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From the Archive: An Article on Lawrence by the American Novelist and Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis.

From 1913 to 1914 the American writer Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) contributed a syndicated book column to newspapers across the United States. This previously un-reprinted piece on Lawrence by the twenty-three year old Lewis, then living in Washington D.C., appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 25, 1913 and in other papers. Lewis wrote this article before he had published the fiction for which he became renowned, novels such as Main Street (1922), Arrow smith (1925), and Elmer Gantry (1927), all notable for their searing appraisal of American materialism and suffocating small-town values. In 1930, the Minnesota-born Lewis became the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is likely that Lawrence's detailed depiction of working-class Midlands life, as opposed to the writer's foray into modernist experiment, appealed to Lewis, who would make provincial life the setting of much of his (steadfastly realist) fiction.

Nonetheless, in his article Lewis stresses the originality of Lawrence's fictional technique, specifically in Lawrence's recently published Sons and Lovers. Lewis reports on an argument that broke out concerning the nature of Lawrence's achievement among a group of young writers and artists in the "Connecticut hills" (possibly friends from Lewis's days as an undergraduate at Yale). In Lewis's account, the gathering is divided over the British novelist's work, with one of two factions praising Lawrence as a "new genius" for his "truth of detail" and another contingent seeing Lawrence's method in Sons and Lovers as "merely photographic." The novel, this second faction concludes, "gets nowhere," culminating in someone wondering out loud, "Well, why get anywhere, anyway?" The comment causes a ruckus. Lewis's article concludes by dilating on the seeming paradox that the hero of Sons and Lovers experiences his mother's demise as the "death to him of everything in life--though he had been loved and been loved by more than one girl."

Beyond signaling Lawrence's importance to a new generation of American writers and artists and raising the issue of whether the hero of Sons and Lovers "gets anywhere" (as the protagonist of a conventional bildungsroman might), Lewis's article sees Lawrence's writing as addressing what Lewis calls the "old question" of what kind of fiction should prevail: a realism indebted to a strict fealty to nature (here defined in gendered and Biblical terms as voiced by a male "Adam") versus one beholden to a "dreamy" romanticism (represented by an "Eve.") At another level, Lewis's piece suggestively hints at the early twentieth-century challenge that Lawrence's fiction, at once "realist" and "romantic," presented to a rising American coterie of novelists newly committed to a realistic and naturalistic aesthetic, soon to be exemplified by Lewis and, to varying degrees, other American writers such as Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, and Jack London.


From the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Syndicated Papers October 25, 1913

Fame Predicted for a Youthful British Writer

In the Connecticut hills there is a big, old-fashioned bam which recently reformed and became a studio. I sat there the other night and heard some news, for six young people were proclaiming to the stars--or at least to the rafters--that a new genius had arisen in D. H. Lawrence, a young Englishman, who has written "The Tresspasser," "The White Peacock," and now, "Sons and Lovers," which last is published by Mitchell Kennerley at $1.35.

There was great argument about it among these painters and writers: one faction maintaining that, with his use of a mass of detail, his unswerving truth of description, the manner in which he has traced the varied lives of all the members of a family (as Gilbert Caman so brilliantly does in "Round the Corner") and his picture of poor old Morel, the collier, Mr. Lawrence has in his "Sons and Lovers," won a place among the few really good novelists.

The other faction admitted the truth of detail and skill of handling the many characters, but declared that the novel is merely photographic: that it gets nowhere. And then, of course, someone made the sides of the old bam tremble with the howl of "Well, why get anywhere, anyway?" and the old argument that started between Adam, the agricultural realist, and Eve, the dreamy romanticist, was on again."

But at least it must be said that when young artists are moved to discussing abstract principles by a book, it is likely to be very big or very dull. And "Sons and Lovers" is not dull. It particularly gets away from drabness in its study of an emotional young man to whom love for his mother--the mother of the poor, robbed of life's brighter colors--was everything in life. Her death was the death to him of everything in life--though he had been loved and been loved by more than one girl.

Sinclair Lewis
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Title Annotation:D.H. Lawrece
Publication:D.H. Lawrence Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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