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||Upton Beall Sinclair (1878-1968 )|
American novelist, essayist, playwright, and short story writer, whose works reflect socialistic views. Upton Sinclair stated in 1903 that "My Cause is the Cause of a man who has never yet been defeated, and whose whole being is one all devouring, God-given holy purpose". Among Sinclair's most famous books is The Jungle (1906). It launched a government investigation of the meatpacking plants of Chicago, and changed the food laws of America. Sinclair's works are still read, although writers with political and social ideals are not popular in the West – or East.
"The line of the buildings stood clear-cut and black against the sky; here and there out of the mass rose the great chimneys, with the river of smoke streaming away to the end of the world. It was a study in colours now, this smoke; in the sunset light it was black and brown and grey and purple. All the sordid questions of the place were gone – in the twilight it was a vision of power. To the two who stood watching while the darkness swallowed it up, it seemed a dream of wonder, with its tale of human energy, of things being done, of employment for thousands upon thousands of men, of opportunity and freedom, of life and love and joy. When they came away, arm in arm, Jurgis was saying, 'Tomorrow I shall go there and get a job!'" (from The Jungle)
Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His family came from the ruined Southern aristocracy. His father, Upton Beall Sinclair, was a liquor salesman and an alcoholic – he drank himself to death. Priscilla Harden, Sinclair's mother, came from a relatively wealthy family – one of her sisters was married to a millionaire. She hated alcohol and did not even drink coffee or tea. When Sinclair was ten, the family moved to New York. His father sold hats and spent his evenings in bars. Later Sinclair said: "...as far back as I can remember, my life was a series of Cinderella transformations; one night I would be sleeping on a vermin-ridden sofa in a lodging house, and the next night under silken coverlets in a fashionable home. It all depended on whether my father had the money for that week's board."
Books comforted the young Sinclair, who started to write dime novels at the age of 15. He produced ethnic jokes and hack fiction for pulp magazines to finance his studies at New York City College. In 1897 he enrolled Columbia University, determined to succeed while producing one poorly paid novelette per week. During these years he wrote Clif Faraday stories (as Ensign Clarke Fitch) and Mark Mallory Stories (as Lieutenant Frederick Garrison) for various boys' weeklies. "I kept two secretaries working all the time, taking dictation one day and transcribing the next," Sinclair said. Several of the stories were set in Annapolis Cadet school or West Point. At Columbia, Sinclair taught himself to read French in six weeks. Sinclair's productivity continued through his life: he published almost 100 books.
In 1900 Sinclair married Miss Meta H. Fuller; she was the daughter of his mother's friend. The unhappy marriage, which ended in 1911, led to the writing of Springtime and Harvest (1901, repub. as King Midas), a tale of penniless lovers. Meta was unwilling to agree to a divorce and Sinclair hired a private detective to track down his wife and her lover, the poet Harry Kemp. At that time in New York it required the submission of proof of insanity or adultery. Sinclair, who believed in the free love idea, himself was unable sexually to satisfy his wife. Meta characterized her husband as "conservative by instinct and nature and radical merely by choice."
During the first years of his marriage, Sinclair lived in poverty. After the birth of their son, David, their financial situation became even worse, but Sinclair refused to consider any other work than writing. The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903), a fictional portrait of a failed poet, arose first much attention. It was based on Sinclair's experiences as a scorned writer. By 1904 Sinclair was moving toward a realistic fiction. He read Socialist classics and became a regular reader of the Appeal to Reason, a socialist-populist weekly. However, Sinclair was never an advocate of Communism, but he was frequently pictured as a violent revolutionary. In 1934 he left permanently the Socialist Party.
Financially helped George D. Herron, who was a journalist and a former priest, Sinclair started to write a trilogy about the American Civil War. Manassas, the first part, appeared in 1904. The protagonist is a young Southern man, Allan Montague, who joins the Union army and is involved in the Battle at Manassas. Sinclair did not continue with the other parts. The book did not sell well although it received favorable critics.
As a writer Sinclair gained fame in 1906 with the novel The Jungle, basically a tract against exploitation by factory owners. Jurgis Rudkus, the protagonist, is a young Lithuanian immigrant. He arrives in America dreaming of wealth, freedom, and opportunity. Jurgis finds work from the flourishing, filthy Chicago stockyards. First he likes his work, and is astonished when his comrades hate it. "He had the feeling that this whole huge establishment had taken him under its protection, and had become responsible for his welfare. So guileless was he, and ignorant of the nature of business, that he did not even realize that he had become an employee of Brown's, and that Brown and Durham were supposed by all the world to be deadly rivals--were even required to be deadly rivals by the law of the land, and ordered to try to ruin each other under penalty of fine and imprisonment!" Gradually Jurgis' optimistic world vision fade in the hopeless "wage-slavery" and in the chaos of urban life. He loses his wife, who has been raped by a foreman, and their second child. Jurgis becomes a criminal and then a Socialist.
