About Arrowsmith



Sinclair Lewis considered several titles over a period of months before deciding on Arrowsmith for his novel about the medical profession. Some of those discarded were The Stumbler, The Barbarian or just Barbarian, Martin Arrowsmith, M.D., Dr. Martin, Martin, and even Doc. The last, suggested by his publisher, Alfred Harcourt, of Harcourt Brace, was dismissed as too informal, Martin and Dr. Martin as too "sentiment-lady-novelistish," and the one containing reference to the medical degree as "too much of a mouthful." The final choice of Arrowsmith was a happy one since it is both brief and dignified and is well adapted both to the book and the motion picture based on it. Because of the existence in England of a publishing house called Arrowsmith, Lewis' British publishers used the title Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. It is not unusual for the same book to appear under different titles on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Written in collaboration with Dr. Paul de Kruif, formerly on the staff of Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and himself an eminent scientist of the era, Arrowsmith is precise and authentic in medical detail. Sinclair Lewis came from a family of doctors, both his father and his brother Claude being physicians. Hence a novel based on scientific research played a significant role in Lewis' career as an author, winning for him the Pulitzer Prize in Literature in 1926, an honor which he refused to accept. It is considered Lewis' masterpiece, for in addition to being his best creative work, it reflects the life and experiences of the author to a greater degree than any of his other books.

There are two versions of Arrowsmith, the serialized one appearing under the British title, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, shorter and less detailed than the other, with less scientific background. The version on which this study guide is based is the longer one.

Paul De Kruif's Part in Arrowsmith

Sinclair Lewis met Dr. Paul de Kruif through another well-known physician, Dr. Morris Fishbein. De Kruif had taken a Ph.D. in bacteriology from the University of Michigan and had then become a researcher at Rockefeller Institute, only to lose his appointment when he published Our Medical Men, a book critical of the profession. On their way back from a midnight visit to Eugene Debs, the labor leader, whom Lewis admired, Fishbein questioned Lewis' plan to write a novel about labor, with Debs as the model for the hero. At that time or shortly after, Lewis and de Kruif agreed to work together on a novel about medical science, with a doctor as protagonist and a plague in the Caribbean as an important episode. They decided to make a research tour together to the West Indies and to continue to Europe to write the novel.

They sailed from New York to the West Indies January 4, 1923. A contract was drawn up for a full collaboration, Lewis to receive seventy-five per cent of the royalty and de Kruif twenty-five. De Kruif received a ten-thousand-dollar advance and before leaving married a former student, Rhea Barbarin, thought to be the original of Leora.

De Kruif was a powerful man at this time and had great physical vitality. Without his help, Arrowsmith could never have been written, for he was an expert. Lewis could only draw on early experiences as the youngest member of a medical family. The sea voyage lasted two months and included the Lesser Antilles and a part of Barbados, where the chief medical officer guided Lewis and de Kruif through hospitals, almshouses, and a leper asylum. They visited the bacteriological laboratory in Panama. Lewis wrote to H. G. Wells: "With me is Paul de Kruif, the bacteriologist . . . a man with a knife-edge mind and an iconoclasm that really means something." To H. L. Mencken, Lewis wrote: "The book goes grand. Paul de Kruif proves to have as much synthetic fictional imagination as he has scientific knowledge." The only arguments the pair had in a month and a half were a part of Lewis' research, when he would bait de Kruif with questions and criticize and deride the answers. They even observed the men around them for physical types and found Arrowsmith himself, "a grave, black-haired youngster looking at us . . . in the ship's smoking room."

In England, de Kruif introduced Lewis to many medical scientists and into laboratories and clinics in the London area. The book progressed, and de Kruif was enthusiastic about the first draft. The friendship between the collaborators broke up, however, over the acknowledgement of de Kruif's part in the writing of Arrowsmith. "In collaboration with Paul de Kruif" was the phrase to appear in small type on the title page or on a page following. Lewis proposed to insert an extended statement of paragraph length. De Kruif finally accepted, but from that time on he lost interest in the book. Several years later, however, he did give assistance for the scenario.

De Kruif is an author in his own right, having produced many magazine articles on medical subjects and several books. He once referred to himself as "a sort of anti-microbe missionary." Some of his best-known books are The Microbe Hunters, Hunger Fighters, and Men Against Death.