Lewis, Sinclair: It Can't Happen Here
(researched by Jess Miller)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Sinclair Lewis. It Can't Happen Here. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1935.

Copyright: Sinclair Lewis

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First American edition in trade cloth binding

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

232 leaves, pp. [6] [1] 2-458

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

Neither edited nor introduced, with the exception of advertisements for other works of Sinclair Lewis published by Doubleday, Doran & Company on the back of first leaf, adjacent to title page (2nd unnumbered page).

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

Not illustrated

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?)

Text is large and readable. Book is relatively thick, but capable of being held in one hand. Page size is 145mm x 199mm; text size is 97mm x 139mm (excluding page numbers and headers). Bottom margin (41mm) is much larger than top margin (19mm). Font is 85R serif. Chapter headings are in Arabic numerals, surrounded on top and bottom by symmetrical parallel lines measuring 64mm and 94mm. Chapter headings on pp. [1], 15, 24, 33, 43, 55, 61, 74, 84, 94, 101, 109, 124, 142, 156, 170, 180, 196, 218, 237, 253, 260, 271, 284, 292, 309, 325, 332, 342, 353, 372, 389, 395, 402, 410, 429, 440, 451. On pages with chapter headings (excluding page [1]) page number found on bottom directly below text and in slightly smaller font size. On pp. 2-458 (excluding chapter pages) page number found on top, outer-most corner above text and in same font size; pp. 2-458 (excluding chapter pages) also contain heading “IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE”.

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?)

Paper is wove, white and smooth. Top and bottom edges are smooth; side has deckle edge. Some slight, even discoloration throughout. No obvious staining or significant deterioration.

11 Description of binding(s)

Binding is black cloth. Endpapers are slightly waxy. No illustrations on endpapers. Some even discoloration on endpapers. Front cover binding is embossed with design of hatchet (?) and branches similar to one seen on dust jacket front cover.

Spine has horizontally-aligned gold serif text reading: "IT CAN'T/HAPPEN/HERE/SINCLAIR/LEWIS/DOUBLEDAY/DORAN".

12 Transcription of title page

Recto: IT/CAN’T HAPPEN HERE/A Novel/By/SINCLAIR LEWIS/[Illustrated Doubleday, Doran & Company Logo; artist uncredited]/1935/DOUBLEDAY, DORAN & COMPANY, INC./GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK


13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Manuscript held at Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Dust Jacket in gray paper, with some tearing on top and bottom; inside flaps are white.

Front cover of dust jacket: WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN/AMERICA HAS A DICTATOR?/[bears colored illustration of hatchet (?) and branches {artist unknown} behind text]/IT CAN’T/HAPPEN/HERE/A Novel by/SINCLAIR LEWIS

Spine of dust jacket: IT CAN’T/HAPPEN/HERE/A Novel by/SINCLAIR LEWIS/[same illustration as front]/DOUBLEDAY/DORAN

Back of dust jacket: What SINCLAIR LEWIS[red] had to say/about Small Towns in/MAIN STREET[red]/About Business Men in/BABBITT[red]/About Science in/ARROWSMITH[red]/About Wives in/DODSWORTH[red]/he has at last said about American/Politics and a world bound for war in this/story of Doremus Jessup, American, in/IT CAN’T HAPPEN [red]/HERE[red]

Front dust jacket flap contains price of $2.50 as well as a short blurb in black serif text. Top and bottom corners of front flap have been cut slightly, but no information appears to have been obscured or excised.

Back dust jacket flap contains a list of other books by Sinclair Lewis and published by Doubleday, Doran and Company, all with prices of $2.50; as well as “The Nobel Prize Edition" published by Harcourt Brace. This list includes other Sinclair Lewis books and plays, all priced at $2.50. Top and bottom corners of back flap have been cut slightly, but no information appears to have been obscured or excised.

First page of first leaf bears sticker with the words “Hic Fructus Virtutis” in black font, below it a family crest, and below that the name “Clifton Waller Barrett” in black font. Back cover bears sticker with the name “BARRETT” in black font, and in pencil “Deposit/P5/3523/.E94I79/1935/Copy 2”.

