Saturday, March 5, 2011

Elmer Gantry

I finally got the notion to read Elmer Gantry (Sinclair Lewis, 1927) and a fine notion it was.

I had always thought I had a copy somewhere. No, it was Babbitt.  I vaguely remember reading Babbitt in the muddy feedlots of freshman English.  Lewis, an ugly troll, had a remarkable run:  Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), Dodsworth (1929) and the Nobel Prize for Literature  in 1930, the first American author so distinguished. The acceptance of the Prize ended this enchanted run. The rest was rather undistinguished and he spent the next twenty years drinking himself to death. He died in Rome in 1951 at the age of 65.

Elmer Gantry was the high water mark of Lewis' literary career. It is a great rambling thing with many enchanting story elements. Richard Brooks took the best of them, changed them 'round and made a fine movie of it. I watched it again and it has lost nothing.

Lewis' prose was uncluttered and would rise infrequently to the level of poetry. I rather liked him.

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