10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful edition of two important American novels,
This review is from: Lewis: Main Street and Babbitt (Library of America) (Hardcover)
These two novels have changed their reason for importance since they were written. When new, they were very current. Full of fashionable slang, capturing the rising tide of America's urbanization, female independence, new machines, greater sexual license, and the pressures all this put on an agrarian culture. Now they capture memories of a time that seems more distant than it is. All of it seems so innocent and simple. Yes, the writing is very good if not great and the characters still do live, but their context is a memory.
Lewis' writing is certainly effective, memorable, and attractive. All reasons to keep reading him and enjoying the stories and thinking about what he has to say. I think what keeps him from being timeless is that it seems to be all about evoking a time and place. There is certainly nothing wrong in doing that; it is just that as the times change the writing may not survive being transplanted into the new context. I think it is a testament to the author's power that he is still read and lives in our present, even if his influence continues to diminish.
At the end of "Main Street" when Carol Kennicott says, "But I have won in this: I've never excused my failures by sneering at my aspirations, by pretending to have gone beyond them." I think we admire her. However, when she continues, "I do not admit that Main Street is as beautiful as it should be! I do not admit that Gopher Prairie is greater or more generous than Europe! I do not admit that dishwashing is enough to satisfy all women! I may not have fought the good fight, but I have kept the faith." any intended irony is made more strange by the added irony of history and cultural change since these words were written. It all feels more distant and even unnecessarily argued given where we are now. Do young people today even wash dishes? Europe generous?
The name Babbitt lives on as a kind of archetype. When someone is called a Babbitt, everyone of a certain age and older knows exactly what is meant. When I grew up in the `60s he was revived as an epithet for our parents' generation and yet the baby boomers became more conformist and materialistic than any previous generation. Maybe that is why we haven't taught George F. Babbitt and his exploits to our children as well as we might have.
The perfect sentence for Babbitt is, I think: "Nothing gave Babbitt more purification and publicity than his labors for the Sunday School." Will anything else help you understand his character more fully?
The Library of America is a largely magnificent series of very handsomely done editions that are of such quality that they are permanent additions to your library. I love having them on my shelf. They are a joy to read, hold, and admire. In addition to the two novels there is a chronology of Lewis' life that serves as a mini-bio, John Hersey provided the notes on the text. A fine edition of two important American novels.