- For other uses, see Dodsworth (disambiguation)
First edition cover
|Publisher||Harcourt Brace & Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Dodsworth is a satirical novel by American writer Sinclair Lewis first published by Harcourt Brace & Company in March 1929. Its subject, the differences between US and European intellect, manners, and morals, is one that frequently appears in the works of Henry James.
Samuel 'Sam' Dodsworth is an ambitious and innovative automobile designer, who builds his fortunes in Zenith, Winnemac. In addition to his success in the business world, he had also succeeded as a young man in winning the hand of Frances 'Fran' Voelker, a beautiful young socialite. While the book provides the courtship as a backstory, the real novel begins upon his retirement. At the age of fifty and facing retirement as a result of his selling of his successful automobile company (The Revelation Motor Company) to a far larger competitor, he sets out to do what he had always wanted to experience: a leisurely trip to Europe with his wife. His forty-one-year-old wife, however, motivated by her own vanity and fear of lost youth, is dissatisfied with married life and small town Zenith, wants to live in Europe permanently as an expatriate, not just visit for a few months to allow Dodsworth to visit some manufacturing plants looking for his next challenge. Passing up advancement in his recently sold company, Dodsworth leaves for Europe with Fran but her motivations to get to Europe become quickly known.
On their extensive travels across Europe they are soon caught up in vastly different lifestyles. Fran falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites, while Sam plays more of an independent tourist. 'With his red Baedeker guide book in hand, he visits such well-known tourist attractions as Westminister Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sanssouci Palace, and the Piazza San Marco. But the historic sites that he sees prove to be far less significant than the American expatriates that he meets on his extensive journeys across Great Britain and continental Europe'  He eventually meets Edith Cortright, an expatriate American widow in Venice, who is everything his wife is not: self-assured, self-confident, and able to take care of herself. As they follow their own pursuits, their marriage is strained to the breaking point. Both Sam and Fran are forced to choose between marriage and the new lifestyles they have pursued. Fran is clearly Lewis' target here while Sam ambles along as a stranger in a strange land until the epiphany of getting on with his life hits him in the last act. Sam Dodsworth is a rare Lewis character: a man of true conviction and purpose. Purpose and conviction can be relied on significantly as the book (and film) concludes with the two main characters going in quite different directions.
Set from late 1925 to late 1927, the novel includes detailed descriptions of Sam and Fran's tours across Europe. In the beginning they leave their mid-Western hometown of Zenith, board a steam liner in New York and cross the Atlantic Ocean. Their first stop is England. They visit the sights in London and are invited by Major Clyde Lockert to join a weekend trip to the countryside. Later on, when Lockert has made an indecent proposal to Fran, they depart for Paris, where she soon engages in a busy social life and he takes up sightseeing. When Sam decides to go back to America for his college reunion in New Haven, Fran spends the summer months on the lakes near Montreux and Stresa, where she has a romance with Arnold Israel. Once Sam has picked her up in Paris, they agree to continue their travels together, touring France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Germany. Their marriage comes to an end, when she falls in love with Kurt von Obersdorf in Berlin. Whereas she stays on with her new love, he criss-crosses Europe in an attempt to cope with his new situation. When Sam happens to run into Edith in Venice, she persuades him to accompany her on a visit to a village in the vicinity of Naples. As Fran's fiancé calls off the wedding, Sam joins his former wife on her voyage back to New York. Only three days later he is back on the next ship to meet Edith in Paris.
The novel was adapted for the stage in 1934 by Sidney Howard and filmed in 1936 by William Wyler. It also provided the basis for a 1950 British television drama starring Ruth Chatterton and Walter Abel, and a 1995 musical adaptation that was staged in Fort Worth, Texas with Hal Linden and Dee Hoty.
- Wenzl, Bernhard. "American Expatriates in Interwar Europe: Sinclair Lewis's Dodsworth". In: The Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter. Vol. 20 (1), Fall 2011, 3 & 15-19.
- "Dodsworth review". Variety.com. 1995-10-29. Retrieved 2011-09-12.