MR, FLANAGAN, who is professoT of American literature in. the University of Illinois, here brings to a total of fifteen his mafor contributions to this magazine. The article's appearance appropriately coincides with the seventy-fifth anniversary of Lewis' birth and the fortieth of the publication of Main Street.
The MINNESOTA Backgrounds of SINCLAIR LEWIS' Fiction
JOHN T. FLANAGAN
SINCLAIR. LEWIS 'was once questioned his picture of Gopher Prairie and Minne about the autobiographical elements in sota and the entire Middle W^est became Main Street by a friend 'whose apartment both durable and to a large extent accurate. he 'was temporarily sharing. The novelist A satirist is of course prone to exaggeration. remarked to Charles Breasted that Dr. 'Will Over-emphasis and distortion are his stock Kennicott, the appealing country physician in trade. But despite this tilting of the in his first best seller, 'was a portrait of his balance, his understanding of places and father; and he admitted that Carol, the doc events and people must be reliable, other tor's 'wife, 'was in many respects indistin wise he risks losing touch with reality com guishable from himself. Both "Red" Lewis pletely, Lewis was born in Minnesota, he and Carol Kennicott were always groping spent the first seventeen years of his life in for something beyond attainment, always the state, and he returned on frequent visits, dissatisfied, always restless, and although which sometimes involved extensive stays both were frequently scornful of their im in Minneapolis, St, Paul, or Duluth, A num mediate surroundings they nevertheless ber of his early short stories and six of his lacked any clear vision of what could or twenty-two novels are localized wholly or should be done. And then Lewis reveal- in part in Minnesota. Claims in this con ingly added this comment about Main nection might even be made for Babbitt Street: "I shall never shed the little, in and Elmer Gantry, although Lewis places delible 'Sauk-Centricities' that enabled me the action for each in the fictional town of to write it."^ Zenith in the equally fictional state of Win- nemac.^ In other words, Minnesota was the One is tempted to remark that Lewis not birthplace, for a considerable time the resi only preserved these "Sauk-Centricities" in dence, and by his O'wn request the burial his later fiction, but that because of them spot of Sinclair Lewis.^ It was also in actu ' Charles Breasted, "The 'Sauk-Centricities' of ality or by imaginative projection the physi Sinclair Lewis," in Saturday Review, August 14, cal habitat of much of his fiction. Lewis' 1954, p. 33. "See Elmer Gantry, 81 (New York, 1927). "Sauk-Centricities" were real, and even in ' Lewis died in Rome. His ashes were buried in any aesthetic evaluation of his work they Greenwood Cemetery, Sauk Centre, January 20, are important. 1951,
March 1960 sympathetic with his vocation. Mrs. Lewis' portrait of Lewis' stepmother sounds like an adumbration of Carol Kennicott who, in 1916 of course, had not yet been conceived. The doctor's second wife was prominent in civic affairs, had launched an antifly cam paign in the effort to improve sanitation in the local stores, and was president of the Gradatim Club, a local organization dedi cated to current events. Moreover, she had been a pioneer in establishing rest rooms for farm women when they came to Sauk Centre to shop, an activity which not only anticipates one of Carol Kennicott's great reforms, but recalls a familiar Hamlin Gar land short story.® During this first extensive visit to Sauk Centre, Lewis tried hard to re-establish his working habits and engaged an empty room over Rowe's Hardware Store where he could type his three to five thousand words dady.^ SINCLAIR Lewis in 1933 At the moment he was working on The Job, In a reminiscent article which he con an early novel about a career woman which tributed to The 0-sa-ge, the annual of the had nothing to do with the Middle West. Sauk Centre Senior High School, Lewis But it is not hard to imagine that he was spoke nostalgically of his Sauk Centre days, storing away material he would eventually of the friendliness of the people, and of the use in the novel he first thought of as "The indelible memories of boyhood.* He still Village Virus" but which appeared in 1920 remembered vividly fishing and rafting on as Main Street. Le'wis as always was rest Sauk Lake, tramping the fields and woods less. After a short time in Sauk Centre, he on October afternoons, sliding down Hobo- and his 'wife visited Dr. Claude Lewis in ken Hill which, to the young son of Dr. E. J. St. Cloud and then began a four-months Lewis, symbolized the West. Yet twenty- hegira from Duluth to San Francisco in a nine years had elapsed since his departure newly purchased Ford. Part of this journey, for an Eastern college, and for most of that incidentally, was to be reflected in the period he had been out of touch with the novel Free Air.^ town. There were visits, of course, prompted partly by filial devotion. * "The Long Arm of the Small Town,' The O-sa-ge, 1:83 (Sauk Centre, 1931). In the spring of 1916 Le'wis took his wife '^ Grace Hegger Lewis, With Love from Grade: (born Grace Hegger) to Sauk Centre to Sinchir Lewis, 1912-1925, 88-108 (New York, meet his family. One can infer from Mrs. 1955). ° "A Day's Pleasure,'' in Main Traveled Roads Lewis' later account of the visit that both (New York, 1903), is supposedly based on a visit she and her husband felt that the experi to Worthington. ence was somewhat trying.^ They found ' Grace H. Lewis, With Love from Grade, 95. * The copy of Free Air (New York, 1919) in the the rigid mealtime routine irksome, the special Lewis coUection in the University of Minne bridal dinner party with its formal decora sota Library is inscribed by the author as follows: tions rather ludicrous, and both relatives "Written in a bare room behind a photographer's studio in Mankato, Minn, to make it possible to and friends impressed by Lewis' money- write 'Main Street.'" Mankato, incidentally, figures making ability through writing but hardly in It Can't Happen Here, 449 (New York, 1935).
