Sinclair Lewis – "The Innocents" Book Review

The Innocents by Sinclair Lewis was one of two novels published in 1917. The full title of this work is The Innocents: A Story for Lovers and was originally a collection of serialized stories for a women’s magazine. It was Sinclair Lewis’s last distinctive pulp novel.

The Innocents, Plot Summary:

The first characters introduced are a couple, born a decade before the American civil war, who now lived in New York City and have married for 40 years. They are Mr. Seth Appleby and Mrs. Sarah Jane Appleby, often called simply ‘Father’ and ‘Mother.’

They have a married daughter, Lulu, who lives with husband and young son in a New York town. Mother and Father are “the innocents” of Sinclair Lewis’s 1917 serialized short novel.

After some decades in Pilkings & Son’s Shoe Parlor, Seth Appleby has worked his way up to become to Mr. Pilkings a roughly modern equivalent of what Dagwood Bumstead is to Julius Dithers, albeit even more under-appreciated and under-challenged than Dagwood. This is a theme that also appeared in “Our Mr. Wrenn.”

During their annual two week vacation on Cape Cod, Father and Mother treat the owners of their vacation home to a snack at Ye Tea Shoppe. Expecting a bill for their light snack to be around ninety cents, Father is astonished to be charged $3.60. He calculates that sum to represent a 500% markup on the food served.

Suddenly, in a moment given as a huge eye opening revelatory moment, the idea of running a tea shop seems an attractive alternative to fitting big city swells with footwear.

They sell all they own and open their own Tea Shop on Cape Cod. It fails. Seth cannot get his old job back. They end up having to wander from New York to West Virginia where they transform manners and morals of a hobo jungle. The hoboes scatter and begin the legend of two rich old eccentrics wandering the world doing good. Ultimately, the Applebys find happiness back in the shoe business in small town Indiana.

If this sounds a little like fluff, Lewis probably wouldn’t argue. He had an amazing ability to make a living as a writer because he knew how to quickly provide “fluff” stories that the common public would consume.

Sinclair Lewis often had difficulty describing married couples who were each other’s equals or at least contributed something nearly equal as partners in their “divisions of labor.” The Innocents is a very notable exception to this, as for any flaws in plot, this novel is one of his best examples of a couple as each other’s equals.

Whether you call it travel, flight, wanderlust, dreaming…call it “greener grass syndrome,” but one of the most persistent themes in both Sinclair Lewis’s personal life and in his work is that sheer movement, sheer trying out something completely new and different, simply hitting the long trail — all or some of these — will almost surely bring good results, something better.

Now a rare collectible book, a good copy without a dust jacket can easily sell for around $800.