When Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, 37, was published a few months ago, it was met with mostly positive reactions.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
H. L. Mencken, 42, literary critic for Smart Set, found the main character to be a symbol of everything wrong with American culture:
It is not what [Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.”
In The New Statesman, Rebecca West, just turned 30, declared that Babbitt “has that something extra, over and above, which makes the work of art.”
Fellow novelist H. G. Wells, 56, told Lewis that it is
one of the greatest novels I have read…I wish I could have written Babbitt.”
Somerset Maugham, 48, wrote to say that he felt that
it is a much better book than Main Steet.”
Edith Wharton, 60, to whom the novel is dedicated, wrote from one of her villas in France,
I wonder how much of it the American public, to whom irony seems to have become unintelligible as Chinese, will even remotely feel?…Thank you again for associating my name with a book I so warmly admire and applaud.”
But now in December, Edmund Wilson, 27, has his say in Vanity Fair, comparing Lewis unfavorably to Dickens and Twain, and stating that Lewis’ literary gift “is almost entirely for making people nasty.”
Last month The Dial published “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, 34, and in this month’s issue the publisher, Scofield Thayer, just turned 33, announces that Eliot is the second recipient of the magazine’s annual Dial Prize of $2,000.
In the same issue, Eliot has a piece about the death of English vaudeville star, Marie Lloyd, aged 52, which depressed Eliot terribly. In October, almost 100,000 mourners attended her funeral in London.
This issue of The Dial also contains Edmund Wilson’s praise of “The Waste Land,” an in-depth piece about Eliot’s importance as a poet:
He feels intensely and with distinction and speaks naturally in beautiful verse…The race of the poets—though grown rare—is not yet quite dead.”
Eliot is pleased with Wilson’s review, but unhappy that Wilson called his fellow ex-pat Ezra Pound, 37, an “imitator of [Eliot]…extremely ill-focused.” Eliot considers Pound to be the greatest living English-language poet.
In The Nation this month, Dial editor Gilbert Seldes, 29, is also enamored of “The Waste Land,” comparing it to Ulysses by James Joyce, 40, published earlier this year:
That ‘The Waste Land’ is, in a sense, the inversion and the complement of Ulysses is at least tenable. We have in Ulysses the poet defeated, turning outward, savoring the ugliness which is no longer transmutable into beauty, and, in the end, homeless. We have in ‘The Waste Land’ some indication of the inner life of such a poet. The contrast between the forms of these two works is not expressed in the recognition that one is among the longest and one among the shortest of works in its genre; the important thing is that in each the theme, once it is comprehended, is seen to have dictated the form.”
Eliot sends Seldes a nice note thanking him for the review.
Outlook magazine, on the other hand, features “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents,” asking parents and society as a whole to be more understanding of these dancing females who spend “a large amount of time in automobiles.”
First described by American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 26, the flapper grows up in his story in this month’s Metropolitan magazine, “Winter Dreams,” about a midwestern boy in love with a selfish rich girl, who marries someone all wrong for her. When writing the story, Fitzgerald cut some descriptions to save them for his third novel, which he is working on now.
The December Smart Set has the first short story by one of America’s most-published and most popular poets, Dorothy Parker, 29, whose “Such a Pretty Little Picture” describes a man living a monotonous life in the suburbs, just cutting his hedge. Similar to her best friend, fellow Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley, 33, who lives in Scarsdale with his wife and two sons.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.