MINNESOTA History In the next dozen years Lewis was fre writing class at the University of Minne quently in Minnesota and lived for short sota and apparently liked his contact with periods in difEerent places. The year 1917 students and the university atmosphere. saw him residing in St. Paul, in a lemon- The preceding spring he had rented a house colored brick house on Summit Avenue, at Lake Minnetonka and in the fall of that and in Minneapolis. During this Minnesota year he lived in a house on Mount Curve sojourn, Lewis also visited the Cass Lake Avenue in Minneapolis, But if he rehshed lumber camps and slept in a bunkhouse," the society of the city, his impression of the Two years later he was back in Minneapolis dov^mfown area was hardly favorable. He again hard at work on Main Street; the wrote on April 8, 1942: "Minneapolis is so novel was continued during a summer spent ugly. Parking lots like scabs. Most build in Mankato and was finished in Washing ings are narrow, drab, dirty, flimsy, irregu ton, where Lewis' stay was financed in part lar—in relationship to one another—a set by a loan from his father. In 1926 Charles of bad teeth." ^^ The city actually impressed Breasted met Lewis at a house party on an him as an overgrown Gopher Prairie, with island in Rainy Lake, where the novelist out either planning or style. On the con was somewhat gloomy because of the im trary, Lewis found the Minnesota rural minent death of his father and because he landscape highly attractive and was par felt that Dr. Lewis had always resented ticularly pleased by the rocky, hilly farms Main Street. Lewis commented; "He can't and the wooded banks of the St. Croix Val comprehend the book, much less grasp that ley near Marine. At this time the novelist it's the greatest tribute I knew how to pay was working on Gideon Planish, which one him." 1" writer termed Lewis' "Made in Minneapo The decade of the 1940s saw Lewis lis" novel, despite the curious fact that it has spending part of his time in Minnesota and few references to Minnesota.^^ The heroine, on one occasion deciding to make Duluth however. Peony Planish, hails appropriately his permanent residence, Lewis' Minnesota enough from Faribault. diary is clear testimony that he felt a very It was in 1945 that Lewis decided he had strong pull toward the state, but that his had enough of roaming the world and de innate restlessness would never permit him termined finally to settle down in Minne to sink deep roots.^^ While feverishly work sota; the city he chose for his residence was ing on a particular project he could adjust Duluth. He bought the enormous house of himself to almost any locale and could en Dr. E. E. Webber at 2601 East Second joy the immediate environment; the novel Street and there installed his personal pos completed, he sought other stimulation and sessions and his library of some thirty- the horizon beckoned. five hundred volumes. Apparently he also In the fall quarter of 1942 he taught a plunged immediately into the composition of Cass Timberlane. But the Duluth winter "Grace H. Lewis, 'With Love from Grade, 115. irritated him, and on March 11, 1946, he " Breasted, in Saturday Review, August 14, 1954, p. 33. observed that the ice was too sullen to " Mark Schorer, ed., Sinclair Lewis, "A Min melt. "Superior Street now seems meager, nesota Diary," in Esquire, 50:160-162 (October, ill-constructed and -assorted; a small town 1958). "^ Esquire, 50:161. —the First National Bank's proud building ^ William J. McNally, in Minneapolis Tribune, just a huddle of assorted brick boxes." The April 20, 1943. novel completed and the long winter over, '* Minneapolis Tribune, January 30, 1945; Es quire, 50:162. In January, 1946, Frederick Man Lewis' customary nomadism reasserted it fred, his wife, and the young noveUst Ann self; he sold his house "because it is time to Chidester visited Lewis by invitation at his Duluth wander again" and left by car for New home. See Manfred's "Sinclair Lewis: A Portrait," in American Scholar, 23:162-184 (Spring, 1954), York on March 21, 1946." This decision
March 1960 spelled the end to any close connection Tail County, with the spectacular view of with Minnesota. He returned to the state for surrounding waters and woods from the top short visits and worked in the collections of of Inspiration Peak. Third he cited most of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1947 do Fillmore and Houston counties, chiefly the ing research for The God-Seeker. But there region adjacent to Chatfield, Lanesboro, was no further idea of permanence. and Preston. Next Lewis was impressed by Geographically Minnesota is a big state, the Mississippi River bluffs extending from and even so indefatigable a traveler as Red Wing to La Crescent, a sight which Lewis did not see all of it. Indeed certain evoked the familiar comparison to the Hud areas, such as the Red River Valley, the son Valley. Finally he mentioned two lakes Pipestone region, and even the Arrowhead for their special charms, Minnetonka and country seemed never to strike his fancy. Minnewaska, and he added the area around On the other hand, he became rapturous New London in Kandiyohi County. When about sections which were strongly photo Lewis made this list in 1942 he had not yet genic, and if he discovered some of them seen the North Shore of Lake Superior. too late to utilize them in his fiction he did Presumably his sojourn in Duluth famihar- not hesitate to recommend them to the pub ized him at least in part with the httoral of lic. On one occasion he listed seven areas the largest American lake. which he had found scenically memorable.^^ First came the St, Croix Valley, notably the BY BIRTH, by occasional residence, and by view which the automobile traveler has as intermittent travel, then, Sinclair Lewis he begins to descend the hill on Highway ^ " 'Red' Lewis Discovers Minnesota," in Minne No. 8 leading into Taylors Falls. Second apolis Tribune, June 2, 1942. A reprint appears in was the Leaf Mountains section of Otter the Conservation Volunteer, 4:21 (August, 1942).