Front of first leaf reads “IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE”. Back of first leaf (adjacent to cover page) contains list of other books and plays by Sinclair Lewis.

Front of third leaf reads “IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE”. Back of third leaf empty.

(All photographs taken with permission of University of Virginia Small Special Collections Library)

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

The original publisher, Doubleday, Doran & Co., published at least five editions of the novel between its release in 1935 and the end of 1936. However, there seem to be no significant changes in the binding, pagination, or physical appearance of these subsequent editions aside from the different year of publication, and the inclusion of the words “5th Edition” in the front flap of the dust jacket of that edition (see supplementary materials; Source: AbeBooks.com). 

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?

Research produced no information about the number of printings or impressions of the first edition. Interestingly, the editions published in 1935 by Doubleday, Doran & Co. (considered the first American edition), P.F. Collier, and Sun Dial Press (in fact a subsidiary of Doubleday, Doran & Co. created to produce cheaper versions of popular books), appear to have the same pagination, and in the case of the latter, the same binding and dust cover, with the exception of a different publishers’ emblem on the spine and title page of the book (Source: AbeBooks.com, Book Publishing in America). 

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

After the first edition in 1935, other English editions were published by several groups, including: London: Cape, 1935; New York: P.F. Collier, 1935; New York: Sun Dial Press, 1935; New York: Triangle, 1939; New York: Dell, 1961; New York: Laurel, 1961; New York: Penguin, 1963; London: Mayflower, 1965; New York: Signet, 1970; Toronto: New American Library of Canada, 1970; Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1991 (Collector’s Edition); and MA: Center Point, 2007 (Large Print Edition) (Source: WorldCat.org, Hathi Trust).

6 Last date in print?

As of February 2018, It Can't Happen Here is still in print (Source: Amazon).

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

In the 1961 biography, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life, author Mark Schorer states that It Can’t Happen Here sold 94,000 copies in “trade sales” and 320,000 copies in total (as of 1961). There was a reported surge in sales of the novel following the 2016 election of President Donald Trump; however exact figures for these sales are unknown.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

According to Stephen R. Pastore’s Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography (1997), 20,000 copies of the first edition from Doubleday, Doran & Co. were sold. The novel first appeared on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list in the November 2, 1935 issue (vol. 128 no. 18, p. 1679), reaching the number one spot in the November 16, 1935 issue (vol. 128 no. 20, p. 1837). In the December 28, 1935 issue of PW (vol. 128 no. 26, p. 2328), it was reported that “70,000 copies have been sold.” And in the February 22, 1936 issue (vol. 129 no. 8, p. 908), “D.D. tells us it’s selling 2,000 a week.” (which, if consistent throughout the year, would put annual sales of the book in 1936 alone at 104,000). According to Keith Justice's Bestseller Index, the book spent 32 weeks, 8 alone in the number one position, on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list, as well as 12 weeks, 8 in the number one position, on the New York Times bestseller list. The novel was listed as the Publisher’s Weekly Number 5 Bestseller in the United States for the year 1936 (criteria for inclusion on the list are unknown), as well as in the number 5 spot on the list of bestsellers for the year 1936 in Alice Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers. According to John Tebbel's A History of Book Publishing in the United States, following a controversy in 1936 surrounding the cancellation of production on the MGM film version of It Can't Happen Here, "the book itself...jumped in sales from 3,000 to 6,000 a week."

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

Given that, in 1935, Sinclair Lewis was already established as a prolific author at the height of his career, It Can’t Happen Here was announced to great acclaim. An ad appears on the cover of the October 5, 1935 issue of Publisher’s Weekly (vol. 128 no. 14, p. 1239), almost three weeks before the books release on October 21 of that year, that reads:

“HERE’S/THE BOOK!/464 startling, breath-/taking pages of Sin-/clair Lewis at his inim-/itable best. A hand-/some, oversize book,/bound in black natur-/al-finish cloth, stamp-/ed in gold. Smashing/wrapper in red, green/and black against a/striking silver back-/ground./   ‘AAA—One of the/season’s big shots, of/course—The book’ll/be a sensation,’ writes/DONALD GORDON/in The American/News of Books./[illustration of hand pointing] IT WILL NOT/BE SERIALIZED!/October 21st—$2.50/DOUBLEDAY, DORAN”.

