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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 Cabin. 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, and developed a lifelong intrest in nutritional oddities.

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 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 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) - 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)

Selected works:

  • Courtmartialed, 1898 (adventure story)
  • Saved By the Enemy, 1898 (adventure story)
  • The Fighting Squadron, 1898 (adventure story)
  • A Prisoner of Morro, 1898 (adventure story)
  • A Soldier Monk, 1898 (adventure story)
  • A Gauntlet of Fire, 1899 (adventure story)
  • Holding the Fort, 1899 (adventure story)
  • A Soldier's Pledge, 1899 (adventure story)
  • Wolves of the Navy, 1899 (adventure story)
  • Springtime and Harvest, 1901 (as King Midas, 1901)
  • The Journal of Arthur Stirling, 1903
  • Off For West Point, 1903 (adventure story)
  • From Port to Port, 1903 (adventure story)
  • On Guard, 1903 (adventure story)
  • A Strange Cruise, 1903 (adventure story)
  • The West Point Rivals, 1903 (adventure story)
  • A West Point Treasure, 1903 (adventure story)
  • A Cadet's Honor, 1903 (adventure story)
  • Cliff, the Naval Cadet, 1903 (adventure story)
  • The Cruise of the Training Ship, 1903 (adventure story)
  • Prince Hagen: A Phantasy, 1903
  • Bound for Annapolis, or The Trials of a Sailor Boy, c.1903 (written as Clarke Fitch)
  • Manassas: A Novel of the War, 1904
  • A Captain of Industry, 1906
  • The Jungle, 1906
    - Chikago: nykyajan romaani (suom. O. A. Joutsen, 1906)
    - film version 1914, dir. by George Irving, John H. Pratt, starring George Nash, Gail Kane, Julia Hurley, Robert Cummings
  • The Overman, 1907
  • The Industrial Republic A Study of the America of Ten Years Hence, 1907
  • The Metropolis, 1908
    - Maailmankaupunki: romaani (suom. 1911)
  • The Money Changers, 1908
    - Rahanvaihtaja eli Pörssiylimys (suom. Yrjö Sirola, 1915)
    - film version 1920, dir. by Jack Conway, starring Robert McKim, Claire Adams, Roy Stewart, Audrey Chapman, George Webb
  • Samuel, The Seeker, 1909
    - Etsivä Samuel (suom. 1911)
  • Good Health and How We Won It: With an Account of the New Hygiene, 1909 (with M. Williams)
  • Love's Pilgrimage, 1911
  • The Machine, 1911
  • The Fasting Cure, 1911
  • The Naturewoman, 1912
  • Plays Protest, 1912
  • Damaged Goods: The Great Play "Les avaries" by Brieux, Novelized with the Approval of the Author, 1913
    - film version: Damaged Goods (1937), dir. by Phil Goldstone, starring Douglas Walton, Arletta Duncan, Pedro de Cordoba, Esther Dale
  • Sylvia, 1913
  • The Sinclair-Astor Letters, 1914
  • Sylvia's Marriage, 1914
  • The Cry for Justice, 1915 (edited by Upton Sinclair)
  • King Coal, 1917
    - Kuningas kivihiili (suom. J.A. Hollo, 1925)
  • The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation, 1918
  • Jimmie Higgins, 1919
    - Jimmie Higgins (suom. 1924; 1934)
    - film version: Dzhimmi Khiggins (1928), dir. by Georgi Tasin, adapted by Isaak Babel, starring Amvrosi Buchma
  • The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism, 1919
  • 100%: The Story of a Patriot, 1920
    - Sadan prosentin patriootti (suom. 1920) / 100% Erään isänmaanystävän tarina (suom. 1924)
  • Press-Titution: Selections from "The Brass Check", 1920
  • The Crimes of the "Times": A Test of Newsoaoer Decency, 1921
  • The Book of Life: Mind and Bofy, 1921
  • Prince Hagen, 1921 (play)
  • They Call Me Carpenter: A Tale of the Second Coming, 1922
    - Minua sanotaan puusepäksi (suom. 1926)
  • The Book of Life: Love and Society 1922
  • The Goose-step: A Study of American Education, 1923
  • Hell: A Verse Drama and Photoplay, 1924
  • The Goslings: A Study of the Amrrican Schools, 1924
  • The Pot Boiler, 1924
  • Singing Jailbirds: A Drama in Four Acts, 1924
  • The Millennium: A Comedy of the Year 2000, 1924
    - Tuhatvuotinen valtakunta (suom. Vilho Torniainen, 1925) / Tuhatvuotinen valtakunta: nelinäytöksinen näytelmä Upton Sinclairin romaanin mukaan (suom. Heikki Välisalmi, 1928)
  • A Captain of Industry: Being the Story of a Civilized Man, 1924 (2 vols.)
  • Bill Porter: A Drama of O. Henry in Prison, 1925
