When I first saw the movie Dodsworth, it genuinely moved me in a way that movies sometimes do. In time, I learned that it was based on a book by a writer named Sinclair Lewis, whom I had never heard of. When I saw a later movie also base don one of his books, Elmer Gantry, I found I recognized it as being of a piece with Dodsworth; that is, I could imagine it as also being based on a work of his, even though Gantry was made later, by different people. (No, you didn't miss anything; I never wrote about Gantry. I don't write about every movie I see.)
I knew then that I had to seek out one of Lewis' books. Instead of Dodsworth or Gantry, however, I picked a novel I was completely unfamiliar with: Main Street, one of his earliest. Lewis was born in Minnesota, attended Yale, and moved to New York for awhile where, after several preceding novels, his professional literary career took off. Main Street came out in 1920 and was his first big hit. Subsequent books included Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Arrowsmith, which made him the first American to win the Prize for literature.
Main Street was made into a movie twice: a silent version in 1923 and a talkie in 1936, with the unfortunate title I Married a Doctor. (You'd think it was a 50s horror movie with a title like that.) I know this because of a Twitter conversation I had months ago with fellow film bloggers Page and Cliff. Cliff, you see, had just written a post on his blog about Doctor, which led to an extended chat about the works of Lewis.
My attitude towards Carol kept changing. At first she came across as stuck up and judgmental for looking down her nose at Gopher Prairie. After awhile, though, she was much more sympathetic because I could easily imagine wanting the same things if I were in her shoes. The residents of GP aren't necessarily bad people, but they are provincial and set in their ways, and if I were forced to live among them every day, I'd get bored after awhile too. Carol does her best to try and fit in, but many (not all) of her neighbors don't make it easy for her.
The story is long - over 500 pages - and I thought it really dragged in the middle. It reached a stage where we just kept seeing, over and over, variations on "Carol tries to liven up Gopher Prairie," "Carol doesn't feel close to Will anymore," "Carol can't relate to other people in Gopher Prairie," etc.
|'I Married a Doctor,'
w/Pat O'Brien & Josephine Hutchinson
Still, it's a decent book, and Carol is a strong character. Main Street is insightful as a time capsule of the early 20th century. Lewis works cultural references into the story, and in the copy I have, the Barnes & Noble Classics edition, footnotes are provided explaining their significance. Lewis captures the fictitious town of Gopher Prairie well, including lovely descriptions of the surrounding countryside. I'd be willing to sample another one of Lewis' novels, though not just yet.
Look for more entries in this series throughout the summer.