The ad also boasts a large black and white photograph of the novel itself in a three-quarter profile view (such that both the cover and spine are visible).


In addition to this early advertisement, the October 26, 1935 issue of Publisher’s Weekly (vol. 128 no. 17, p. 1561) bears a small advertisement for the upcoming (later cancelled) film version of It Can’t Happen Here from MGM. And the issue of November 2, 1935 (vol. 128 no. 18, pp. 1644-45) contains a full two-page spread advertisement for the book, proclaiming “IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE/is taking America by storm!” The ad comprises mostly reviews from critics from publications across the country including The New Yorker, N.Y. Times, The Saturday Review, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald, and Los Angeles Times (see supplementary materials).

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

After production on the film version of the book was cancelled, Lewis spoke out against the Production Code Administration, accusing them of halting production for fear of angering foreign governments, specifically the then-facist governments of Germany and Italy. In the 1936 New Yorker article “Lewis Says Hays Bans Film of Book,” Lewis is quoted as saying “Are we…to be delivered over to a film industry whose every step must be governed by whether or not the film will please or displease some foreign power? …Democracy is certainly on the defensive when two European dictators, without opening their mouths or knowing anything about the issue, can shut down an American film.” In the afterword of the 2014 Signet Classics edition of It Can’t Happen Here, author Gary Scharnhorst describes that the Authors’ League of America supported Lewis’s attack, the German film association described the author as “a full-blooded Communist.” In response to the scandal, Lewis's publisher, Doubleday, Doran & Co. took out an ad in the New York Times arguing "It is happening here," according to John Tebbel's A History of Book Publishing in the United States. Aside from this scandal, though (as well as the various performances in other media), no other promotion—official or otherwise—seems to have occurred.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Theatre: Sponsored by the Federal Theatre Project, a stage adaptation of It Can’t Happen Here was written in 1936 by Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffitt. It premiered on October 27, 1936 in 21 theatres across 18 cities—this included a production in Yiddish, a Spanish production in Tampa, and an all-African-American production in Seattle. The main production premiered at the Adelphi Theatre in New York, was performed ninety-five times in the weeks after its opening, and was seen by over 100,000 people. A revised version of the script was published in 1938. And beginning on August 22, 1938, Lewis himself performed the role of Doremus Jessup in a summer stock production in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and spent the next years of his career as an actor, director, and producer. The play is still produced today, including in 2011, when it was shown in 20 theaters across the United States to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of its original premier. Most recently, in September 2016, capitalizing on the buzz surrounding the U.S. presidential election and the relevance of the themes of It Can’t Happen Here, a new adaptation—different from the 1936 script by Lewis and Moffitt—by Tony Taccone and Bennet S. Cohen premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Source: The New Yorker, Afterword of Signet Classics 2014 edition of It Can't Happen Here).

Film: In late 1935, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reportedly paid $200,000 for the film rights to the novel (an ad in the Oct. 26, 1935 [vol. 128 no. 17, p. 1561] issue of Publisher’s Weekly promoted the film), and by early 1936, screenwriter Sidney Howard had completed an adaptation. Director J. Walter Rubin, as well as actors Lionel Barrymore, Walter Connolly, and Virginia Bruce became attached to the project; however, production was plagued by postponements and financial issues, and the movie was eventually scrapped in 1936 (Source: Afterword of Signet Classics 2014 edition of It Can't Happen Here). 

Television: The 1968 made-for-TV movie, Shadow of the Land was based loosely on It Can’t Happen Here. The novel also served as the inspiration for a miniseries titled Storm Warnings, written by Kenneth Johnson in 1982 and proposed to NBC. The series was never produced; however, Johnson later revised the script replacing the original facist figures with man-eating aliens. This new storyline served as the basis for the miniseries V, which premiered on May 3, 1983 (Source: Wikipedia).