AMONG scenes favored hy Lewis was this view of the St. Croix Valley near Taylors Falls
MINNESOTA History knew Minnesota. The interesting question such names as Jefferson Fitch, Hornby, and is how freely and fully did he convert this G. T. Pumphrey) in whom many details and knowledge into his fiction. Are specific peo aspects were fused. To his great gifts of ple and places recognizable, are trends of observation and mimicry, Lewis also added settlement and economic and industrial de enormous inventive powers and an almost velopment reflected, are specific historical interminable ability to reproduce conversa events introduced? Lewis of course was a tion.^^ Under these circumstances it is un writer of fiction with the novelist's mandate likely that he would have been content to disguise and alter his material. Moreover, merely to photograph individuals. When he he wrote only one historical novel. The God- does introduce historical characters like Seeker, and was thus little inclined to pre Father Augustin Ravoux, Chaplain Ezekiel serve the facts of history for their own sake. G. Gear, William D. Phillips, and Joseph R. Yet there is ample evidence that his Minne Brown in The God-Seeker, they are stiff sota heritage played a large part in his lit and puppet-like, and are meant to give a erary work. sense of milieu which unfortunately proves It would be difficult and probably futile specious. to attempt to establish personal models for With the physical background, the situ many of Lewis' characters. The identity of ation is somewhat different. It is true that Dr. E. J. Lewis and Dr. Will Kennicott is Minnesota's larger cities —Minneapolis, St, probably most complete. There is a good Paul, Duluth—are mentioned occasionally. deal of Lewis in Carol Kennicott and proba The smaller towns, however, rarely appear bly much also in Carl Ericson, the barn under their own names. Instead Lewis in storming aviator of the early Trail of the vented place names liberally and used them Hawk. Undoubtedly Lewis knew radicals in several stories—hamlets like Schoen- and liberals like Bone Stillman, Miles Bjorn strom. New Kotka, Curlew, Plato, and the stam, and Seneca Doane; ^^ scientists like famous village of Gopher Prairie, somewhat Max Gottlieb of Arrowsmith; sincere editors larger communities like Vernon and Wa- like Doremus Jessup of It Can't Happen kamin and St. Sebastian, the town of North- Here. It has been contended that certain ernapolis, and finally Grand Republic, the lineaments of Grace Hegger Lewis appear scene of both Cass Timberlane and Kings- in Fran Dodsworth. Undoubtedly the Shar blood Royal. Indeed, Sinclair Lewis might on Falconer of Elmer Gantry owes some well have drawn a map comparable to Wil thing to Aimee Semple McPherson, at that liam Faulkner's chart of Yoknapatawpha time notorious, and the radio priest and County on which he indicated the inter demagogic politician of It Can't Happen connecting actions of his stories and iden Here to Father Coughlin and Huey Long. tified the communities. But George F. Babbitt is certainly a com In the second chapter of Free Air the posite character (even his patronymic was reader is mired in gumbo with the heroine established only after Lewis had rejected on "this oceanically moist edge of a corn field, between Schoenstrom and Gopher Prairie, Minnesota," some sixty miles north "Bone Stillman is the eccentric atheist of The Trail of the Hawk (New York, 1915); Miles Bjorn of Minneapolis. Fortunately Milt Daggett, a stam is the village radical and indispensable town garage mechanic from Schoenstrom, comes handyman of Main Street (New York, 1920); and along to extricate both heroine and car. In Seneca Doane is the hberal lawyer of Babbitt (New York, 1922). subsequent chapters Daggett becomes the " As a young writer, Lewis actually sold some romantic squire who follows Claire Bolt- twenty-three plots to Jack London. See Franklin wood from Minnesota to Seattle and is duly Walker, "Jack London's Use of Sinclair Lewis rewarded for his fidelity. In the first fifty Plots," in Huntington Library Quarterly, 17:59-74 (November, 1953). pages of the novel, however, Lewis refers
March 1960 not only to Schoenstrom and Gopher Prai cial, and strangely complacent. The portrait rie, but also to Joralemon and Wakamin, is too familiar to repeat here. One should towns which were to become familiar to remember only that even on the physical readers of his later stories. Moreover, he level there are two Gopher Prairies, the sketches two of these communities in the tawdry, provincial community that was re acid manner of Main Street. vealed to the disgusted eyes of Carol Kenni Schoenstrom, for example, consisted of a cott fresh from college and the Twin Cities, brick general store, a frame hotel, a farm and the glittering, inviting city that im machinery agency, "the Old Home Pool pressed Bea Sorenson, newly arrived from room and Restaurant, which is of old logs Scandia Crossing, population sixty-seven. concealed by a frame sheathing," and Dag In 1924, at the request of the editor of gett's Red Trail Garage, the agency for tires. The Nation, Lewis paid a return visit to Teal cars, sewing machines, and binders, as Gopher Prairie and "interviewed" Dr. Will well as the weekly office of the veterinarian. Kennicott, He found the Thanatopsis Club Daggett, incidentally, was the son of a New still operating and the materialism of the England-born doctor. Gopher Prairie, on community focused in the general discus the other hand, as Lewis conceived it in the sion of automobiles and golf. But he em fourth chapter of Free Air, had five thou phasized that in the ten-year interval since sand people, a commercial club, and an he had last observed the prairie community infinitely better band than Joralemon, its vast changes had occurred; the streets had neighbor. The lobby of the hotel to which been paved, the la'wns seemed prettier and Claire Boltwood and her father went was neater, old houses had been rejuvenated, notable for its poison-green walls, brass cus and there was some new construction. When pidors, and insurance calendars; drummers the two men stopped to talk "on the edge lounged in the ragged chairs; and of the of Gopher Prairie—this prairie village lost two baths available to hotel guests one was in immensities of wheat and naivetes, this reserved and the other out of order. An place of Swede farmers and Seventh Day other local color touch in this novel of 1919 Adventists and sleeve-garters," Dr. Kenni was the slangy, talkative waitress who was cott rebuked his creator for his radicalism more interested in learning about her cus and his scorn of material success. The phy tomers than in serving them food. This sician also announced his intention to sup same dismal hotel was probably referred port Calvin Coolidge for the presidency in to by Lewis in an earher short story, "A the coming election.^^ Woman by Candlelight," in which the pro Lewis' town of Joralemon receives pass tagonist, a wholesale groceries salesman, ing reference in several stories. In "The proceeded from St. Sebastian via Joralemon Kidnaped Memorial," a Civil War veteran to Gopher Prairie in a blizzard. "The rows goes from Wakamin to recruit enough ex- of two-story brick stores running off into soldiers to stage a Memorial Day parade. straggling frame houses, which made up And it is from Joralemon that Young Man Gopher Prairie, were covered with snow Axelbrod, whose name gives the title to like a counter of goods with a linen cover one of Lewis' best short stories, goes to smoothly drawm across them." ^^ Yale at the age of sixty-four to get an edu Gopher Prairie, of course, receives its cation, Axelbrod learns soon enough that fullest exposition in Main Street, where it assumes some of the dimensions and color ^' Saturday Evening Post, July 28, 1917, p. 12. of the actual Sauk Centre but, more im ""Main Street's Been Paved," in The Nation, portantly, is universalized into the typical 119:255-260 (September 10, 1924). The article is reprinted in Harry E. Maule and MelviUe H. Cane, small town of the second decade of the eds., The Man from Main Street, 310-327 (New twentieth century—shabby, dull, provin York, 1953).
