Lewis, (Harry) Sinclair (1885-1951), American novelist, whose naturalistic style and choice of subject matter was much imitated by later writers. He replaced the traditionally romantic and complacent conception of American life with one that was realistic and even bitter. Lewis was born in Sauk Center, Minnesota, on February 7, 1885, and was educated at Yale University. From 1907 to 1916 he was a newspaper reporter and a literary editor.
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In Main Street (1920) Lewis first developed the theme that was to run through his most important work: the monotony, emotional frustration, and lack of spiritual and intellectual values in American middle-class life. His novel Babbitt (1922) mercilessly characterizes the small-town American businessman who conforms blindly to the materialistic social and ethical standards of his environment; the word “Babbitt,” designating a man of this type, has become part of the language. In Arrowsmith (1925) Lewis exposed the lack of scientific idealism sometimes found in the medical profession; Elmer Gantry (1927) portrays a type of hypocritical and mercenary religious leader. In another of these crusading novels, Dodsworth (1929), Lewis depicts the egotistic, pretentious married woman sometimes found in American upper-middle-class circles. Among his later works are It Can’t Happen Here (1935), the chilling story of a future revolution leading to Fascist control of the U.S., and Kingsblood Royal (1947), a novel on racial intolerance.
Lewis was fascinated by the theater. He collaborated on a dramatization of Dodsworth (1934) with the American playwright Sidney Howard and did his own dramatization of It Can’t Happen Here (1936). Lewis died near Rome on January 10, 1951. From Main Street to Stockholm, a collection of his letters, was published posthumously in 1952. His reputation was international. Although he generally scoffed at prizes and refused the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for Arrowsmith, Lewis accepted the 1930 Nobel Prize in literature. He was the first American ever to receive this award.