The Project Gutenberg EBook of Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
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Author: Sinclair Lewis
Release Date: February 11, 2006 [EBook #1156]
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BABBITT ***
Produced by Charles Keller and David Widger
By Sinclair Lewis
To Edith Wharton
THE towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of
steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as
silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and
The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the
Post Office with its shingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets
of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden
tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but
the clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and
on the farther hills were shining new houses, homes--they seemed--for
laughter and tranquillity.
Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless
engine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-night
rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerably
illuminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze
of green and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twenty
lines of polished steel leaped into the glare.
In one of the skyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing
down. The telegraph operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades
after a night of talking with Paris and Peking. Through the building
crawled the scrubwomen, yawning, their old shoes slapping. The dawn mist
spun away. Cues of men with lunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of
new factories, sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where
five thousand men worked beneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares
that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt. The whistles
After a rather thorough discussion of all the domestic and social
aspects of towels she apologized to Babbitt for his having an alcoholic
headache; and he recovered enough to endure the search for a B.V.D.
undershirt which had, he pointed out, malevolently been concealed among
his clean pajamas.
He was fairly amiable in the conference on the brown suit.
"What do you think, Myra?" He pawed at the clothes hunched on a chair in
their bedroom, while she moved about mysteriously adjusting and patting
her petticoat and, to his jaundiced eye, never seeming to get on with
her dressing. "How about it? Shall I wear the brown suit another day?"
"Well, it looks awfully nice on you."
"I know, but gosh, it needs pressing."
"That's so. Perhaps it does."
"It certainly could stand being pressed, all right."
"Yes, perhaps it wouldn't hurt it to be pressed."
"But gee, the coat doesn't need pressing. No sense in having the whole
darn suit pressed, when the coat doesn't need it."
"But the pants certainly need it, all right. Look at them--look at those
wrinkles--the pants certainly do need pressing."
"That's so. Oh, Georgie, why couldn't you wear the brown coat with the
blue trousers we were wondering what we'd do with them?"
"Good Lord! Did you ever in all my life know me to wear the coat of
one suit and the pants of another? What do you think I am? A busted
"Well, why don't you put on the dark gray suit to-day, and stop in at
the tailor and leave the brown trousers?"
"Well, they certainly need--Now where the devil is that gray suit? Oh,
yes, here we are."
He was able to get through the other crises of dressing with comparative
resoluteness and calm.
His first adornment was the sleeveless dimity B.V.D. undershirt, in
which he resembled a small boy humorlessly wearing a cheesecloth tabard
at a civic pageant. He never put on B.V.D.'s without thanking the God of
Progress that he didn't wear tight, long, old-fashioned undergarments,
like his father-in-law and partner, Henry Thompson. His second
embellishment was combing and slicking back his hair. It gave him a
tremendous forehead, arching up two inches beyond the former hair-line.
But most wonder-working of all was the donning of his spectacles.
There is character in spectacles--the pretentious tortoiseshell, the
meek pince-nez of the school teacher, the twisted silver-framed glasses
of the old villager. Babbitt's spectacles had huge, circular, frameless
lenses of the very best glass; the ear-pieces were thin bars of gold. In