MINNESOTA History MAIN Street of Sauk Centre in the 1920s
age and youth do not mix well; indeed he ham, arrives with her two children to is somewhat pathetic as a serious college operate the Old Barne Souvenir and Booke student. But he conducts himself with dig Shoppe; lacking both experience and capi nity, has one or two stimulating experiences, tal, she nevertheless has unlimited assur and is content to return to his prairie com ance. Indeed, although she resembles Carol munity without a degree.^" Kennicott in her energy, her projects, and Joralemon is also the home of Carl Eric her reforming instincts, she is really a sin son, a young boy who after leaving high ister opportunist who preys on both her school attends near-by Plato College. Carl suitors and her benefactors. Her base of is interested in machinery more than in operations eventually shifts to the Twin academic subjects, but his devotion to a Cities, but not before Lewis has had ample certain liberal instructor permits Lewis to opportunity to sketch the regional land picture a fresh-water college with corrosive scape and to praise the Leaf Mountains and scorn. In due time Carl grows interested in Inspiration Peak. Of his later tales this is aviation and, nicknamed "Hawk" Ericson, perhaps the richest in its details of the becomes famous as a stunt and exhibition Minnesota locale. flier in the novel called The Trail of the Hawk. The protagonist's subsequent travels THE TOWN of Vernon, the exact loca take him far from Minnesota, but Lewis de tion of which is uncertain, is the scene of votes the whole of Part 1 —twelve chapters several Lewis narratives. Most of the action — to the Joralemon-Plato scenes. of "The Willow Walk," a curious mystery In 1935 Lewis to a large extent retold the story in which a bank teller, Jasper Holt, story of Main Street in a magazine tale en plays a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde role, takes titled "Harri." ^i The setting is New Kotka, place there. Holt is so successful in his self- "a clean town, with birch trees and a few disguise that he is never apprehended as Norway pines and an unusually large water a defaulter; on the other hand, he loses the tower, in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, half money he steals and has to resort to day an hour's drive from Fergus Falls," New labor to support himself. Palmer McGee, Kotka, a dairy center, has seventeen hun in "The Cat of the Stars," lives in the Uni dred people. Harri, really Mrs, Harriet Bra- versity Club of Vernon and is an assistant to the president of the M. & D, R. R., which '^ Selected Short Stories of Sinclair Lewis, 281- Lewis elsewhere identifies as the Minneapo 298, 321-337 (New York, 1935). lis and Dakota Railroad. The action of the "^Good Housekeeping, August, 1935, p. 19, 64- 75; September, 1935, p. 44, 166-181, story, however, has little to do with Ver- '^ Selected ShoH Stories, 99-140, 143-158. non.2^ In "Habeas Corpus" the protagonist is
March 1960 Leo Gurazov, a Bulgarian radical who owns valan, who, after being reared in a convent, a tobacco store in Vernon. The plot con falls in love with Otis Corvalan and sees cerns his strained efforts to get himself only too late that he is both deceitful and deported so that he can join a homeland irresponsible. Life with Otis proves less revolution, but they result only in landing romantic than she had envisaged it at first. him at Ellis Island for an indeterminate Eventually, when he has been dismissed stay.^^ from several positions, Lelia decides to take A more impressive story is "Things," a up nursing and, abetted by her mother-in- satiric account of social climbing and its law, she leaves to go into training in Chi perils. Lyman Duke is a Vernon real-estate cago. operator who has had extensive interests Details in seveial of these stories sug in the woodland north of Grand Marais and gest that Lewis had a kind of fusion of who makes a comfortable fortune. His wife Minneapolis and St. Paul in mind as a and daughter insist that he lead a social model for his fictional Vernon. It is neither life commensurate to his financial standing. the state capital nor a flour-miUing center, With misgivings, Duke builds an elaborate but it is the hub of a railroad network, it house in Vernon, fills it with expensive and has steel mills and glass industries, and it is fragile treasures, including Japanese ce the site of a university. Once the terminus ramics, engages an army of servants, and of the Red River carts, it was settled about puts himself at the complete mercy of the 1840 by emigrants from the East. "Nothing "things" that he has worked so hard to is very old in the Middle-Western city of acquire. When he sees that the artificial life Vernon," Lewis writes in "Habeas Corpus," he is forced to lead has begun to warp his but "in Mississippi Street remain the gloomy personality and bring unhappiness to his stone buildings erected by the early fur daughter, he deliberately sets fire to the traders and a mysterious ancientness clings house and—a later Silas Lapham by con to the dark irregular way." ^^ Vernon boasts viction, not by accident—reverts to a sim of an losota Club and a Garrick Stock Com pler existence.