Tag Archives: Sinclair


Making Literary History, Part II

Writing in The Bookman, Professor William Lyon Phelps expressed his appreciation for Gene Stratton-Porter’s work, but he also made plain his sense of its limitations. It’s not “idealism” that mars her novels, he writes, but “sentimentality,” which reigns over the average human breast even as it revolts the “elite” minority. Phelps did not consider Stratton-Porter […]

Gene Stratton-Porter Pic

Quotable: Gene Stratton-Porter

Like Upton Sinclair, Gene Stratton-Porter struck a chord with readers that literary critics found dissonant. As quoted in Judith Reick Long’s 1990 biography, Stratton-Porter puzzled over their disdain: A thing utterly baffling to me is why the life history of the sins and shortcomings of a man [as in, person] should constitute a book of […]


Stolen Lives

It should be clear by now that Henry James and Upton Sinclair are hardly the only 20th century authors to enjoy generous, wide-ranging afterlives in contemporary works. On the spectrum of life-to-lit authenticity, author Lawrence Thornton’s fictional treatment of Joseph Conrad falls somewhere between Chris Bachelder’s wildly imaginative rumpus with Sinclair, U.S.!, and two relatively […]


1907: Gentleman Prefer Blondes…?

By 1907, it had become clear just how the earlier Russo-Japanese War had changed the game. Russia’s defeat (just a few months after Anton Chekhov succumbed to tuberculosis) influenced, though it did not cause, the limited revolution of 1905, itself a forerunner to the sweeping revolution of 1917. The war also delayed the second Hague […]

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Quotable: Joseph Conrad

Troubled thoughts from a stormy mind, venting itself in an 1894 letter to distant cousin, fellow writer and confidant Marguerite Poradowska: But you are afraid of yourself; of the inseparable being forever at your side – master and slave, victim and executioner – who suffers and causes suffering. That’s how it is! One must drag […]


Warts and All

The ugliest part of the novels and nonfiction masterworks of the early 20th century are not, in the end, what they describe – all kinds of human cruelty, crushing poverty, corruption and violence – but their authors’ limitations, the muck they failed to rake from their minds. In 1906, just five years after the publication […]


Assassinating Upton Sinclair

The real Upton Sinclair spent a long life refusing to abandon improbable dreams, whereas his fictional counterpart, as vividly imagined by author Chris Bachelder, also refuses to stay dead. In Bachelder’s U.S.!, a 2006 novel-as-collection of stories, songs, letters, interviews and memos – not to forget one hilarious, impossible course syllabus – Sinclair dies violently […]

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Friday Fun: Who Killed Lard?

On a recent Friday, Planet Money‘s Robert Smith and Zoe Chace fingered Upton Sinclair as no less than a cold-blooded (vegetarian) killer. His victim? Lard. The context: The meatpacking industry was huge at the turn of the century. Think Chicago. Think slaughterhouses. And they marketed the hell out of lard. It was in every household […]

Original Corn Flakes

1906: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

It’s difficult to understand Upton Sinclair’s character without dipping into the 20th century history of cereal. And it’s impossible to tell the story of two brothers’ accidental invention of what would be marketed as corn flakes in 1906 without also talking about God and sex. John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg were two of a […]


Life in Brief: Upton Sinclair

20 Sept. 1878: Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. born in Baltimore, Maryland to a troubled family 1892:                  … earns $25 when a magazine accepts his first short story for publication 1893:                  … enrolls at the City College at just fourteen years of age 1900:                  … completes his first novel in log cabin near Lake Massawippi, marries Meta Fuller 1901:                  … […]