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The Innocents by Sinclair Lewis

Updated on February 9, 2014

The Innocents by Sinclair Lewis

One of the last "early" novels by Sinclair Lewis.  He considered The Innocents a pot boiler, pulp fiction type of wok.  It originally appeared as a series of serialized stories in a women's magazine, then was compiled and edited into novel form.

None of Sinclair Lewis's first six books earned enough money to live on, and he worked a lot of odd jobs in publishing houses, but his short stories for magazines were popular enough that he was able to quit his office jobs and begin to live full time as a writer. 

One More Pot Boiler Before Success

Sinclair Lewis knew how to pander to his public

The Innocents by Sinclair Lewis was one of two novels published in 1917. The full title is The Innocents: A Story for Lovers and was originally a collection of serialized stories for a women's magainze. It was Sinclair Lewis's last distinctive pulp novel.

The Innocents, Plot

The first characters introduced are a couple, born a decade before the American civil war, who now lived in New York City and have married for 40 years. They are Mr. Seth Appleby and Mrs. Sarah Jane Appleby, often called simply 'Father' and 'Mother.'

They have a married daughter, Lulu, who lives with husband and young son in a New York town. Mother and Father are "the innocents" of Sinclair Lewis's 1917 serialized short novel.

After some decades in Pilkings & Son's Shoe Parlor, Seth Appleby has worked his way up to become to Mr. Pilkings a roughly modern equivilant of what Dagwood Bumstead is to Julius Dithers, albeit even more under-appreciated and under-challenged than Dagwood. This is a theme that also appeared in "Our Mr. Wrenn."

During their annual two week vacation on Cape Cod, Father and Mother treat the owners of their vacation home to a snack at Ye Tea Shoppe. Expecting a bill for their light snack to be around ninety cents, Father is astonished to be charged $3.60. He calculates that sum to represent a 500% markup on the food served.

Suddenly, in a moment given as a huge eye opening revelatory moment, the idea of running a tea shop seems an attractive alternative to fitting big city swells with footwear.

They sell all they own and open their own Tea Shop on Cape Cod. It fails. Seth cannot get his old job back. They end up having to wander from New York to West Virginia where they transform manners and morals of a hobo jungle. The hoboes scatter and begin the legend of two rich old eccentrics wandering the world doing good. Ultimately, the Applebys find happiness back in the shoe business in small town Indiana.

If this sounds a little like fluff, Lewis probably wouldn't argue. He had an amazing ability to make a living as a writer because he knew how to quickly provide "fluff" stories that the common public would consume.

Sinclair Lewis often had difficulty describing married couples who were each other's equals or at least contributed something nearly equal as partners in their "divisions of labor." The Innocents is a very notable exception to this, as for any flaws in plot, this novel is one of his best examples of a couple as each other's equals.

Whether you call it travel, flight, wanderlust, it "greener grass syndrome," but one of the most persistent themes in both Sinclair Lewis's personal life and in his work is that sheer movement, sheer trying out something completely new and different, simply hitting the long trail -- all or some of these -- will almost surely bring good results, something better.

Now a rare collectible book, a good copy without a dust jacket can easily sell for around $800.

Great Sinclair Lewis Books from Amazon

There are many amazing works of American author Sinclair Lewis available, and you should enjoy them all! These are some of the classic Lewis novels that are famous and extremely popular. Their influence is impossible to deny

Main Street
Main Street

Main Street was the huge breakthrough work by Lewis that vaulted him from ghostwriter and pot boiler into the mainstream as one of the greatest literary voices of the 20th century.


The extremely popular follow up to Main Street that established Lewis as more than just a literary one hit wonder.

Free Air
Free Air

Free Air was one of the earliest travel novels involving the automobile and definitely takes you back to how different the time was. This was the transition in between pot boiler romances and the classics like Main Street and Babbitt that would make him an American literary icon.


Arrowsmith completes the trifecta of three big time novels, and this even won the Pulitzer Prize, although Lewis declined it.

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

A late classic and great political dystopia that has experienced revival over the past two decades.


Sinclair Lewis links

For more and better Sinclair Lewis info.

eBay: A Great Place to Find First Editions

Plenty of Sinclair Lewis materials, an some very interesting first editons--I even found a very good first edition of "The Innocents" on here, as well as "The Trail of the Hawk."

Amazon Search for Your Favorite Lewis Memorabilia

If you haven't found what you're looking for here, search for whatever you want on Amazon.

Interesting Stuff on Sinclair Lewis

Great YouTube video about Lewis and some of his work.

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