^* pany, and fashionabk people live along its "A Matter of Business" and "The Shadowy Boulevard of the Lakes. "Vernon society Glass" also have Vernon as their locale.^' goes to Palm Beach and New York; it is in In the first tale James Candee, proprietor wholesaling, the professions, or the railroad; of the Novelty Stationery Shop, is torn be it attends either Saint Simeon's P.E. Church tween his normal desire to make money and or Pilgrim Congregational; and it frowms his ambition to raise the aesthetic tastes of upon vulgarity, labor unions, and all art his community. He sells writing paper, except pohte portrait painting." ^^ To the cards, book ends, and gifts, but when he north of Vernon, incidentally, an iron range finds in the outskirts of Vernon a truly cre richer than what Lewis calls the Mesaba ative craftsman who has a flair for making has been discovered. original dolls, he invests in the Papa Jumas dolls. They are angular and gauche, but '^ Saturday Evening Post, January 24, 1920, p. 10 authentically different; despite the offer of 112, 114, 118, 121. a large manufacturer to make him sole =^ Selected Short Stories, 235-277. ^Harper's Magazine, 142:419-431 (March, agent of a conventional line of fluffy, com 1921); Saturday Evening Post, June 22, 1918, p, mercial products, Candee continues to back 5-7, 81. "A Matter of Business" appears also in a the Papa Jumas line. "The Shadowy Glass" recent treasury of material from Harper's, edited by Horace Knowles and published under the title has somewhat more local color, and here Gentlemen, ScholarsandScoundrels, 460—177 (New Vernon is identified, inconsistently with York, 1959). It supposedly represents the best con other references, as being in the state of tributions to Harper's from 1850 to the present, *• Saturday Evening Post, January 24, 1920, p. 10, North losota. This is the story of Lelia Cor- "" Saturday Evening Post, June 22, 1918, p. 5,
MINNESOTA History Finally, there are Northemapolis and Grand Republic is the most fully pictured Grand Republic. Though details are vague, of Lewis' fictional communities presumably it is possible that Duluth was Lewis' arche located in Minnesota. In Cass Timberlane it type here. Northemapolis is the scene of is described as a city of eighty-five thousand "The Ghost Patrol," the rather unconvinc people. In Kingshlood Royal, the action of ing story of an old policeman who refused which postdates World War II, the popula to stay in retirement but would walk his tion has grown to ninety thousand. Grand nocturnal beat, trying doors and watching Republic is situated eighty miles north of for pranks, until the authorities finally per Minneapolis and seventy-odd from Duluth, suaded him to remain in a county home.^* though the exact direction is not stated. "It Northemapolis is the locale also of "Hobo- is large enough to have a Renoir, a school- hemia" and "Joy-Joy," companion stories system scandal, several millionaires, and a published in 1917 which deal with the court slum." The city lies in Radisson County at ship of Elizabeth Robinson by Dennis the confluence of the Big Eagle and Sor- Brown.2" Elizabeth, who prefers to be called shay rivers; the combined stream then flows Ysetta, has artistic ambitions; she 'wishes to west to the Mississippi. Le'wis is careful to write, to dance, or at least to lead a Bo keep Grand Republic out of proximity to hemian existence. She leaves Northemapolis Lake Superior so that there can be no easy for the greater opportunities of New York. confusion with Duluth. But his account of Dennis Brown, a Northemapolis lumber its growth has a familiar ring: "Grand Re magnate, follows her and by a succession public grew rich two generations ago of remarkable exploits convinces her of his through the uncouth robbery of forests, iron own artistic ability and persuades her to mines, and soil for wheat." ^^ return to Northemapolis as his wife. As the Grand Republic has preferred residential mistress of a luxurious house in the fashion districts, such as Ottawa Heights and Sylvan able suburb of Hydrangea Park, Elizabeth Park, the latter being somewhat less preten is about to sink into suburban opulence tious than the former.