The book won Sinclair fame and fortune, and led to the
implementation of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. It had the
deepest social impact since Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's
President Theodore Roosevelt received 100 letters a day
demanding reforms in the meat industry and Sinclair was called to the
White House. Originally he had set out to transform the lives of the
exploitet workers, but the public was satisfed that the animals they
ate were hygienically killed. "I aimed at the public's heart, and by
accident I hit in the stomach," Sinclair said. Sinclair accused
industrialists of cannibalism: workers who fell into vats, were
rendered into leaf lard or tinned meat products. However, Roosevelt's
investigators could find no proof of the man-into-lard story.
The proceeds of the book enabled Sinclair to establish and
support the socialist commune Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, N.J.
William James and John Dewey visited the place, and also the aspiring
writer Sinclair Lewis. However, the commune for left-wing writers burnt
down after a year in 1907. Sinclair was again penniless. Suffering from
stomach problems, Sinclair started to follow the teachings of Bernarr
Macfadden, a former professional wrestler, and developed a lifelong intrest in nutritional oddities. Sinclair's Fasting Cure (1911), which was adorned with before-and-after pictures of the author, was dediated to Macfadden.
Sinclair also praised Dr. Albert Abrams and his "oscilloclast" in many magazine pieces and in The Book of Life: Mind and Body (1921). Abrams claimed that with his invention he could diagnose illness by measuring "vibrations" from a patient's blood sample. "Take my advice, whoever you may be that are suffering" Sinclair wrote, "and find out about this new work and help make it known to the world." After Abrams' death in 1923 a committee of scientist opened of one his black boxes and discovered that it contained a condenser, a rheostat, an ohmmeter, and a magnetic interrupter, all wired together but seemed to do nothing.
The Jungle set the propagandist tone for Sinclair's
following works. His aesthetic views Sinclair crystallized in Mammonart
(1925), a history of the relationships between artists and the ruling
class, in which he stated that all art is propaganda. The Jungle was
followed by studies of a group, an industry, or a region. The
Metropolis (1908) was an exploration of fashionable New York
society. In King Coal (1917), a story about Colorado miner's
strike of 1914, a rich young man, Hal Warner, becomes an advocate of
Oil! (1927) is often considered among Sinclair's major books. Bunny Ross, the protagonist, is the son of a rich oil magnate and his friend, Paul Watkins, the son of a poor goat breeder. Bunny becomes a "red millionaire" and Paul a strike leader. Boston (1928) was about the Sacco-Vanzetti case, which caused widespread outrage in the 1920s. A number of writers also defended these two executed immigrant anarchists, including Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, and Michael Gold. In Jimmie Higgins (1919) Sinclair portrayed the dilemma of American leftists who felt temporarily obliged to support the ruling classes of England and France during the World War I. Sinclair had separated from the Socialist Party, which opposed American entry into the conflict and President Wilson's foreign policy. The author later changed his views of the war. During the Cold War Sinclair started correspondence with Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to provide details for a novel about the development of the atomic bomb.
"Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate. And this impulse may be harmless, when it is genuine. But what are we to say when we see the formulas of heroic self-deception made use of by unheroic self-indulgence? What are we to say when we see asceticism preached to the poor by fat and comfortable retainers of the rich? What are we to say when we see idealism become hypocrisy, and the moral and spiritual heritage of mankind twisted to the knavish purposes of class-cruelty and greed? What I say is--Bootstrap-lifting!" (from The Profits of Religion, 1918)
In 1912 Sinclair traveled in Europe with his son, meeting among others in Italy his old friend George D. Herron. Sinclair's divorce from Meta was arranged in Holland. After returning to America Sinclair married Miss Mary Craig Kimbrough, with whom he lived in until her death in 1961. His third wife, the former Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Willis, died in 1967.
After Rockefeller -organized militia had shot in Ludlow, Colorado, miners who were on strike, Sinclair demonstrated against John D. Rockefeller Jr. Sinclair was arrested for a short time. From 1915 Sinclair lived in Pasadena, California and later in Buckeye, Arizona. At the age of 24 he joined the Socialist Party. He was also a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. His views and writing influenced deeply the Icelandic writer Halldór Kiljan Laxness, whom he met in the late 1920s. (Laxness won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1955.) In 1934 Sinclair ran for the governor of California, got nearly 900,000 votes, but failed on election. The conservative Los Angeles Times had launched a campaign in which Sinclair was pictured as a supporter of free love and the nationalization of children.
The rest of the decade he spent in other activities than writing novels – he also experimented with telepathy and wrote a book about psychic phenomena, Mental Radio (1930). Sinclair's wife Mary Craig claimed that she had telepathic abilities. "Mrs. Sinclair would seem to be one of the rare persons who have telepathic power in a marked degree and perhaps other supernormal powers," affirmed the psychologist William McDougall in the introduction for the book, but Albert Einstein in his preface to the German edition was more cautious: "On the other hand, it is out of the question in the case of so conscientious an observer and writer as Upton Sinclair that he is carrying on a conscious deception of the reading world; his good faith and dependability are not to be doubted. So if somehow the facts here set forth rest not upon telepathy, but upon some unconscious hypnotic influence from person to person, this also would be of high psychological interest."
