The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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Vida Sherwin, Ella Stowbody, the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, Raymie

Wutherspoon, Dr. Terry Gould, and four new candidates: flirtatious Rita

Simons, Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon and Myrtle Cass, an uncomely but

intense girl of nineteen. Of these fifteen only seven came to the first

meeting. The rest telephoned their unparalleled regrets and engagements

and illnesses, and announced that they would be present at all other

meetings through eternity.
Carol was made president and director.
She had added the Dillons. Despite Kennicott's apprehension the dentist

and his wife had not been taken up by the Westlakes but had remained

as definitely outside really smart society as Willis Woodford, who was

teller, bookkeeper, and janitor in Stowbody's bank. Carol had noted Mrs.

Dillon dragging past the house during a bridge of the Jolly Seventeen,

looking in with pathetic lips at the splendor of the accepted. She

impulsively invited the Dillons to the dramatic association meeting, and

when Kennicott was brusque to them she was unusually cordial, and felt

virtuous.
That self-approval balanced her disappointment at the smallness of the

meeting, and her embarrassment during Raymie Wutherspoon's repetitions

of "The stage needs uplifting," and "I believe that there are great

lessons in some plays."


Ella Stowbody, who was a professional, having studied elocution in

Milwaukee, disapproved of Carol's enthusiasm for recent plays. Miss

Stowbody expressed the fundamental principle of the American drama: the

only way to be artistic is to present Shakespeare. As no one listened to

her she sat back and looked like Lady Macbeth.

III


The Little Theaters, which were to give piquancy to American drama three

or four years later, were only in embryo. But of this fast coming revolt

Carol had premonitions. She knew from some lost magazine article that

in Dublin were innovators called The Irish Players. She knew confusedly

that a man named Gordon Craig had painted scenery--or had he written

plays? She felt that in the turbulence of the drama she was discovering

a history more important than the commonplace chronicles which dealt

with senators and their pompous puerilities. She had a sensation of

familiarity; a dream of sitting in a Brussels cafe and going afterward

to a tiny gay theater under a cathedral wall.


The advertisement in the Minneapolis paper leaped from the page to her

eyes:
The Cosmos School of Music, Oratory, and

Dramatic Art announces a program of four

one-act plays by Schnitzler, Shaw, Yeats,

and Lord Dunsany.
She had to be there! She begged Kennicott to "run down to the Cities"

with her.


"Well, I don't know. Be fun to take in a show, but why the deuce do you

want to see those darn foreign plays, given by a lot of amateurs? Why

don't you wait for a regular play, later on? There's going to be some

corkers coming: 'Lottie of Two-Gun Rancho,' and 'Cops and Crooks'--real

Broadway stuff, with the New York casts. What's this junk you want

to see? Hm. 'How He Lied to Her Husband.' That doesn't listen so bad.

Sounds racy. And, uh, well, I could go to the motor show, I suppose. I'd

like to see this new Hup roadster. Well----"


She never knew which attraction made him decide.
She had four days of delightful worry--over the hole in her one good

silk petticoat, the loss of a string of beads from her chiffon and brown

velvet frock, the catsup stain on her best georgette crepe blouse. She

wailed, "I haven't a single solitary thing that's fit to be seen in,"

and enjoyed herself very much indeed.
Kennicott went about casually letting people know that he was "going to

run down to the Cities and see some shows."


As the train plodded through the gray prairie, on a windless day with

the smoke from the engine clinging to the fields in giant cotton-rolls,

in a low and writhing wall which shut off the snowy fields, she did not

look out of the window. She closed her eyes and hummed, and did not know

that she was humming.
She was the young poet attacking fame and Paris.
In the Minneapolis station the crowd of lumberjacks, farmers, and

Swedish families with innumerous children and grandparents and paper

parcels, their foggy crowding and their clamor confused her. She felt

rustic in this once familiar city, after a year and a half of

Gopher Prairie. She was certain that Kennicott was taking the wrong

trolley-car. By dusk, the liquor warehouses, Hebraic clothing-shops,

and lodging-houses on lower Hennepin Avenue were smoky, hideous,

ill-tempered. She was battered by the noise and shuttling of the

rush-hour traffic. When a clerk in an overcoat too closely fitted at the

waist stared at her, she moved nearer to Kennicott's arm. The clerk was

flippant and urban. He was a superior person, used to this tumult. Was

he laughing at her?


