the spirit of main street

Main Street

 

Chapter one manuscript of Main Street, with hand written annotations and changes by Sinclair Lewis.

CHAPTER I
ON a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour-mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nor was she thinking of squaws and portages, and the Yankee fur-traders whose shadows were all about her. She was meditating upon walnut fudge, the plays of Brieux, the reasons why heels run over, and the fact that the chemistry instructor had stared at the new coiffure which concealed her ears.

A breeze which had crossed a thousand miles of wheat-lands bellied her taffeta skirt in a line so graceful, so full of animation and moving beauty, that the heart of a chance watcher on the lower road tightened to wistfulness over her quality of suspended freedom. She lifted her arms, she leaned back against the wind, her skirt dipped and flared, a lock blew wild. A girl on a hilltop; credulous, plastic, young; drinking the air as she longed to drink life. The eternal aching comedy of expectant youth.

It is Carol Milford, fleeing for an hour from Blodgett College.

The days of pioneering, of lassies in sunbonnets, and bears killed with axes in piney clearings, are deader now than Camelot; and a rebellious girl is the spirit of that bewildered empire called the American Middlewest.

Lewis’s prose is so spare, yet glides along  to the end of a page. It is like those walks where lost in thought you suddenly look around and wonder how you got there. I think Main Street is still read in some college classes and as extra credit reading in some high school English classes. I think if it would suddenly be propelled into the public spotlight Main Street would still cause resentment. There are some people who have a political and cultural agenda that is served by preserving the myth of the idyllic small town. No group of people wants to admit that they have problems with pettiness, gossip and back biting. Not that those issues do not exist in cities. But cities have generally presented themselves as something else – The Big Apple, centers of commerce, hubs of culture; thus they’re generally not as hypocritical about being something they’re not. More important than place is the pockets of regressive thinking, the obsessive need to pass petty judgements. You can read Main Street for free – they have plain text, HTML, Kindle and EPUB.

“They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word “dude” is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always peddlers or pants-makers.

“Where does she get all them the’ries?” marveled Uncle Whittier Smail; while Aunt Bessie inquired, “Do you suppose there’s many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are,” and her tone settled the fact that there were not, “I just don’t know what the world’s coming to!”

 

The Shenandoah (or ZR-1) moored to the mast of the airship tender Patoka. c1924.

The Shenandoah (or ZR-1) moored to the mast of the airship tender Patoka. c1924. I came across this great image the other day and just wanted to post it. I’ve posted about the The Shenandoah tragedy before.

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