It seems to have just gotten harder to steal pictures.
From the IWE's introductory comments:
"Main Street was Sinclair Lewis's first and biggest success on the subject of small-town quasi-culture, but Babbitt, which came two years later, was a better book on the same subject. If it is not Lewis's best novel (a rank that is usually accorded to Arrowsmith or Dodsworth), it is not far from it."
I haven't read Main Street (which is also on this program) since I was in high school and I haven't any sense at this point how it compares to Babbitt (or whether it even matters anymore), but I did just read Arrowsmith and wrote about it here within the last year, and while that did strike me as the more accomplished book from the literary standpoint, there was, somewhat to my surprise, much in Babbitt that I found poignant--the trip to Maine with Paul, especially the poker, and then the return trip the next year without him got to me the most, but there were numerous episodes that struck deeper than I would have expected them to throughout the book. While Babbitt's personality and business-oriented outlook on life are decidedly unlike mine, he is in the book the same age that I am or have recently been--46, 47, 48--and a lot of the impulses and disaffections he has upon reaching this stage of life ring true to me (Lewis, interestingly, was only 36-37 when this was published). I didn't make as many notes as I wish I had now, in part because I was quite engaged by it, in other part because I have been really more than usually depressed this winter, and while these old books are often a great comfort to me in such times, I still didn't have much energy for writing thoughts down. While certainly Lewis would never have intended his novel to induce nostalgia, it ends up having something of that effect, to me at least, because the world of 1920s America still retains some vividness for me. I suspect even such sense as I have for it must be increasingly lost to younger people though.
I'm tempted to write more about my depression, but I might do something that alludes to it on the other blog after I finish this.
I made my first note on page 164, a sentence about a civic convention that I found funny:
"The pastor of the First Christian Church of Monarch...informed God that the real-estate men were here now."
This was set in, if not the absolute heyday of train travel, still a dynamic period for it. The description of the brand new station at Zenith is clearly intended to be satirical, but from the vantage point of our own era of transportation it sounds rather nice:
"It was a new and enormous waiting-room, with marble pilasters, and frescoes depicting the exploration of the Chaloosa River Valley by Pere Emile Fauthoux in 1740. The benches were shelves of ponderous mahogany; the news-stand a marble kiosk with a brass grill."
There is as well a suggestive undertone throughout the book as well that electricity, plumbing, appliances are perhaps not appropriate for the masses, as of course most middle-aged people at least in 1922 would have grown up without them. When this novel first came out and for the fifty-sixty years afterwards when it enjoyed some fame, it was primary noted for its satire, but that is now the most dated heavy-handed aspect of it. It has other, much more subtle, redeeming qualities though.
Prohibition made forty-five year olds have to act surreptitiously like teenagers. This is at the hotel at the realtors' convention:
"At half-past seven they sat in their room, with Elbert Wing and two up-state delegates. Their coats were off, their vests open, their faces red, their voices emphatic. They were finishing a bottle of corrosive bootlegged whisky and imploring the bell-boy, 'Say, son, can you get us some more of this embalming fluid?'"
The quest for illicit booze did make some of the forty-something women more festive though than perhaps they would otherwise have been inclined to be.
I didn't note what page I was on, but at one point I wrote, 'Still interesting, but hard to see where book is going between Paul (spoiler alert--Paul goes to jail for shooting his wife, non-fatally), Babbitt's midlife crisis, return to Maine, etc. Never clear why Babbitt loves Paul so much, more seemingly even than his own family.'
p. 339 "Their life was dominated by suburban bacchanalia of alcohol, nicotine, gasoline, and kisses."
I liked this sentence.
p. 391 I'm not really in the right frame of mind to make political pronouncements, but I thought this sentence about The Good Citizens' League, accepting a membership in which marks the end of Babbitt's identity crisis and his firm return to sound business principles and all the rest of it, was too obviously pertinent to the present not to recognize it:
"All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary."