For a moment she wanted the secure quiet of Gopher Prairie.
In the hotel-lobby she was self-conscious. She was not used to hotels;

she remembered with jealousy how often Juanita Haydock talked of the

famous hotels in Chicago. She could not face the traveling salesmen,

baronial in large leather chairs. She wanted people to believe that her

husband and she were accustomed to luxury and chill elegance; she was

faintly angry at him for the vulgar way in which, after signing the

register "Dr. W. P. Kennicott & wife," he bellowed at the clerk, "Got a

nice room with bath for us, old man?" She gazed about haughtily, but as

she discovered that no one was interested in her she felt foolish, and

ashamed of her irritation.


She asserted, "This silly lobby is too florid," and simultaneously she

admired it: the onyx columns with gilt capitals, the crown-embroidered

velvet curtains at the restaurant door, the silk-roped alcove where

pretty girls perpetually waited for mysterious men, the two-pound boxes

of candy and the variety of magazines at the news-stand. The hidden

orchestra was lively. She saw a man who looked like a European diplomat,

in a loose top-coat and a Homburg hat. A woman with a broadtail coat,

a heavy lace veil, pearl earrings, and a close black hat entered the

restaurant. "Heavens! That's the first really smart woman I've seen in a

year!" Carol exulted. She felt metropolitan.


But as she followed Kennicott to the elevator the coat-check girl, a

confident young woman, with cheeks powdered like lime, and a blouse

low and thin and furiously crimson, inspected her, and under that

supercilious glance Carol was shy again. She unconsciously waited

for the bellboy to precede her into the elevator. When he snorted "Go

ahead!" she was mortified. He thought she was a hayseed, she worried.


The moment she was in their room, with the bellboy safely out of the

way, she looked critically at Kennicott. For the first time in months

she really saw him.
His clothes were too heavy and provincial. His decent gray suit, made

by Nat Hicks of Gopher Prairie, might have been of sheet iron; it had

no distinction of cut, no easy grace like the diplomat's Burberry. His

black shoes were blunt and not well polished. His scarf was a stupid

brown. He needed a shave.
But she forgot her doubt as she realized the ingenuities of the room.

She ran about, turning on the taps of the bathtub, which gushed instead

of dribbling like the taps at home, snatching the new wash-rag out of

its envelope of oiled paper, trying the rose-shaded light between the

twin beds, pulling out the drawers of the kidney-shaped walnut desk to

examine the engraved stationery, planning to write on it to every one

she knew, admiring the claret-colored velvet armchair and the blue rug,

testing the ice-water tap, and squealing happily when the water really

did come out cold. She flung her arms about Kennicott, kissed him.
"Like it, old lady?"
"It's adorable. It's so amusing. I love you for bringing me. You really

are a dear!"


He looked blankly indulgent, and yawned, and condescended, "That's a

pretty slick arrangement on the radiator, so you can adjust it at any

temperature you want. Must take a big furnace to run this place. Gosh, I

hope Bea remembers to turn off the drafts tonight."


Under the glass cover of the dressing-table was a menu with the most

enchanting dishes: breast of guinea hen De Vitresse, pommes de terre a

la Russe, meringue Chantilly, gateaux Bruxelles.
"Oh, let's----I'm going to have a hot bath, and put on my new hat with

the wool flowers, and let's go down and eat for hours, and we'll have a

cocktail!" she chanted.
While Kennicott labored over ordering it was annoying to see him permit

the waiter to be impertinent, but as the cocktail elevated her to a

bridge among colored stars, as the oysters came in--not canned oysters

in the Gopher Prairie fashion, but on the half-shell--she cried, "If you

only knew how wonderful it is not to have had to plan this dinner, and

order it at the butcher's and fuss and think about it, and then

watch Bea cook it! I feel so free. And to have new kinds of food, and

different patterns of dishes and linen, and not worry about whether the

pudding is being spoiled! Oh, this is a great moment for me!"