Sergey Eisenstein and his crew, Eduard Tisse and Grigorii Alexandrov, tried to make movies in the U.S. and Mexico, and found sponsors in Sinclair and his wife. Sinclair had established in the 1920s a number of associations with representatives of the Soviet film industry. Under the working title ¡Que Viva México! he started a film project with the famous Russian director. "It has been a little difficult to get the natives to pose before the camera because it is a new thing to them and they are not sure whether it is modest or not," wrote Sinclair's brother-in-law, Hunter Kimbrough, from Mexico. "The first day we were threatened by a group of men who said our cameras were machines that enabled us to look through women's clothes." The project ended in quarrels for cost overruns and personal and aesthetic conflicts – the Sinclairs were forced to mortgage their home due overspending. Sinclair ceased funding after Eisenstein had been shooting over a year and produced over two hundred thousand feet of film rushes, with a running time of some forty hours. Eisenstein returned in 1932 to the Soviet Union, where he was denounced by Stalin. With Sinclair's permission, Sol Lesser directed two short films from the footage, Thunder over Mexico (1933) and Day of the Dead (1934); Mary Seton made Time in the Sun (1939-40), and W. Kruse Mexican Symphony (1941). In 1954 Sinclair handed over the footage to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
The Flivver King (1937), one of Sinclair's major novels form the 1930s, was used in the union organizing campaign at the Ford Motor Company. In the 1940s Sinclair reached again his reading audience with his Lanny Budd series, consisting of four million words in 11 contemporary historical novels. Its hero, the illegitimate son of a munitions tycoon, always manages to find himself in the middle of decisive moments in history. He travels the world, meets such figures as Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, and Franklin Roosevelt, and is involved in international political intrigues. The first novel in the series, World's End (1940) narrates the events of Budd's life between 1913 and 1919. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson are among the real-life characters of the story. Sinclair's friend George D. Herron pops up in Between the Two Worlds (1941), in which Lanny interviews Mussolini and reads such Communist literature as Lenin's The State and Revolution. Dragon's Teeth (1942), about the rise of Nazism in Germany, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1943 – this was Sinclair's only major literary award. Sinclair compared Hitler's appearance to Charlie Chaplin, except Hitler has no sense of humor. Lanny grows older and becomes the crusading Presidential agent and friend of powerful Democrats. The final novel, The Return of Lanny Budd (1953) deals with hostile sentiment in the USA toward post-war Soviet Russia.
From Pasadena Sinclair suddenly moved in 1953 to a remote Arizona village of Buckeye. In 1960 Sinclair published My Lifetime in Letters. His autobiography appeared in 1962. "In politics and economics," he said, "I believe what I have believed ever since I discovered the Socialist movement at the beginning of this century." Sinclair died in his sleep on November 25, 1968 at the Somerset Valley Nursing Home. His manuscripts and books are at the Lilly Library, Indiana University. Throughout his life Sinclair was famous for his careless attitude toward his appearance – his wife once complained that during their 50-year marriage he bought only one suit.
For further reading: Upton Sinclair by F. Dell (1927); This Is Upton Sinclair by J. Harte (1938); Upton Sinclair: Piirteitä hänen elämästään by Mikko Taipale (1950); Upton Sinclair: An Annotated Checklist by R. Gottesman (1973); Upton Sinclair, An American Rebel by Leon A. Harris (1975); Upton Sinclair by Jon A. Yoder (1975); Critics on Upton Sinclair, compiled by Abraham Blinderman (1975); Upton Sinclair by W. Bloodworth (1977); Art for Social Justice: The Major Novels of Upton Sinclair by R.N. Mokerjee (1988); Upton Sinclair: A Descriptive Annotated Bibliography by John Ahouse (1994); Upton Sinclair, the Forgotten Socialist by Ivan Scott (1997); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 29th Century, Vol. 4, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair by Anthony Arthur (2006); Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual by Lauren Coodley (2013) - See also: Sinclair Lewis; Xiao Hong - Film adaptations: The Adventurer (1917); The Money Changers (1920); Marriage Forbidden (1938); The Gnome-Mobile (1967) - Lanny Budd series: World's End (1940); Between Two Worlds (1941); Dragon's Teeth (1942); Wide Is the Gate (1943); The Presidential Agent (1944); Dragon Harvest (1945); A World to Win (1946); A Presidential Mission (1947); One Clear Call (1948); O Shepherd, Speak! (1949); The Return of Lanny Budd (1953) - Novels as Clarke Fitch: Courtmartialed (1898); Saved by the Enemy (1898); A Soldier Monk (1899); A Soldier's Pledge (1899); Wolves of the Navy (1899); Clif, the Naval Cadet (1903); The Cruise of the Training Ship (1903); From Port to Port (1903); A Strange Cruise (1903)