On the occasion of the 133rd birthday of Sinclair Lewis, Nobel-winning novelist of works like Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, It Can’t Happen Here and Arrowsmith, all of which deal with the tension between rote-loving mainstream society and unique thinking, here is an excerpt from Main Street, which I originally cited in 2011 at the LGBTQ news site Towleroad.
This blurb deals with a small town reaction to a man who doesn’t fit gender norms:
“Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, ‘Oh, have you folks heard about this young fellow that’s just come to town that the boys call ‘Elizabeth’? He’s working in Nat Hicks’s tailor shop. I bet he doesn’t make eighteen a week, but my! isn’t he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and oh, the lugs he puts on–belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin, and socks to match his necktie, and honest–you won’t believe this, but I got it straight–this fellow, you know he’s staying at Mrs. Gurrey’s punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that?
‘And him nothing but a Swede tailor–Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he’s a smart needle-pusher, at that) and he tries to let on that he’s a regular city fellow. They say he tries to make people think he’s a poet–carries books around and pretends to read ’em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a regular United States Senator; and Myrtle–she’s a devil, that girl, ha! ha!–she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d’you think he said?
‘He said he didn’t find any intellectual companionship in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And they say he’s the most awful mollycoddle–looks just like a girl. The boys call him ‘Elizabeth,’ and they stop him and ask about the books he lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they’re kidding him. Oh, I think it’s just TOO funny!'”
If you haven’t read this work, or anything by Lewis, I really suggest that you do.