Dodsworth: Two Themes in One Cover

Dodsworth is the story an American businessman’s midlife crisis.

Sam Dodsworth built a successful automobile manufacturing business while his wife ran the house and their social life. When the company is bought out in the late ’20s, Fran suggests they go off to Europe to have some fun.

They are hardly on the boat before Sam realizes Fran is a social-climbing snob. Fun to her is infidelty to Sam.

Gradually Sam realizes Fran’s not as intelligent, sophisticated, or cultured as he thought either. It comes as a shock to him when he realizes, “She’s my child.”

Sinclair Lewis devotes half his attention to the Dodsworths’ marriage and the other half to exploring the differences between American and European cultures. He makes both threads interesting, but he doesn’t make them mesh.

The failure of the Dodworth marriage has nothing to do with Sam’s patriotism or Fran’s Europhilia. Besides that, Lewis makes Sam out to be ignorant — a pose that’s at odds with his Yale University education and business success.

Sam’s problem isn’t ignorance but infatuation.

Lewis develops both his themes well enough to hold your attention, but not well enough to make you really care about either the culture wars or Sam’s broken heart.

By Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt, Brace, 1929
1929 #2 bestseller
377 pages
My grade: B+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Kingsblood Royal is timeless but irritating

About 70 pages into Kingsblood Royal, Sinclair Lewis throws a bombshell into his boring characters’ boring lives—and the rest of the book is a real page-turner.

Capt. Neil Kingsblood has come home from World War II to a comfortable, suburban, middle-America life. Neil’s father sets him to chasing down his ancestors. Neil discovers his father’s forebears were ordinary yeomen, not aristocrats as his father had hoped.

He decides to look up his mother’s French ancestors.

The state historical society supplies copies of a letter by Xavier Pic, one of Neil’s ancestors who described himself as “a full-blooded Negro from Martinique.” That ancestry makes Neil a Negro by 1940s law most places in the US.

Should he keep quiet for the sake of his family or reveal his findings?

To help him decide, Neil makes it his business to meet Negroes and find out what it is like to be “colored.”

Kingsblood Royal demonstrates that prejudice arises from fear. While making that point, however, Lewis continually makes snide remarks about his white characters, ridiculing their intelligence, their perceptivity, their motives. After a while, the comments become irritating.

Even in race relations, few things are as black-and-white as Lewis makes them.

Kingsblood Royal
By Sinclair Lewis
Random House, 1947
348 pages
#8 on the 1947 bestseller list
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni