LEWIS, Sinclair (1885-1951). Babbitt. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1922.
8o. Original blue cloth; dust jacket (a little chipping at edges, spine panel slightly age-darkened); quarter morocco folding case. Provenance: H.L. Mencken (presentation inscription from the author).
A REMARKABLE ASSOCIATION COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION
PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED BY LEWIS TO H.L. MENCKEN on the front free endpaper: "To H.L. Mencken One for the money Two for the show-- Cheers! Sinclair Lewis." Lewis's inscription, perhaps an act of self-mockery, sums-up the full-on pursuit of success which defines Babbitry, and alludes to the amazing pre-publication hype for the book. This is the second issue, with "Supposing Lyle and I..." at p. 49, line 4.
A month before the novel appeared, Harcourt, Brace sent out a letter quoting a letter which Mencken had written to Lewis, along with Mencken's enthusiastic review of the novel, claiming to "know of no other American novel that more accurately presents the real America." Mencken's criticisms of American society in fact were the main catalyst for the novel. Mark Schorer, Lewis's biographer, calls his relationship with Mencken "the most influential literary relationship [Lewis] was to experience."
Lewis had dedicated Elmer Gantry to Mencken, and in a letter credited him for giving Babbit its direction: "You ask about the new novel--which won't be out till next September. It's curiously associated with yourself. A year ago in a criticism of Main Street you said that what ought to be taken up now is the American city--not NY or Chi but the cities of 200,000 to 500,000--the Baltimores and Omahas and Buffaloes and Birminghams, etc. I was startled to read it, because that was precisely what I WAS then planning, and am now doing. But your piece helped me to decide on this particular one as against one or two others which, at the time, I also wanted to do. I think you'll like it--I hope the Christ you do. All our friends are in it--the Rotary Club, the popular preacher, the Chamber of Commerce, the new bungalows, the bunch of businessmen jolliers lunching at the Athletic Club. It ought to be at least 200 American, as well as forward-looking, right-thinking, and go-getterish. The central character is a Solid Citizen, one George F. Babbitt, real estate man, who has a Dutch Colonial House on Floral Heights...The book is not altogether satire. I've tried like hell to keep the boob Babbitt from being merely burlesque--hard tho that is at times, when he gets to orating before the Booster's Club lunches. I've tried to make him human and individual, not a type. Of this I'm sure--if you don't like the book, nobing in the entire Vercingen will" (quoted in Schorer). At a later press conference, Lewis proclaimed: "If I had the power, I'd make Henry Mencken the Pope of America."
Laid in is a brief typed letter initian signed by Mencken, 29 December 1938, to "Bee: I've had this long enough - maybe it will be of use to you. Besides, I need the room on my shelves for more bottles. M." AN OUTSTANDING ASSOCIATION COPY.