Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SINCLAIR LEWIS :" I love America, but I don't like it"

SINCLAIR LEWIS was born 7 February 1885 in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

A well-worn line, mistakenly believed to have been his, is quoted by writers, bloggers and commenters frequently:
When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
It's not impossible that Lewis uttered something along those lines in conversation, but it remained undocumented. Something very similar, though with no reference to "the cross" was said/written in 1938 by Professor Halford E. Luccock, then repeated and embellished by Huey Long, Louisiana's legendary populist Governor, U.S. Senator and favorite son. For any passing reader who'd be interested in following the trail of evidence on this, see:

Sinclair Lewis was a satirical novelist with an almost scary level of prescience. His satire had serious purpose. On reading extracts from his novels a wide smile kept creeping in - the guy was a textbook Aquarian. Not many born when Sun is in Aquarius can claim that!

After a short period of unsuccessful novel writing, financed by mundane desk jobs and working as a journalist, Lewis eventually found his signature style. It was one which fits beautifully with his astrology. His style might be described as 'dispelling myths and unveiling hypocrisy.'

His central characters are the pioneer, the doctor, the scientist, the businessman, and the feminist. The appeal of his best fiction lies in the opposition between his idealistic protagonists and an array of fools, charlatans, and scoundrels - evangelists, editorialists, pseudo-artists, cultists, and boosters.(From The Quixotic Vision of Sinclair Lewis by Martin Light, 1975)

Sinclair Lewis was one of the first American writers to address feminism. In his 1920 novel Main Street, a classic satire of small-town America, he tells the story of young Carol Kennicott who arrives in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, with dreams of transforming the provincial old town into a place of beauty and culture. She runs into a wall of bigotry, hypocrisy and complacency. The book was the first bestseller to attack conventional ideas about marriage, gender roles, and small town life, establishing Lewis as a major American novelist.
Main Street is available to read on-line.

Reading a few chapters again, after not having seen the book for many years, I was struck by Lewis's firm yet delicate writing style. He seems to understand women, has an innate understanding of life in general, and expresses himself lightly and easily without pretentious wordiness (Mercury in Capricorn?)

Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 - the first American writer to be so honoured. In 1925, his novel Arrowsmith, about a young scientist and medical student won the Pulitzer Prize, which he refused to accept. He wrote
"I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."
You can smell Aquarius in every line!

An Aquarian writer worth his salt is going to approach politics at some point. Sinclair Lewis didn't disappoint. He wrote It Can't Happen Here (1935), the book from which the mis-attributed quote mentioned at the top of this post was thought to have originated. It's a tale of newspaperman Doremus Jessup struggling against the fascist regime of US President Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. It serves as a warning that political movements akin to Nazism can come to power in countries such as the USA when people blindly support their leaders.

Oh my!! Was Sinclair Lewis a prophet, or not?

Although he ridiculed the values, the lifestyles, and even the speech of his characters, there is affection behind the irony. In some ways I see in Sinclair Lewis the novelist who describes in words what Norman Rockwell expressed pictorially. Lewis, however, saw things through a rather more jaundiced eye. Both men were Sun Aquarians.

Lewis is said to have taken to excessive drinking, and died alone, in Rome, at the age of 66.

I admire Sinclair Lewis even more now than I did back in the 1950s when I first read an example of his writing. His wisdom and courage still shine through, his work remains as meaningful as ever.

12 noon chart - his time of birth isn't known. Rising sign will not be as shown, nor will exact degree/sign of Moon position.

I suspect Mars so closely conjunct Lewis' Aquarian Sun added vigour to the way he expressed his views. He was said to be always "angry". He tilted at sexism, religious bigotry, political hypocrisy, small town attitudes, materialism, and anything else which offended his code of equality and fairness.

A Scorpio Moon (if he were born before 5:00 PM) would have added passion bordering on obsession into his natal blueprint. Born after 5:00PM Moon in Sagittarius would bring in a philosophical bent and penchant for speaking/writing his mind, no punches pulled (which he undoubtedly displayed). It's possible to make a case for Moon in either sign. I prefer Sagittarius, on balance, that would bring in some elemental Fire - something else that is fairly obvious from his writing.


Wisewebwoman said...

I've always been a fan, read most of his works, T.
His prescience was awesome, he saw the fatal underbelly which is only now becoming visible to more.

James Higham said...

SINCLAIR LEWIS was born 7 February 1885

His central characters are the pioneer, the doctor, the scientist, the businessman, and the feminist.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~~ Yes, the fatal and UGLY, underbelly.

I see SL as the US version of Howard of my favourite novelists. Spring was less ascerbic, and possibly less of a prophet - didn't aim to be though, but then neither did Lewis.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ I thought a certain person might pounce upon that word.


Valus said...

thanks for this.

with or without the moon in sag, sun conjunct mars gives plenty of fire. that square to neptune helps explain his flare for fiction, and for drink.

Anon and Ever said...

On the contrary, I may say: “I like America but I don’t love it”...

I mean that there is a fascinating though wicked side in America and in landscapes you have great things in that Big Country, but I do repeat that there is something truly wicked and unbalanced in this country, and this wickedness I do not like at all...

Twilight said...

Anon and Ever ~~ I know what you mean - and agree. I think maybe Sinclair Lewis felt much the same simply wording it differently.

I usually say that I love the beautiful land itself, but dislike the way it is governed.

Twilight said...

Valus ~~~ Yes - thank you for those important astro additions - much appreciated!