IV

They had all the experiences of provincials in a metropolis. After



breakfast Carol bustled to a hair-dresser's, bought gloves and a blouse,

and importantly met Kennicott in front of an optician's, in accordance

with plans laid down, revised, and verified. They admired the diamonds

and furs and frosty silverware and mahogany chairs and polished morocco

sewing-boxes in shop-windows, and were abashed by the throngs in the

department-stores, and were bullied by a clerk into buying too many

shirts for Kennicott, and gaped at the "clever novelty perfumes--just

in from New York." Carol got three books on the theater, and spent

an exultant hour in warning herself that she could not afford this

rajah-silk frock, in thinking how envious it would make Juanita Haydock,

in closing her eyes, and buying it. Kennicott went from shop to shop,

earnestly hunting down a felt-covered device to keep the windshield of

his car clear of rain.
They dined extravagantly at their hotel at night, and next morning

sneaked round the corner to economize at a Childs' Restaurant. They were

tired by three in the afternoon, and dozed at the motion-pictures and

said they wished they were back in Gopher Prairie--and by eleven in the

evening they were again so lively that they went to a Chinese restaurant

that was frequented by clerks and their sweethearts on pay-days. They

sat at a teak and marble table eating Eggs Fooyung, and listened to a

brassy automatic piano, and were altogether cosmopolitan.


On the street they met people from home--the McGanums. They laughed,

shook hands repeatedly, and exclaimed, "Well, this is quite a

coincidence!" They asked when the McGanums had come down, and begged for

news of the town they had left two days before. Whatever the

McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the

undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts

held them as long as they could. The McGanums said good-by as though

they were going to Tibet instead of to the station to catch No. 7 north.


They explored Minneapolis. Kennicott was conversational and technical

regarding gluten and cockle-cylinders and No. I Hard, when they were

shown through the gray stone hulks and new cement elevators of the

largest flour-mills in the world. They looked across Loring Park and

the Parade to the towers of St. Mark's and the Procathedral, and the

red roofs of houses climbing Kenwood Hill. They drove about the chain of

garden-circled lakes, and viewed the houses of the millers and lumbermen

and real estate peers--the potentates of the expanding city. They

surveyed the small eccentric bungalows with pergolas, the houses of

pebbledash and tapestry brick with sleeping-porches above sun-parlors,

and one vast incredible chateau fronting the Lake of the Isles. They

tramped through a shining-new section of apartment-houses; not the tall

bleak apartments of Eastern cities but low structures of cheerful yellow

brick, in which each flat had its glass-enclosed porch with swinging

couch and scarlet cushions and Russian brass bowls. Between a waste of

tracks and a raw gouged hill they found poverty in staggering shanties.


They saw miles of the city which they had never known in their days

of absorption in college. They were distinguished explorers, and they

remarked, in great mutual esteem, "I bet Harry Haydock's never seen the

City like this! Why, he'd never have sense enough to study the machinery

in the mills, or go through all these outlying districts. Wonder folks

in Gopher Prairie wouldn't use their legs and explore, the way we do!"


They had two meals with Carol's sister, and were bored, and felt that

intimacy which beatifies married people when they suddenly admit that

they equally dislike a relative of either of them.
So it was with affection but also with weariness that they approached

the evening on which Carol was to see the plays at the dramatic school.

Kennicott suggested not going. "So darn tired from all this walking;

don't know but what we better turn in early and get rested up." It was

only from duty that Carol dragged him and herself out of the warm

hotel, into a stinking trolley, up the brownstone steps of the converted

residence which lugubriously housed the dramatic school.

