- Historic Sites
With the publication of his acid-etched but enormously popular portrait of the American small town, Sinclair Lewis emerged as the spokesman for a new literary generation
October 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 6
The comparison of Main Street with Madame Bovary became a commonplace among American as well as French critics. Stuart Sherman in his little pamphlet was perhaps the first critic to work out a systematic comparison of the two novels, and two years later, in Mammonart, Upton Sinclair would work out his. Lewis himself, defending the originality of his work, protested that he had not read Madame Bovary when he wrote Main Street as, similarly, he protested that he had not read Spoon River Anthology . There were many lovely extravagances that told Lewis he was now among the great, and while one reviewer went so far as to compare him with those geniuses in the novel of provincial manners, Jane Austen and George Eliot, no one was foolish enough to call Main Street the American Middlemarch. Perhaps someone should have risked the fatuity, but stressing the adjective, American, and thus suggesting perhaps that, with our famous lack of social and cultural and moral complexity, this was as near as an American novelist could come to such a work, and that what Lewis’ book seemed to tell Americans, and Europeans, was that all Americans everywhere make their march down the middle of Main Street, and that this is indeed the poverty and the pain of our lives.
*James’s lament is the most famous (see page 9). [Ed.]