  • Mammonart: Anb Essay in Economic Interpretation, 1925
    - Taide ja mammona (suom. Johan Helo, 1946)
  • The Spokesman's Secretary; Being the Letters of Mame to Tom, 1926
  • What's the Use of Books, 1926
  • Letters to Judd, an American Workingman, 1926
    - Oikeus ja kohtuus: kirjeitä Juddille (suomentanut Tauno Tainio, 1929)
  • Oil!, 1927
    - Öljyä (suom. Mikko Taipale, 1951)
    - film version: There Will Be Blood (2007), dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Martin Stringer, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ciaran Hinds
  • Money Writes!, 1927
  • Boston, 1928
  • Oil! A Play in Four Acts, 1929 (from the novel by the author)
  • Mountain City, 1930
    - Vuorikaupunki (suom. Lauri Moilanen, 1923)
  • Mental Radio; Does It Work, and How?, 1930
  • Roman Holiday, 1931
  • The Wet Parade, 1931
    - film version 1932, dir. by Victor Fleming, starring Dorothy Jordan, Robert Young, Walter Huston, Lewis Stone, Jimmy Durante, Myrna Lou
  • American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences, 1932
  • Candid Reminiscences, 1932
  • The Way Out: A Solution of Our Present Economic and Social Ills, 1933
  • I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty, 1933
  • Upton Sinclair Presents William Fox, 1933
  • The Way Out: What Lies Ahead for America, 1933
  • An Upton Sinclair Anthology, 1934 (compiled by I. O. Evans)
  • The Book of Love, 1934
  • Epic Plan for California, 1934
  • Depression Island, 1935
  • I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked, 1935
  • Co-op: A Novel of Living Together, 1936
  • The Gnomobile, 1936
    - film version: The Gnome-Mobile (1967), dir. by Robert Stevenson, starring Walter Brennan, Matthew Garber, Karen Dotrice, Richard Deacon
  • Wally for Queen, 1936
  • What God Means to Me, 1936
  • ¡No pasarán! (They Shall Not Pass): A Story of the Battle of Madrid, 1937
    - Taistelu Madridista (suom. N. W-m, 1937)
  • The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America, 1937
  • Our Lady, A Parable for Moderns, 1938
  • Little Steel, 1938
  • Terror in Russia? 1938
  • Marie Antoinette: A Play, 1939
  • Letters to a Millionaire, 1939
  • What Can Be Done about America's Economic Troubles?, 1939
  • World's End, 1940
  • Is the American Form of Capitalism Essential to the American Form of Democracy?, 1940
  • Peace of War in America, a Debate between Upton Sinclair and the Hon. Philip F. LaFollette, 1941
  • Between Two Worlds, 1941
  • Dragon's Teeth, 1942 (Pulitzer Prize)
  •  Wide Is the Gate, 1943
  • The Presidential Agent, 1944
  • Dragon Harvest, 1945
  • A World to Win, 1946
  • A Presidential Mission, 1947
  • A Giant's Strength: Drama in Three Acts, 1947
  • Upton Sinclair Anthology, 1947 (introduction by Irving Stone and Lewis Browne)
  • Limbo on the Loose, 1948
  • One Clear Call, 1948
  • O Shepherd, Speak!, 1949
  • Another Pamela, or, Virtue Still Rewarded: A Story, 1950
  • The Enemy Had It Too: A Play in Three Acts, 1950
  • What Didymus Did (Whether You Believe It or Not), 1950
  • Schenk Stefan!, 1951
  • A Personal Jesus: Portrait and Interpretation, 1952
  • The Return of Lanny Budd, 1953
  • What Didymus Did, 1954 (as It Happened to Didymus, 1958)
  • "Spirits" in American Literature, 1955
  • The Cup of Fury, 1956
  • Theirs be the Guilt: A Novel of the War Between the States, 1959 (rev. ed.)
  • My Lifetime in Letters, 1960
  • Affectionately Eve, 1961
  • The Gnomobile: a Gnice Gnew Gnarrative With Gnonsense But Gnothing Gnaughty, 1962 (illustrated by Marcel Tillard)
  • The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, 1962 (with Maeve Elizabeth Flynn III)
  • Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making & Unmaking of 'Que Viva Mexico!', 1970 (ed. H.M. Geduld, R. Gottesman)
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle: The Lost First Edition, 1988 (edited with an introduction by Gene DeGruson)
  • The Cry For Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest, 1996 (new ed., revised and edited with the cooperation of Edward Sagarin and Albert Teichner)
  • The Land of Orange Groves and Jails: Upton Sinclair's California, 2004 (edited by Lauren Coodley)
  • Unseen Upton Sinclair: Nine Unpublished Stories, Essays and Other Works, 2009 (edited by Ruth Clifford Engs)


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