Arrowsmith stumbles and bogs down

Sinclair Lewis says Arrowsmith is the biography of a young man who was “in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back all his life and bogged himself in every obvious morass.”

The novel also stumbles and bogs down.

Arrowsmith in laboratory graces 1952 dust jacket of novel


Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

©1925. 1952 ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, includes a biographical sketch of Sinclair Lewis and “How Arrowsmith was written,” both by Barbara Grace Spayd. 464 pp. 1925 bestseller #7. My grade: B.


A drunken doctor lets Martin Arrowsmith read his Gray’s Anatomy and points him toward medical school.

Martin takes a BA, a MD, and a wife. He wants to do research, but is forced into general practice to support Leora.

He’s hopeless as a doctor: He has no people skills.

A lucky discovery leads him into a research job under the great Max Gottlieb.

Martin wants respect among scientists, but he’s willing to throw even that away when his emotions are touched.

An epidemic on a Caribbean Island gives Martin a chance to run a controlled test of a vaccine. Martin promises Gottlieb that  he won’t give in to demands to supply it to all residents.

Lewis makes Martin, Leora, and Gottleib plausible, if not particularly likeable. He sketches minor characters with broad strokes of sarcasm.

The total effect is neither serious enough or funny enough to satisfy today’s reader, but the Pulitzer committee thought the novel worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Citadel Is Built of Saccharine and Clichés

The Citadel is a moderately entertaining tale about an idealistic young doctor who almost wrecks his life trying to get rich quick.

Andrew Manson starts his medical practice in a Welch coal-mining village. He quickly realizes his medical training was both inadequate and often blatantly wrong. He also falls in love and weds the village teacher.

Andrew finds medicine has more quacks than skilled professionals. He sees the quacks making money and tries their tactics with great success until one of those quacks botches a simple surgery and lets Andrew’s patient die.

Trained as a doctor, author A. J. Cronin spins his tale with the sureness of someone who knows the field. That knowledge helps conceal the weak plot, though it can’t do anything about Cronin’s ham-fisted foreshadowing.

Also, Cronin is less than adept at developing characters. Cronin tells instead of showing what makes his people tick. It’s not clear, for example, what triggers dramatic Andrew’s plunge into pursuit of wealth.

The Citadel comes off as cliché-ridden and saccharine, but things could be worse. About 20 years later, Morton Thompson will a very similar story, add an ample dose of sex, and turn it into a longer, duller book.

The Citadel
By A. J. Cronin
Grossett & Dunlap, 1938
401 pages
#3 on the 1937 and #2 on the 1938 bestseller lists
My grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni