Arrowsmith (novel)

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Arrowsmith
Arrowsmith.jpg
First edition
Author Sinclair Lewis
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Harcourt Brace & Company
Publication date
1925
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback), Digital, and Audio cassette
Pages 440 pp (paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-451-52691-0 (paperback); ISBN 0-89966-402-4 (hardcover)
OCLC 39210992

Arrowsmith is a novel by American author and playwright Sinclair Lewis that was published in 1925. It won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Lewis but he refused to accept it. Lewis was greatly assisted in its preparation by science writer Dr. Paul de Kruif,[1] who received 25% of the royalties on sales, but Lewis is listed as sole author. Arrowsmith is arguably the earliest major novel to deal with the culture of science. It was written in the period after the reforms of medical education flowing from the Flexner Report on Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1910, which had called on medical schools in the United States to adhere to mainstream science in their teaching and research.

Plot[edit]

Arrowsmith tells the story of bright and scientifically minded Martin Arrowsmith as he makes his way from a small town in the Midwest to the upper echelons of the scientific community. (He is born in Elk Mills, Winnemac, the same fictional state in which several of Lewis's other novels are set.) Along the way he experiences medical school, private practice as the only doctor in tiny Wheatsylvania, North Dakota, various stints as regional health official, and the lure of high-paying hospital jobs. Finally, Arrowsmith is recognized by his former medical school mentor, Max Gottlieb, for a scientific paper he has written and is invited to take a post with a prestigious research institute in New York. The book's climax deals with Dr. Arrowsmith's discovery of a phage that destroys bacteria and his experiences as he faces an outbreak of bubonic plague on a fictional Caribbean island.

Martin's wife, Leora, is the steadying, sensible, self-abnegating anchor of his life. When Leora dies of the plague that Martin is sent to study and exterminate, he seems to lose all sense of himself and of his principles. The novel comes full circle at the end as Arrowsmith deserts his wealthy second wife and the high-powered directorship of a research institute to pursue his dream of an independent scientific career in backwoods Vermont.

Themes[edit]

The book contains considerable social commentary on the state and prospects of medicine in the United States in the 1920s. Dr. Arrowsmith is a progressive, even something of a rebel, and often challenges the existing state of things when he finds it wanting.

This novel has been inspirational for several generations of pre-medical and medical students. There is much agonizing along the way concerning career and life decisions. While detailing Martin's pursuit of the noble ideals of medical research for the benefit of mankind and of selfless devotion to the care of patients, Lewis throws many less noble temptations and self-deceptions in Martin's path. The attractions of financial security, recognition, even wealth and power distract Arrowsmith from his original plan to follow in the footsteps of his first mentor, Max Gottlieb, a brilliant but abrasive bacteriologist.

In the course of the novel Lewis describes many aspects of medical training, medical practice, scientific research, scientific fraud, medical ethics, public health, and of personal/professional conflicts that are still relevant today. Professional jealousy, institutional pressures, greed, stupidity, and negligence are all satirically depicted, and Martin himself is exasperatingly self-involved. But there is also tireless dedication, and respect for the scientific method and intellectual honesty.

Martin Arrowsmith shares some biographical elements with Félix d'Herelle, who is identified in the novel as a co-discoverer of the bacteriophage and represented as having beaten Arrowsmith into publication with his results.

Arrowsmith has been compared with The Citadel by A. J. Cronin (first published after Arrowsmith in 1937), which also deals with the life experiences of a young idealistic doctor who tries to challenge and improve the existing system of medical practice.

De Kruif is known to have drawn inspiration for locations and characters in Arrowsmith from specific sources. The labwork and experimental process of Max Gottlieb was based on the careers of Frederick George Novy and Jacques Loeb. Loeb and De Kruif both worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York and Novy was De Kruif's longtime mentor.[2]

A writer in Public Health Reports commented in 2001 that the novel predicted many of the successes and problems affecting today's medical profession, such as the competing needs and goals of clinicians and medical scientists; commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies developing new medications and vaccines versus the need to seek for scientific truth; political and social difficulties in developing programs that for protecting a community's public health; and the doctor's evolving role in American society.[3]

Pulitzer Prize[edit]

Arrowsmith was awarded the 1926 Pulitzer Prize, but Lewis declined the award. In a letter to the committee, he wrote:

I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."[4]

Film, radio and television adaptations[edit]

The book's only theatrically released adaptation, made in 1931, featured Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes as Arrowsmith and Leora respectively. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

Lux Radio Theater presented a one hour radio adaptation on October 25, 1937 starring Spencer Tracy and Fay Wray.

Helen Hayes reprised her role as Leora in an hour long adaptation on The Campbell Playhouse radio program along with Orson Welles as Arrowsmith. The program aired on February 3, 1939.

Cavalcade of America presented a version on February 23, 1942 with Tyrone Power in the title role.

In the 1950s and '60s, the book was adapted several times for television, and condensed versions of the story were produced for such television shows as Kraft Television Theater and DuPont Show of the Month.

A Czech mini-series was produced in 1999, with Jan Stastny in the titular role and Tereza Brodská as "Leora Tozerova".

It is a popular myth that the rock band Aerosmith took its name from this book. Though the members were required to read this book in school, they repeatedly and adamantly deny any connection. In fact, the name was initially rejected because they thought drummer Joey Kramer got the name from the Sinclair novel. When he explained the different spelling and that the name came to him while listening to Harry Nilsson's album Aerial Ballet, the name was accepted by the other members. [5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fangerau 2006.
  2. ^ Lingeman 2005, p. 206, 206, 222.
  3. ^ Reflections on Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith: the great American novel of public health and medicine, Howard Markel, MD, PhD, Public Health Chronicles in Public Health Reports, July/August 2001, vol.116, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.[1]
  4. ^ Sinclair Lewis Society FAQ2.
  5. ^ Davis, Stephen (1997). Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith. New York.: HarperCollins. p. 106-107. ISBN 978-0-380-97594-5. 
Bibliography