About the Author
American novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, and juvenile book writer, whose works reflect socialistic views. 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), to which the public reacted so violently that it launched a government investigation of the meatpacking plants of Chicago, and changed the food laws of America. His works are still read, although writers with political and social ideals are not popular in the West - or East.
Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His family came from the ruined Southern aristocracy. His father, Upton Beall Sinclair, was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism shadowed his son's childhood. 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 and 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, who 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. 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.
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, a report on the dirty conditions in the Chicago meat-packing industry. In the story Jurgis Rudkus, a young Lithuanian immigrant, arrives in America dreaming of wealth, freedom, and opportunity. He 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' 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 Cabin. Its proceeds 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.
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 labor unions. 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 leftist 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 the war and President Wilson's foreign policy. The author later regretted his support 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.
In 1912 Sinclair traveled in Europe with his son, meeting among others in Italy his old friend George D. Herron. Sinclair's wife had found a lover; the marriage ended in divorce, which was arranged in Holland. After returning to America Sinclair married Miss Mary Craig Kimbroughwith, 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. 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 run for the governor of California. He 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 followed Sergey Eisenstein who tried to make movies in the U.S. and Mexico. Que Viva Mexico, Sinclair's film project with the Russian director, ended in quarrels and Stalin's denunciation of Eisenstein.
In the 1940s Sinclair reached again his reading audience with his Lanny Budd series, consisting 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) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1943 - this was Sinclair's only major literary award. Sinclair examined Germany's descent into Nazism during 1930s to 1934, and 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, and 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.
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