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Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Updated on February 9, 2014

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Main Street was the novel that put Sinclair Lewis on the map. It was so popular that the first 10,000 copies didn't even last a month.  Over 20 printings had to be made over the first four months, and one publisher was quoted as saying, "Keep running this press to print until it breaks down completely!"

The first run of Main Street sold over 200,000 copies in its First Edition run, and Sinclair Lewis's book made him a household name almost overnight, and began a prolific decade that would make him one of the best known American authors of his time.

Main Street on Amazon

For those of you who want the modern paperback version of the classic Sinclair Lewis novel.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis's classic work of literature, Main Street, chronicles the struggles faced by an independent modern thinking woman, Carol Kennicott. Carol has had an aristocratic upbringing and has been taught to ask questions but her life revolves solely around a small town in Minnesota.

The book begins with Carol at college in the Twin Cities, idealistically dreaming of goals that even her friends at school think are a little extreme. After graduating, she lives in Chicago, Illinois, for a year before taking a job at a public library in St. Paul. After a few years, she meets Dr. Will Kennicott at a gathering at a friend's house.

As Dr. Kennicott and Carol began to date, he told her a great deal about the town he lived in, Gopher Prairie, and he made it sound very exciting with wholesome family values. After getting married and moving to the town, she was shocked to learn it wasn't as rosy the good Dr had made it seem. Seeking to find something positive to do she plans to bring some culture from the city to the small town.

Small towns are skeptical of newcomers and this was a challenge to Carol although as a physician's wife she was considered upper class. Shocking the small town wives discussing relevant topics of the day such as unions and sex she was not a standard upper class socialite wife. Carol tries hard to fit in but can't seem to make it work.

Carol does become friends with the town schoolteacher, Vida Sherwin, who is a member in good standing with the women's clubs, and she appreciates the plans that Carol has for improving the town culture, counseling her toward patience having patience and giving things time..

About this time Carol finds a lawyer, Guy Pollock, to be some sort of a kindred spirit. Pollock is an outcast like her, a reader and a gentle spirit. She makes up an excuse to visit him at his office and begins to fall in love with him but then realizes her true love lies with her husband.

Carol continues to be frustrated with life in Gopher Prairie. And has a baby, Hugh. Carol and her baby spend time with her former maid, who also has a baby boy. The local women find this relationship improper, because of their class differences.

In her boredom, Carole becomes infatuated with a new young man, Erik Valborg, who arrives in town. He is a tailor's apprentice, and Carol finds him sensitive and intelligent. He wants to design women's clothes, and Carol encourages him to follow his dream. Their infatuation with each other comes to a head one night when Erik convinces her to go for a walk in the woods with him.

Her husband drives up and, without a word of jealousy, insists on driving them home. At home, he describes what life would be like for Carol to be married to a young assistant tailor who might never be worth anything as an artist. The next day, Erik leaves town.

Carol takes Hugh and goes to live in Washington D. C. for a couple of years getting a job in the government. While there, she is able to lead the urbane lifestyle that she always imagined: going to concerts, museums, and lectures. She is able to freely talk about progressive social movements, such as women being able to vote.

Kennicott does not try to restrict her freedom and stays faithful writing her while she is away. He visits her after a year but isn't sure whether they are still married. Carol warms to him and they take a trip together to South Carolina.

Dr Kennicott convinces Carol to return to Gopher Prairie. When she does so, she is five months pregnant with their second child, a daughter. Back in Gopher Prairie a second time she is less concerned about the small-mindedness of the people. She accepts small roles with women's groups and spends her time planning a better life for her children.

Copies of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street on eBay

Sometimes you can find a first edition of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. If you're looking for a 1st edition for collecting, look for a dust jacket, otherwise enjoy a great early copy!

Sinclair Lewis on Amazon

Some of the finest works that Sinclair Lewis has to offer. If you haven't read his stuff, I highly recommend it. Influential, controversial, and introducing a new style of American readers, he is a forgotten literary giant.

The Sinclair Lewis Collection (Halcyon Classics)
The Sinclair Lewis Collection (Halcyon Classics)

A great collection that allows you to see a selection of some of Sinclair Lewis's best works.

 
Lewis: Main Street and Babbitt (Library of America)
Lewis: Main Street and Babbitt (Library of America)

Main Street and Babbitt were two of his earliest classic works and they were among the books that made a huge impact. This is a great place to start if you're just getting into Lewis.

 
It Can't Happen Here
It Can't Happen Here

This is what I term the late classic. While most of his books were popular and controversial for the time, generally now Lewis is remembered for his first big three and the dystopia "It Can't Happen Here," which has had a resurgence with the last two decades of U.S. politics.

 
Arrowsmith
Arrowsmith

Along with Main Street and Babbitt, this is the other huge book out of the early three - the big trifecta.

 
Main Street
Main Street

The big one - which made sure Sinclair Lewis could not return to his hometown and it made him one of the giants of his time.

 
Antique book pics
Antique book pics

What Is the Value of Main Street First Edition?

Sinclair Lewis first editions can be very valuable

If you're wondering about the value of a first edition of Main Street, one of the most important things to remember is that the value for this one is all about the dust jacket. There were so many copies printed, that a first edition hardcover of this book is actually quite easy to get a hold of. That means it's a great read, but not practically worth a lot of money from the retail side of things. The early dust jackets to Main Street were basic paper and weren't designed to stand the test of time. For first editions, the value is based on the dust jacket's condition, which as of 2007 is roughly estimated as follows:

Fine: $25,000

Fine/Near Fine: $20,000

Near Fine/Very Good+: $15,000

Very Good+/Very Good: $10,000

Very Good/Very Good-: $6,000

Good: $1,500

Links to More Great Sinclair Lewis Pages!

With all the Sinclair Lewis information you could want?

Lewis Main Street | Other Notes

Other Links of Interest

There are many different copies of "Main Street" without the dust jacket, so unless you can get the dust jacket or just a reading copy, look for a pre-"Main Street" Lewis book to collect if you are a new book hound.

Also if Lewis inspires you to write, take a look at this site on How to Become a Freelance Writer.

Was this lens interesting? Helpful? Let me know what you think, and thanks for visiting!

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    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      Wonderful lens. When I taught sociology in college I used Main Street. I had them do group projects where each person took one major research method and did a study in Gopher Prairie. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, AND he is a brilliant sociologist.