V

They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy draw-curtain across



the front. The folding chairs were filled with people who looked washed

and ironed: parents of the pupils, girl students, dutiful teachers.


"Strikes me it's going to be punk. If the first play isn't good, let's

beat it," said Kennicott hopefully.


"All right," she yawned. With hazy eyes she tried to read the lists of

characters, which were hidden among lifeless advertisements of pianos,

music-dealers, restaurants, candy.
She regarded the Schnitzler play with no vast interest. The actors

moved and spoke stiffly. Just as its cynicism was beginning to rouse her

village-dulled frivolity, it was over.
"Don't think a whale of a lot of that. How about taking a sneak?"

petitioned Kennicott.


"Oh, let's try the next one, 'How He Lied to Her Husband.'"
The Shaw conceit amused her, and perplexed Kennicott:
"Strikes me it's darn fresh. Thought it would be racy. Don't know as I

think much of a play where a husband actually claims he wants a fellow

to make love to his wife. No husband ever did that! Shall we shake a

leg?"
"I want to see this Yeats thing, 'Land of Heart's Desire.' I used to

love it in college." She was awake now, and urgent. "I know you didn't

care so much for Yeats when I read him aloud to you, but you just see if

you don't adore him on the stage."
Most of the cast were as unwieldy as oak chairs marching, and the

setting was an arty arrangement of batik scarfs and heavy tables, but

Maire Bruin was slim as Carol, and larger-eyed, and her voice was

a morning bell. In her, Carol lived, and on her lifting voice was

transported from this sleepy small-town husband and all the rows of

polite parents to the stilly loft of a thatched cottage where in a green

dimness, beside a window caressed by linden branches, she bent over a

chronicle of twilight women and the ancient gods.


"Well--gosh--nice kid played that girl--good-looker," said Kennicott.

"Want to stay for the last piece? Heh?"


She shivered. She did not answer.
The curtain was again drawn aside. On the stage they saw nothing but

long green curtains and a leather chair. Two young men in brown robes

like furniture-covers were gesturing vacuously and droning cryptic

sentences full of repetitions.


It was Carol's first hearing of Dunsany. She sympathized with the

restless Kennicott as he felt in his pocket for a cigar and unhappily

put it back.
Without understanding when or how, without a tangible change in the

stilted intoning of the stage-puppets, she was conscious of another time

and place.
Stately and aloof among vainglorious tiring-maids, a queen in robes

that murmured on the marble floor, she trod the gallery of a crumbling

palace. In the courtyard, elephants trumpeted, and swart men with beards

dyed crimson stood with blood-stained hands folded upon their hilts,

guarding the caravan from El Sharnak, the camels with Tyrian stuffs

of topaz and cinnabar. Beyond the turrets of the outer wall the jungle

glared and shrieked, and the sun was furious above drenched orchids.

A youth came striding through the steel-bossed doors, the sword-bitten

doors that were higher than ten tall men. He was in flexible mail, and

under the rim of his planished morion were amorous curls. His hand was

out to her; before she touched it she could feel its warmth----
"Gosh all hemlock! What the dickens is all this stuff about, Carrie?"
She was no Syrian queen. She was Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. She fell with a

jolt into a whitewashed hall and sat looking at two scared girls and a

young man in wrinkled tights.
Kennicott fondly rambled as they left the hall:
"What the deuce did that last spiel mean? Couldn't make head or tail of

it. If that's highbrow drama, give me a cow-puncher movie, every time!

Thank God, that's over, and we can get to bed. Wonder if we wouldn't

make time by walking over to Nicollet to take a car? One thing I will

say for that dump: they had it warm enough. Must have a big hot-air

furnace, I guess. Wonder how much coal it takes to run 'em through the

winter?"
In the car he affectionately patted her knee, and he was for a second

the striding youth in armor; then he was Doc Kennicott of Gopher

Prairie, and she was recaptured by Main Street. Never, not all her life,

would she behold jungles and the tombs of kings. There were strange

things in the world, they really existed; but she would never see them.
She would recreate them in plays!
She would make the dramatic association understand her aspiration. They

would, surely they would----


She looked doubtfully at the impenetrable reality of yawning trolley

conductor and sleepy passengers and placards advertising soap and

underwear.