Absolute equality of wealth will obviously always be problematic given the different natures of people, especially in large societies, though perhaps there could be somewhat more of it than there is at present. And there doesn't seem to be much danger nowadays of the working classes forming any kind of a threat to the established order, so that keeping them in their place is not as much of a labor-intensive-task as it may once have been, but the gist is familiar.
I have not elaborated much on what I think it is that this book gets right that makes it as affecting to me as it was, but I think it is the way that one's life (often) feels as it is becoming stalled in the 40s, especially the late 40s, when I think it really hits you that if you aren't declining already, or at least not too much, that that might start accelerating noticeably at any time. In some ways of course I stopped going forward a long time ago, but the continuous adding of children over the years kind of masked that and gave me a sense, certainly that I was still relatively young and had a long future ahead of me, but that my experience, life force, or whatever, was still expanding. But all of a sudden I feel disturbingly old and vulnerable, and I'm wondering what I was thinking having another baby at age 45, as beautiful and delightful an addition to the human community as she is. I feel like I'll be lucky to see her get her through high school and college, and making it to her 30th birthday seems like a longshot. For that matter I could really go at almost any time. I know that was always the case but up until two months I had no real consciousness of that, it was not real to me. Anyway, a lot of the better part of this book is about this creeping sense of the genuine futility of one's existence and how to keep moving forward. Paul of course was pointedly unable to do this.
No uploadable pictures of the book anywhere. I'll have to get my own camera working again.
For a relatively famous book there aren't a lot of attractive editions of it available on the market. There was an evidently limited run Modern Library edition in the 50s but I couldn't find any copies of this online. There was one advertised that I tried to order but I was sent a 1960s era Signet paperback or something like it instead. I ended getting a bland gray Harcourt Brace edition from the 50s which matches my copy of Main Street.
1. Rebecca Skloot--The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks..............................5,819
2. Kate Turabian--A Manual For Writers of Research Papers, Theses, etc.......752
3. Ruth Rendell--The Girl Next Door.................................................................423
4. Gloria Steinem--Marilyn................................................................................231
5. The Reverend William J. Barber II--The Third Reconstruction.....................110
6. Praxis II Middle Scholl English Language Arts...............................................44
7. Natalie Babbitt--The Eyes of the Amaryllis......................................................33
8. The Wise Owl Guide to...(DSST): Here's to Our Health..................................12
9. DSST Principles of Statistics Exam....................................................................9
10. Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats (eds. McIntyre & Nette)............3
11. Victor Hugo--William Shakespeare..................................................................0
12. Isabel Burton--The Life of Captain Sir Richard Burton....................................0
Once again a complete field of 16 eludes us. The top four seeds--all women, incidentally--receive first round byes.
#5 Barber over #12 Burton
While Sir Richard Burton is an interesting subject, the 1893 biography of him by his wife doesn't seem to have earned a reprint anytime in the last 100 years and no one carries a copy of it.
#11 Hugo over #6 Praxis
#7 Babbitt over #10 Girl Gangs, etc
The Girl Gangs book, the subtitle of which is Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture 1950-1980 looks somewhat interesting, but no one has it.
#8 Wise Owl Guide over #9 DSST Principles
Round of 8
#11 Hugo over #1 Skloot
The Hugo book is only available in a couple of academic libraries, but they do have it. As I am currently weary of the kinds of contemporary writers that my game keeps turning up, the 19th century European giant had a decided psychological advantage.
#2 Turabian over #8 Wise Owl Guide
#7 Babbitt over #3 Rendell
Rendell is a straight genre book. I'm not exactly sure what this Babbitt is, but it looks like it might be more soulful. It's also older, dating I believe from 1977.
#4 Steinem over #5 Barber
Kind of a toss-up that the higher seed wins by a hair.
#11 Hugo over #2 Turabian
#4 Steinem over #7 Babbitt
The Steinem would probably be something different and more interesting. A ho-hum final four.
#4 Steinem over #11 Hugo
The Steinem book is in my library, and it's also pretty short. I might have been inclined to go with Hugo anyway because my intellect is in such decay, but I will give this a try.