The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, APRIL 26, 1936
Bad Mr. Lewis:
He Writes Of Hotels
By W. J. Cash
THE MOST curious standards of criticism I have encountered in a fairly long career of reading the critics, were put forward in an article in the American Review (itself a curious little magazine devoted to various shades of Fascist opinion) by Dorothea Brande, author of a current bestseller called, I believe, "Wake Up and Live."
The article in question took the ostensible form of a letter to a high school niece of the fair Dorothea, and set forth that Mr. Sinclair Lewis ought not to be read on the ground, as I remember, that Mr. Lewis (the particular book in question was "Work of Art ") deals with such themes as hotelkeeping--with such vulgar themes as no lady could or would want to know anything about, and that he employs grotesque names in the manner of the early American humorists. This--and that Mr. Lewis and a vast number of other current American writers must not be read because they put characters into their books who neither Miss Brande nor any other proper gentlewoman would have in her drawing room.
I AM NO champion of the hotel business. Nor do I believe that the antics of a flea are as good a thing as the Crucifixion for the exercise of the talents of an artist. But my memory of the matter is that Mr. Lewis dealt with the hotel business in the course of his long concern with portraying American life as Mr. Lewis sees it. And nobody can well deny that the hotel business is decidedly a part--and a central part--of American life as it actually is: that the thing is focal for much that is genuinely characteristic. Mr. Lewis may be right or he may be wrong about the essence of the Americans. But it does not help to clarify that question to decline reading him on grounds that, at bottom, are only a snobbish imitation of a snobbish English gentleman of the Eighteenth century in his attitude for the innkeepers of the district--an attitude which has no rational place in the scene with which Mr. Lewis deals.
AS FOR THE grotesque names--it is difficult to believe that Miss Brande is quite serious. For, of course, neither Mr. Lewis nor his early American models invented the use of such names. Has Miss Brande ever heard of Bottom and Pistol and Dogberry, of Squire Shallow, of Mistress Quickly and Dame Doll Tearsheet? She professes a great preference for the older English authors as against their degenerate moderns. Well, and does she confine herself entirely to the novels of Jane Austen? Does she cut herself off largely from Thackeray and wholly from Dickens? Yes, and from Fielding? Or turning elsewhere--has she never encountered Pantagruel, a name exactly of apiece in its implications with the same Mr. Lewis employs.
AND FOR the business of reading nobody who puts characters into his books that Miss Brande wouldn't want in her prim drawing room--surely that is the most amazing standard ever proposed on earth. If the lovely Dotty actually runs her own reading by it, her library must be very slim indeed. For few of even the most tolerant of us, would receive old John Falstaff, and, in view of his adventures with mistress Ford and Mistress Page, certainly no lady, certainly not Miss Brande. Would Miss Brande have Panurge into her parlor? Or Moll Flanders? Or the Wife of Bath? Or that spiteful Reeve who rode in the same company from Tabard Inn? Or Tom Jones? Or the varlet, Gil Blas? Would she actually sit down to tea with a hussy of the stamp of Helen of the Fair Hair? Or even with such an essentially meretricious person as Becky Sharpe?
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