^^ Streets bear the when the neighborhood is disrupted by the names of Flandrau, Beltrami, Schoolcraft, arrival of Mrs. Henrietta Flint. Mrs. Flint and there is even a Joseph Renshaw Brown is writing a novel, to be called "Joy-Joy," Way. The Radisson County Courthouse, in which she will preach her doctrine of the comic in its hideous melange of architec need for sunshine, happiness, and gaiety in tural styles, might well serve as Levids' final life and for their symbolic realization in comment on the ugliness of many of the dancing. Elizabeth's original ambitions are older public buildings in Minnesota. Built dangerously reawakened by Mrs. Flint, but in 1885, "It was of a rich red raspberry again her husband is more than equal to brick trimmed with limestone, and it dis the emergency and soon brings his wife played a round tower, an octagonal tower, back to an even keel. Mrs. Fhnt, it might a minaret, a massive entrance with a port be remarked, has some of the reform im cullis, two lofty flying balconies of iron, col pulses and the aesthetic insistence that were ored-glass windows with tablets or stone later to characterize Carol Kennicott and petals in the niches above them, a green Harri. and yellow mosaic roof with scarlet edging, With the exception of Gopher Prairie, and the breathless ornamental stairway from the street up to the main entrance without which no American public building would =» Selected Short Stories, 215-231. ^ Saturday Evening Post, AprU 7, 1917, p. 3-6, be altogether legal." Downtown Grand Re 121, 125, 129, 133; October 20, 1917, p. 63, 67, 70, public has other large buildings too, notably 73, 76. the twelve-story Blue Ox National Bank "" Cass Timberlane, 10 (New York, 1945). and "the Pantheon of the Duluth & Twin ""^Kingsblood Royal, 9 (New York, 1947). March 1960 9 temporary and the diurnal. Historical fiction in general did not appeal to him (he obvi ously preferred Dickens to Scott) because it seemed to lack immediacy; he could project through his eye rather than through his imagination. But in the centennial year of Minnesota Territory he published his one historical novel. The God-Seeker, the action of which takes place in 1849 in the area around the fictional Bois des Morts, two hundred miles west of Fort Snelling on the Minnesota River. ^'^ It takes Lewis fourteen chapters to trans port his hero, Massachusetts-born Aaron Gadd, to the West. Aaron is motivated in his decision by missionary zeal, ambition, and a craving for romance. He travels mostly by river steamboat via St. Louis, Dubuque, and Galena; the final stretch of the river he sees from the deck of the "Dr. Franklm," with Russell Blakeley as first officer and clerk. Minutes after his arrival at the muddy St. Paul landing, Aaron meets Father Ravoux, JOE Brown, a character in The God-Seeker Vital Guerin, and Joe Brown; and Brown in particular is given a full characterization.^* Cities Railroad Station," ^^ But across the At Fort Snelling, prior to his departure for tracks and along the Sorshay River are his missionary post where he would act as decrepit shacks and incipient slums which a carpenter, Gadd is introduced to Thomas remind the observer of the frontier village S. Williamson, to Stephen Riggs, and to the that was to be seen on the same site seventy- Pond brothers, although none of these fig five years earher. ures largely in Gadd's future adventures. In Cass Timberlane the reader is kept Transportation to Traverse des Sioux is later constantly aware of the Grand Republic arranged by a trader on Gray Cloud Island, background; buildings and streets continu and eventually, by canoe and horseback, ally impinge upon the consciousness, and Aaron reaches his destination. the social stratification is tied in with the eco Gadd, a shrewd, industrious young Yan nomic development. In Kingsblood Royal, kee, rises quickly amid his unusual sur on the other hand, the real themes of the roundings. In relatively short time he meets novel—race prejudice and the ostracism of Selene Lanark, daughter of the frontier Negroes —acquire inflated importance, and trader and impresario Caesar Lanark, and interest in the physical scene is supplanted by Lewis' strident exposition of the dangers "' Cass Timberlane, 11, 12, See also Lewis' equal of bigotry, ly scornful picture of the Zenith Athletic Club in Babbitt, 54-60, *• The God-Seeker, 53 (New York, 1949). In an BOTH THESE NOVELS are tributes to appendix Lewis carefully distinguishes between Lewis' social observation, to his amazing the historical and the fictional characters. See p. ability to accumulate details that are at 419^22. '^The God-Seeker, 113. In his appendix Lewis once amusing, relevant, and suggestive. pays tribute to the ability and virtuosity of Brown. They also confirm Lewis' interest in the con See p. 421.
10 MEs^NESOTA History the two are married, first in a civil ceremony the proselytizing activities of a Bishop by Joe Brown, later by a Unitarian clergy Whipple, On the other hand, Lewis also man using an Episcopalian ritual. When resented the rapacity and cynicism of the Gadd joins the trading firm of Buckbee, Indian traders who exchanged shoddy mer Lanark and Gadd, his subsequent fortunes chandise and gaudy trinkets for valuable are assured. Most of the rest of the novel furs. His Caesar Lanark, to whom he as can be quickly forgotten by the discrimi cribes a certain amount of intellectual so nating reader. Lewis' gift for caricature is phistication, represents the more predatory always apparent, and his ridicule of certain frontier merchant. But even Lanark is a evangelists and self-seekers is amusing if one-dimensional figure. Indeed most of the superficial. The characters, however, never characters in Lewis' later novels remind come alive. He is perhaps least successful one of a remark of Mark Twain when he in delineating Indians. Certainly his hypo was disparaging photography as a source critical Black Wolf, a pure-blood Dakota of fictional portraiture. "Observation? Of who has attended Oberlin, is the least con what real value is it? One learns peoples vincing of all. Black Wolf can discuss through the heart, not the eyes or the in existentialism in perfect English; he also tellect."'^^ Lewis never ventured further participates in the tribal feast of the raw from human reality than in his one historical fish and readapts himself to the blanket. novel. As Caesar Lanark says cynically; "The typi cal Dakota is Isaac Weeps-by-Night, who IN A SENSE, however, Lewis was most is merely a little ahead of his fellows in faithful to his Minnesota background when giving up hunting for plowing, building a he was least deliberately photographic or wretched shack and getting drunk on forty- representational. As a native of a prairie rod whisky. That's what the children of community in Stearns County he was in Black Wolf will do ... if they get born timately aware not only of the rural area and survive." ^^ around him but also of the settlers. The In Elmer Gantry Lewis attacked the hy German and Scandinavian farmers of the pocrisy and excesses of irresponsible evan region figure prominently in most of his gelism with all the virulence of which he early stories and provide the often anony was capable. In The God-Seeker he shifted mous but always evident background of his perspective from the contemporary to Main Street. Moreover, Lewis practiced his the historical and he also modified his sat mimicry of speech by rendering the dialect ire. If Aaron Gadd's missionary associates of Teuton and Swede, and prided himself are naive, ill-informed, and even on occa on his fidelity of transcription. His protago sion unscrupulous, Gadd himself is honest nists, to be sure, seldom represent these and moral. Lewis' picture of frontier evan national strains, but his minor figures are gelism is unflattering rather than vicious. frequently of immigrant stock. Lewis was He could not understand, for example, the also conscious of other ingredients in the consecration to a cause which led Edward Minnesota melting pot; the Yankees, who Eggleston on the Minnesota frontier to came early and quickly controlled lumber adopt the peripatetic life himself until his ing and mercantile activities; the French, health broke down, and then to choose a more nomadic and less socially important; Methodist circuit rider as the hero for his the Central Europeans, who provided much fiction. Nor could Lewis sympathize with of the manpower for the iron mining indus try. In Cass Timberlane Lewis was espe cially careful to emphasize the fusion of •^ The God-Seeker, 299. "Mark Twain, "What Paul Bourget Thinks of races and tongues in his fictional northern Us," in Literary Essays, 148-170 (New York, 1899). town, though he made less use of them than
March 1960 11 did Phil Stong in his novel, The Iron Moun Lewds' ear was historically attuned to the tain. In an essay which Le'wis contributed creaking axles that characterized the Red to The Nation he labeled Minnesota the River carts. Norse State and emphasized the prominence The varied economic history of Minne of the Scandinavians in state politics, but sota also is reflected in his fiction, although he also tried to dispel the notion that Minne he wrote neither a novel of industry nor sota's population was made up only of emi one of labor. No Lewis novel is set in the grants from northern Europe. This was as area of the iron ranges or in the northern much of a misconception, he argued, as the forests; when he did tell a story about the beliefs that Minnesota's topography is uni wilderness he went across the border into form or that a commonwealth which con Saskatchewan for a locale, as in Mantrap. tributes dairy products and corn and lumber But lumbering in general has a place in and iron ore to the nation is a region of his novels—the streams which floated the one crop — namely, wheat.