CHAPTER XVIII


I
SHE hurried to the first meeting of the play-reading committee. Her

jungle romance had faded, but she retained a religious fervor, a surge

of half-formed thought about the creation of beauty by suggestion.
A Dunsany play would be too difficult for the Gopher Prairie

association. She would let them compromise on Shaw--on "Androcles and

the Lion," which had just been published.
The committee was composed of Carol, Vida Sherwin, Guy Pollock, Raymie

Wutherspoon, and Juanita Haydock. They were exalted by the picture of

themselves as being simultaneously business-like and artistic. They

were entertained by Vida in the parlor of Mrs. Elisha Gurrey's

boarding-house, with its steel engraving of Grant at Appomattox, its

basket of stereoscopic views, and its mysterious stains on the gritty

carpet.
Vida was an advocate of culture-buying and efficiency-systems. She

hinted that they ought to have (as at the committee-meetings of the

Thanatopsis) a "regular order of business," and "the reading of the

minutes," but as there were no minutes to read, and as no one knew

exactly what was the regular order of the business of being literary,

they had to give up efficiency.


Carol, as chairman, said politely, "Have you any ideas about what play

we'd better give first?" She waited for them to look abashed and vacant,

so that she might suggest "Androcles."
Guy Pollock answered with disconcerting readiness, "I'll tell you: since

we're going to try to do something artistic, and not simply fool around,

I believe we ought to give something classic. How about 'The School for

Scandal'?"


"Why----Don't you think that has been done a good deal?"
"Yes, perhaps it has."
Carol was ready to say, "How about Bernard Shaw?" when he treacherously

went on, "How would it be then to give a Greek drama--say 'Oedipus

Tyrannus'?"
"Why, I don't believe----"
Vida Sherwin intruded, "I'm sure that would be too hard for us. Now I've

brought something that I think would be awfully jolly."


She held out, and Carol incredulously took, a thin gray pamphlet

entitled "McGinerty's Mother-in-law." It was the sort of farce which is

advertised in "school entertainment" catalogues as:

Riproaring knock-out, 5 m. 3 f., time 2 hrs., interior set, popular with

churches and all high-class occasions.

Carol glanced from the scabrous object to Vida, and realized that she

was not joking.
"But this is--this is--why, it's just a----Why, Vida, I thought you

appreciated--well--appreciated art."


Vida snorted, "Oh. Art. Oh yes. I do like art. It's very nice. But after

all, what does it matter what kind of play we give as long as we get the

association started? The thing that matters is something that none of

you have spoken of, that is: what are we going to do with the money, if

we make any? I think it would be awfully nice if we presented the high

school with a full set of Stoddard's travel-lectures!"


Carol moaned, "Oh, but Vida dear, do forgive me but this farce----Now

what I'd like us to give is something distinguished. Say Shaw's

'Androcles.' Have any of you read it?"
"Yes. Good play," said Guy Pollock.
Then Raymie Wutherspoon astoundingly spoke up:
"So have I. I read through all the plays in the public library, so's

to be ready for this meeting. And----But I don't believe you grasp

the irreligious ideas in this 'Androcles,' Mrs. Kennicott. I guess the

feminine mind is too innocent to understand all these immoral writers.

I'm sure I don't want to criticize Bernard Shaw; I understand he is very

popular with the highbrows in Minneapolis; but just the same----As far

as I can make out, he's downright improper! The things he SAYS----Well,

it would be a very risky thing for our young folks to see. It seems to

me that a play that doesn't leave a nice taste in the mouth and that

hasn't any message is nothing but--nothing but----Well, whatever it may

be, it isn't art. So----Now I've found a play that is clean, and there's

some awfully funny scenes in it, too. I laughed out loud, reading it.

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