he had written before (Pastore 92). It is difficult to say whether critics would have responded any differently to the novel without these efforts. It was nonetheless regarded as a fairly well written novel, but it seemed as though the novel was all the more important because it addressed the concerns of many people in the country at that time. Harcourt boasted that the novel would be advertised heavily, and it might have had as much of an effect as the positive reviews. Especially due in part that the book would not sell on Lewis's then unknown name, the advertising certainly shows that bestsellers can rely on effective advertising to sell copies. The overarching positive for the great sales of Main Street was that the story was not only well written but also spoke to many readers that no other book had in recent times. III. A Good Time Many felt that the story had arrived at just the right time for the American consciousness. The end of the First World War and difficult economic conditions of the previous decade wore heavily on the American spirit. Famed journalist Walter Lippmann wrote, "Lewis was in a position to supply the demand. For he too had outlived his political illusions, having passed beyond the socialist idealism?At the moment when he sat down to please himself by writing Main Street, in the heroic mood of one who abandons the quest of money and applause, a vast multitude was waiting for him with more money and applause than he ever dreamed about" (Schorer 85). Every junior high school student knows that the World War One sparked a great debate in the United States about the role of the country in the rest of the world, manifested through the efforts to establish the League of Nations after the war. The nation seemed to rush to assert its American identity in respect to the outside world. In the postwar nation, many Americans were driven to identify themselves as 'Americans.' Some expressed their American-ness through the culture of the Jazz Age, as embodied in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Others found this identity in the expatriate world of the so-called Lost Generation characterized by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Nonetheless, none of the novels of these sub-cultures were bestsellers at this time. In fact, the bestseller lists of the 1920s were dominated by the books of Lewis, Zane Grey, A.S.M. Hutchinson, and Booth Tarkington-all of whose novels often dealt with the same type of people and issues. Lippmann confirmed that Main Street appealed to what the American public wanted. John Flanagan further asserted the appropriate timing of Main Street. He wrote, "The novel appeared at the precise hour when readers suddenly freed from the tensions of a world war and conscious of the need for self-examination were willing and almost avid to learn the truth about themselves?In 1920 Lewis's reportorial skill, his gusto, his grand scorn, and his intimate knowledge of the small town persuaded people to read Main Street even though it mirrored their own banalities" (Bucco 83). So, Main Street shows that bestsellers may become such because they do reflect the thoughts and feelings of a great portion of the public. As the post-war nation paused to reflect on its own identity, Publishers Weekly wrote positively of Main Street's central character, Carol Kennicott, who learns "the great secret of life in being content with the real world in which it is never possible to create an ideal setting"(11/6/20). Stemming out of this connection with the public mood, Main Street shows that an appealing way of looking at things can become inseparable from the writer, and hence produce even further embrace of the novel. IV. A Good Writer Lewis was a mid-west man. His novel was about what he knew. Gopher Prairie was not that different from his own home of Sauk Center, Minnesota. The initial popularity of the novel led to great curiosity about Lewis himself. Lewis's novel gained popularity because it included so many growing familiarities of middle-class, small town America-cars, radios, The Saturday Evening Post, etc. Lewis recognized that these were the things that characterized much of American society. In reference to the aforementioned forward to the novel, Lippmann also commented, "Now a writer without this dogmatism of the practical man, and with a greater instinct for reality, could not have written these words"(Schorer 85). Lewis did not seem afraid to deal with issues that were previously not dealt with, namely sex. Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie had dealt with some of the same issues, but years before when the public was not quite ready. Biographer Stephen Pastore asserted, "Lewis was the first to deal with sex and the middle class woman in a way that the public could accept and incorporate into its national consciousness"(91). Lewis's success shows that books that deal with subjects such as sex in a way not previously attempted become bestsellers. This sort of success with straightforwardness is seen with later bestsellers involving relationships and sex, such as Thornton Wilder's Heaven's My Destination (1937) and Grace Metalious's Peyton Place (1956). Main Street's popularity rose as Lewis's own celebrity gradually increased. Indeed, as the 295,000 copies of the novel sold around the country, Lewis traveled and lectured to audiences eager to hear his assessment of the nation's state. Critic T.K. Whipple embodied the sentiments of many readers when he wrote, "Lewis is the most successful critic of American society because he is himself the best proof that his charges are just"(Bucco 46). America regarded Lewis as the ambassador of the small town. Other best selling authors have also seen success =due to the public's association between their stories and themselves, i.e. John Grisham and law, Robin Cook and medicine, Jackie Collins and Hollywood. The public seemed to simply take Lewis at his word on issues facing American society, i.e. geographical growth of towns and cities, economic improvement for some as well as hardship for others, and newfound and potentially daunting role of America in the international community. V. A Good Run The success of Main Street asserts yet another facet about American bestsellers, which is that the initial success of an author can lead to a string of bestsellers. Babbitt was on the top ten list in both 1922 and 1923, Arrowsmith in 1925, Elmer Gantry in 1927 and Dodsworth in 1929. As stated in the earlier section, Mencken found Babbitt to be an even better novel than Main Street. With the successes of Main Street and Babbitt back-to-back, Lewis's subsequent successes prove that an author can have continued successes with novels that might not be as favorably received by critics and the general public. People will still buy and read the books based on the author's name. Today's most prevalent examples of this are of course Grisham and Stephen King. Readers do not even wait to hear if the newest book is any good, they buy it on faith. When Lewis received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, the first American to do so, he commented that someone had commented "in awarding the Nobel Prize to a person who has scoffed at American institutions as much as I have, the Nobel Committee and the Swedish Academy had insulted America?I don't know whether?he intends to make an international incident of it, and perhaps demand of the American Government that they land Marines in Stockholm to protect American literary rights, but I hope not"(Maule 5). In all, Lewis's Main Street shows that books that speak to the public mood and are not afraid to candidly address topics that may have been taboo certainly have potential to be bestsellers. Furthermore, when the author of such books becomes a persona in his or her own right, then the book has even greater sales potential. Sources: Bloom, Harold, editor. Modern Critical Views: Sinclair Lewis. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Buoco, Martin, editor. "The Quixotic Motifs of Main Street" Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis, 1986. "Main Street" A Shelf of Recent Books, Vol. LII, No.5, January, 1921. pp.357-358. Maule, Harry, editor. The Man From Main Street:Essays and Other Writings, 1904-1950. New York: Random House, 1953. Pastore, Stephen. Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Haven: Yale Books, 1997. Schorer, Marc, editor, "Portrait of an American Citizen" Sinclair Lewis: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1962. Van Doren, Carl. Sinclair Lewis: A Biographical Sketch. New York: Doubleday, 1933. Not cited in this section but useful: Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. "Sinclair Lewis" The Nation, Vol.172, No.8, February 24, 1951, pp.179-80. "Sinclair Lewis and the Nobel Prize" MidAmerica. Vol. VIII, 1981. pp. 9-21. " 'A Scarlet Tanager on an Ice-Floe':Women, Men, and History on Main Street." Sinclair Lewis: New Essays in Criticism, ed. James Hutchisson. 1997. "Return to Main Street" Sinclair Lewis:New Essays in Criticism, ed. James Hutchisson. 1997.
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