^^ logs, the lakes which held the booms, even History impinges frequently on Lewis' the banks which pyramided the industry's descriptions. The only Minnesota aborigines money. Certainly the Blue Ox National who appear in propria persona are the un Bank of Grand Republic is Lewis' bow to convincing Sioux of The God-Seeker, but the Paul Bunyan stories. In the same way Lewis was fond of impressing the recent the milhng industry is alluded to and is said development of Minnesota on his readers to be one of the mainstays of such a city by stating that less than a century ago a as Vernon. Agriculture, of course, is the particular town was a Chippewa-haunted occupation of most of the people who go wilderness. Indian legends are alluded to to market in Gopher Prairie or the adjacent sparingly, the voyageurs are cited, and par hamlets. Lewis' references to the cornland, ticular patronymics like Radisson are pre the interminable fields in which the tiny served as place names. The Sioux-Chippewa ""Minnesota: The Norse State," in The Nation, feuds are referred to occasionally, and 116:624-627 (May 30, 1923).
A Main Street view in Sauk Centre, 1957
12 MINNESOTA History communities stand like oases, are usually presses. Only the rare few progress consist satiric, but he could grow enthusiastic about ently and reveal increased stature and the pleasures of field sports and the lure of maturity as one pubhshed work follows an lake and forest. Not even Mark Twain, re other. calling idyllic days on his uncle's plantation It seems quite apparent that in Lewis' near Florida, Missouri, was more nostalgic case his fiction began to decline as soon as than Lewis writing about fishing and hunt he got away from the Minnesota or at least ing as a boy in Stearns County, Lewis never the Middle Western background. Always developed a projected novel about educa a dihgent researcher, he filled notebooks tion, but one may presume that if this had with details, names, phrases pertaining to materialized it might have dealt with the whatever theme he had decided to develop, University of Minnesota, as some of the so that his picture of a location or a career faculty members of that institution once is superficially authentic whatever it may feared. lack in vitality. But "getting up" a subject in this fashion is not quite the same thing AFTER the great decade of the 1920s, dur as writing from a reservoir overflowing with ing which Lewis' best novels appeared, his impressions and experiences. Lewis' youth work became repetitious, clamorous, imi in Minnesota and his early years as student tative. Reviewer after reviewer complained and companion to his doctor-father were that each new Lewis novel covered familiar the reservoir out of which flowed six or ground and used familiar methods. Locale more novels and many stories. When he and names might be different, hotelkeep- tapped this source in his early maturitv he ing or the penitentiary system or the dan produced his best work—Main Street, Bab gers of Fascism in the United States might bitt, Elmer Gantry, Arrowsmith, Dods be substituted for small-to'wn provincialism worth. Upon returning to the source toward and Zenith real estate, but the technique the end of his career he could still write was unchanged. Lewis' gifts of mimicry and with some authority, despite the famiharity selection of details remained as remarkable of his technique. But much of the inter as ever, yet the stridency was more pro vening fiction is stiff and self-conscious, and nounced, the humor more labored. Unwill even the famous mimicry often palls. Lewis ing or unable to change his approach, he never lacked gusto even when not at his wrote in the same way until the end, and best as a storyteller, yet one can tire of his later fiction became attenuated and excessive exuberance. unconvincing. In later years Lewis was too restless, too It is always interesting to speculate why nomadic ever to settle do'wn anywhere. a writer reaches a point, either midway in During his creative throes he was not es his career or later, beyond which there is pecially conscious of surroundings—chair, no development. Some writers say essen table, typewriter, and isolation from society tially what they have to say in their first were almost his only necessities. But the book and do nothing but parrot themselves book finished and out of the way, he needed thereafter. Others are delayed in finding change, and his peregrinations were endless their real theme or their happiest medium and hectic. Nevertheless, he remained con until several books have come off the scious of his formative years, and the im pressions he gained from them served to '^ The O-sa-ge, 1:83. solidify his fiction. He once paid sincere THE PICTURE on page 12 is from a photograph tribute to his Sauk Centre boyhood: "It taken by Lee Hanley. It is reproduced here through was a good time, a good place, and a good the courtesy of Father Cohnan Barry of St. John's University, CoUegeviUe. The view on page 4 comes preparation for life."^^ His fiction justifies from the Minnesota department of conservation. the tribute.
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