Stories of Sinclair Lewis
From the Sauk Centre Herald
1) Lewis and Bryant Library
2) Cast gets into Sinclair Lewis' skin
3) Bookseller remembers afternoon with Lewis
4) Is Lewis relavent?
5) Carol Kennicott returns to Main Street
6) Lewis scholars celebrate 75th anniversary of Babbitt
7) Enlightened on Lewis
8) The German side of Sinclair Lewis
9) The athletic side of Sinclair Lewis
The German side of Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis wasn’t a German but his interest in the language, literature and culture would have made any German parent proud. Granted, any parent would be proud of a child that wrote 18 best selling books of which five would earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature and one the Pulitzer Prize for Literature that he wouldn’t except.
Lewis was introduced to the German language as a course at Sauk Centre High School where he graduated in 1902. The course work wasn’t enough for him so he asked a German priest to help him with advanced studies and he found a German pen pal.
His father, Dr. E. J. Lewis, put his son’s German skills to good work bringing him along on his house calls to German families. Many times young Red would assist in operations and explaining what was happening to the German patient or family.
The predictions section of the 1902 O-Sa-Ge predicted Lewis would graduate from Yale University to become a German professor at Yale.
Instead Lewis majored in English Literature at Yale but he kept his German interests reading German literature and hanging out at a German guesthouse in New Haven where he could talk German, drink beer and eat bratwursts.
One of his first jobs out of college was writing stories for an international literature magazine where it was his job to follow what was happening in Germany, translate and comment German books and authors.
By the time the United States went to war against Germany, Lewis was a popular short story writer for the Saturday Evening Post living with his wife Gracie in St. Paul. There was a great deal of mistrust of German-Americans in Minnesota. There were legislators promoting a law requiring Germans to sign a loyalty oath and posed a sign on their homes announcing they had signed.
Lewis was shunned by St. Paul society as a German sympathizer because of his positive stories and essays on German-Americans. Drawing on his experience with German-Americans around Sauk Centre he wrote, “He Loved His Country” in 1915 where he tells about Hugo Bromenshenkel who immigrated to the United States, fought for the Union in the Civil War, became a successful farmer. Bromenschenkel defends the American flag he fought for against anti-American Germans proving a German-American can be a good American and still love the old country.
A publisher wanted him to expand the short story into a book but Lewis wrote his wife, “There will be a comparatively small market for pro-German stories if we go to war with German. I think I shall take to writing lively cheerful Young Love stories.”
Lewis was divorced about the time the novel, “Elmer Gantry” was published. Anticipating strong criticism from this book questioning religion, Lewis hiked across the Black Forest along the Rhine Valley.
While in Berlin he met his second wife, Dorothy Thompson the chief European correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and the New York Evening Post. Thompson, a news correspondent, was an expert on European politics and the first correspondent to interview Adolf Hitler.
After receiving his Nobel Prize in Sweden, Lewis and Thompson went on a lecture tour of Germany meeting with authors and political leaders.
When Hilter came to power, Thompson become one of his most outspoken critics and expelled from Germany in 1934. Returning to the United States, Franklin Roosevelt asked her to brief him on the situation in Europe.
A year after Hitler took power in Germany, Lewis wrote his satirical “It Can’t Happen Here” about how a similar fascist leader could come to power in the United States. Lewis’s wife Dorothy believed no one stopped Hitler because no one belived he could take over the government. Lewis was saying the Gleichschaltung that brought so many opposing factions together behind one political movement could have happened here in the turmoil of the 1930s.
Lewis biographer Richard Lingeman reported Lewis frequented the August Luchow’s German restaurant and beer garden in New York City where he talked literature, music, religion and politics with German-American authors H. L. Menken, James Huneker and Theodore Dreiser.
In the same way Lewis went beyond his school studies to learn German, he studied Latin, Greek and English Literature at home. This interest in language and story helped make him the talented storyteller he became.