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

There were several international translations published, including editions in German (Das ist bei uns nicht möglich: Roman. Amsterdam: Querido, 1936.); French (Impossible ici. Paris: Gallimard, 1937 [translated by Raymond Queneau].); Spanish (Eso no puede pasar aquí!. Publisher unknown, ~1960.); Russian (U nas ėto nevozmozhno. Moskva: Pravda, 1965.); Slovenian (To se pri nas ne more zgoditi. Ljubljana: Cankarjeva Založba, 1978.); and Portuguese (Isso não pode acontecer aqui. Alfragide, Portugal: Dom Quixote, 2017 [translated by José Roberto].) (Source: WorldCat.org).

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Serialized without abridgement in The New York Post, Summer, 1936 (Source: Afterword of Signet Classics 2014 edition of It Can't Happen Here).

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

Lewis never wrote any direct sequels or prequels to It Can’t Happen Here, nor does it appear that there were any written by other authors. His last novels before It Can’t Happen Here were Work of Art, published in 1934, and Ann Vickers in 1933. Lewis did not write another novel after It Can’t Happen Here until 1938’s The Prodigal Parents, followed by Bethel Merriday in 1940, and Gideon Planish in 1943 (Source: Sinclair Lewis, a Descriptive Bibliography).

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

In 1935, when It Can’t Happen Here was published, Sinclair Lewis’s career as a bestselling author was in its second decade. He had achieved huge success, along with a Nobel Prize for Literature, for books like Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922) which condemned the “mediocrity, materialism, corruption, and hypocrisy of middle class life in the United States” (Meyer v). The Great Depression, however, essentially destroyed this middle class Lewis was so fond of—and so adept at—satirizing. In light of the rise of fascism in Europe, as well as the growing influence of political demagogues on both sides of the aisle in the United States, Lewis turned to politics for the subject of It Can’t Happen Here.

Lewis was no stranger to the details of the situation in Europe; particularly Germany. His second wife, Dorothy Thompson, working as a foreign correspondent in Berlin, had interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931, and wrote a series of cautionary articles in the United States between 1931-35. Lewis himself began writing the novel in May of 1935, finishing his first draft in July, and a final version in August of that year. The book was published on October 21, 1935.

Yet for as radically political a novel It Can’t Happen Here appears, a friend of Lewis’s once said of the author “it would be a mistake to attribute to Sinclair Lewis any kind of sustained political conviction” (Scharnhorst 384). Even his wife, Thompson, described him as “basically apolitical” (Scharnhorst 384). He was a Liberal, a supporter of the New Deal and, like most Americans in the mid-1930’s, was concerned by the threat of fascism in the United States. Lewis’s intentions for the novel were made clear in a statement from a New York Times article from February of 1936, following the cancellation of production on a movie version of the book—a cancellation which Lewis attributed to the close relationships between Hollywood and some then-fascist European countries. Lewis is quoted as saying, “it [the novel] is propaganda for only one thing: American Democracy” (“Lewis Says Hays Bans Film of Book”). But, lest Lewis be remembered as a political manipulator or ideologue, heed his own words from his final press interview, in 1949, when the author stated firmly that he was “a diagnostician, not a reformer” (Scharnhorst 386).

Following the immediate success of the novel, and the failure of the film adaptation, a stage version of It Can’t Happen Here was commissioned by the Federal Theatre Project. Lewis, collaborating with reporter-turned-playwright John C. Moffitt, wrote the script throughout 1936, and the play premiered on October 27 at the Adelphi theater in New York, as well as in twenty other theaters in cities across the United States, and in multiple languages. Afterwards, Lewis took a break from novel-writing to focus on the theatre, with which he had become enamored, but his later life was plagued by alcoholism and an inability to rekindle his old success. Lewis died on January 10, 1951, of a heart attack.


Works consulted (*indicates sources that produced information): “Lewis Says Hays Bans Film of Book.” The New Yorker, 16 Feb. 1936. *; Lingeman, Richard. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. New York: Random House, 2002. *; Meyer, Michael. Introduction. It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, 1935, 1st Signet Classics Edition (Scharnhorst Afterword), Penguin, 2014, pp. v-xv. *; Scharnhorst, Gary. Afterword. It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, 1935, 1st Signet Classics Edition (Scharnhorst Afterword), Penguin, 2014, pp. 383-  394. *; Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. *

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

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