Upton Sinclair

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Upton Sinclair

Born September 20, 1878(1878-09-20)
Baltimore, Maryland
Died November 25, 1968 (aged 90)
Bound Brook, New Jersey
Occupation Novelist, writer, journalist, political activist
Nationality American

Upton Sinclair, Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968), was a Pulitzer Prize-winning prolific American author who wrote over 90 books in many genres and was widely considered to be one of the best investigators advocating socialist views. He achieved considerable popularity in the first half of the 20th century, gaining particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle. The book dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.[1]


[edit] Biography

Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism shadowed his son's childhood. Sinclair had wealthy grandparents with whom he would often stay. This gave him insight on how both the rich and poor lived during the early twentieth century. Experiencing the differences of the two worlds of wealth and poverty affected him greatly and highly influenced his novels. In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to The Bronx. Sinclair attended the City College of New York, writing novels and magazine articles to pay for his tuition.

Sinclair married his first wife, Meta Fuller, in 1900. Around 1911, she ran off with the poet Harry Kemp (later known as the Dunes Poet of Provincetown, Massachusetts). After his wife left him, he married Mary Craig Kimbrough (1883 - 1961), a woman who was later tested for psychic abilities. After her death, Sinclair married a third time, to Mary Elizabeth Willis (1882 - 1967). Late in life, he moved from California to Buckeye, Arizona, and then to Bound Brook, New Jersey. Sinclair died in 1968, and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., next to his third wife, who died a year before him.

Sinclair's grave in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

[edit] Political activism

In the 1920s Sinclair moved to Monrovia, California, where he founded the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He moved to Southern California with an interest in politics, running unsuccessfully for Congress twice on the Socialist ticket - in 1920, for the United States House of Representatives, and in 1922, for the Senate.

The onset of the Great Depression was a key factor in changing opinions on social issues. After a brief retirement from politics, Sinclair ran in the 1934 California gubernatorial election as a Democrat. With 879,000 votes, this was his most successful run for office, though he was overwhelmingly defeated.[2] Sinclair's platform, known as the End Poverty in California movement (EPIC), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination. The Democratic Party became known as the party of change and of reformers. Severe dust storm during the period made farming on the Great Plains impossible, and hundreds of thousands of Southern and Great Plains residents were forced to migrate westward in the hope of finding work and a new life. Upton Sinclair's plan to end poverty quickly became a controversial issue. Conservatives in California were themselves galvanized by it, as they saw it as an attempted communist takeover of their state. They used massive political propaganda portraying Sinclair as a Communist, even as he was being portrayed by American and Soviet communists as a capitalist. Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein was deeply involved in Sinclair's campaign, a point that Heinlein tried to obscure from later biographies, as he tried to keep his personal politics separate from his public image as an author.[3]

Sinclair was defeated by Frank F. Merriam in the election, and largely abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. However, the race of 1934 became known as the first race to use modern campaign techniques like motion pictures. In 1935 Sinclair published I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, in which he expounded upon various techniques employed by Merriam's supporters, such as the tactics of Aimee Semple McPherson, who was vehemently against Socialism and what she perceived as Sinclair's modernism, in spite of the fact that they had both supported Prohibition.

Of his gubernatorial bids, Sinclair remarked in 1951: "The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to 'End Poverty in California' I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them."[4]

Aside from his political and social writings, Sinclair took an interest in psychic phenomena and experimented with telepathy, writing a book entitled Mental Radio, published in 1930. According to Sinclair, a 34-pound table was levitated eight feet over his head by a young psychic's powers during a seance.[5][6]

The Upton Sinclair House in Monrovia, California, is now a National Historic Landmark. The papers, photographs, and first editions of most of his books are found at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.[7]

[edit] Social activism

The popularity of Sinclair's novels is rooted in the social and economic conditions of the early twentieth century. The ability to expose the injustices of capitalism resulted from the overwhelming impact and existence of poverty and the onset of the Depression. Sinclair's ability to form a Socialist Party in New Jersey is an example of such an ability.

Also in his book, The Jungle, Sinclair demonstrated the inhumane conditions the wage earner experiences under capitalism. Ironically, he began writing this novel on Christmas. His purpose was to expose the truth behind the industry, including the poor treatment of immigrant workers, the poverty they lived in, the unsafe working conditions, and their job insecurity, on top of low and unfair wages. Sinclair aimed to let the audience know that capitalism and the higher class people are in control, and something needs to be done about it. He was the founder of the End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement.[8]

[edit] The Lanny Budd series

Between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair wrote the World's End series of 11 novels about Lanny Budd, the "red" son of an American arms manufacturer who was a socialite, an art expert and an acquaintance of Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler.

The series covers in sequence much of the political history of the Western world (particularly Europe and America) in the first half of the twentieth century. Almost totally forgotten today, the novels were all bestsellers upon publication and were published in 21 countries. The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943.

Long out of print, the series has recently been re-issued by Simon Publications. For technical reasons, each original volume is issued in two parts, forming a 22-volume set. The series was originally published by Viking Press in New York and T. Werner Laurie in London.

[edit] Sinclair in Culture

Sinclair is extensively featured in Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy, in which the American Socialist Party succeeds in becoming a major force in US politics following two humiliating defeats to the Confederate States and the post-1882 collapse of the Republican Party, with Abraham Lincoln leading a large number of Republicans into the Socialist Party. He wins the 1920 and 1924 presidential elections and becomes the first Socialist President of the United States, his inauguration attended by crowds of jubilant militants waving Red Flags. However, the actual policies which Turtledove attributes to him, once in power, are not particularly radical.[citation needed]

In the late 1990s, the television program "Working" used as its setting a company named Upton Weber. With the shows implicit critiques of contemporary working conditions (however watered down for popular audiences), the name suggests a reference both to Upton Sinclair and Max Weber (for his work on bureaucracy and capitalism).

Sinclair is featured as one of the main characters in Chris Bachelder's satirical fictional book, U.S.!: a Novel. Repeatedly, Sinclair is resurrected as a personification of the contemporary failings of the American-left and portrayed as a Quixotic reformer attempting to stir an apathetic American public to implement Socialism in America.

[edit] Films

His 1906 novel The Jungle received a film adaptation in 1914.

Upton Sinclair was the writer or producer of several films, including his involvement, in 1930-32, with Sergei Eisenstein, for ¡Qué viva México!, Charlie Chaplin got him involved in the project.[1]

Sinclair's 1931 novel The Wet Parade was filmed the following year by Victor Fleming, starring Robert Young, Myrna Loy, Walter Huston and Jimmy Durante.

His 1937 novel, The Gnomobile, was the basis of a 1967 Disney musical motion picture, The Gnome-Mobile. [2].

His 1927 novel Oil! was the basis of There Will Be Blood (2007), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. It was written, produced, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film received eight nominations for an Oscar, and won two.[9]

[edit] Works

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ The Jungle: Upton Sinclair's Roar Is Even Louder to Animal Advocates Today
  2. ^ Sinclair, Upton October 13, 1934 End Poverty in California The EPIC Movement The Literary Digest
  3. ^ Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign in California (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991)
  4. ^ United States Socialism Spartacus Educational
  5. ^ Fads and Fallacies: In the Name of Science by Martin Gardner, New American Library, 1986
  6. ^ Saturday Review, 14 April 1956
  7. ^ "Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)". Lilly Library Collections. Indiana University Bloomington. http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/overview/sinclair.shtml. 
  8. ^ Katrina Vanden Heuvel The Nation 1865-1990, p. 80, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990 ISBN 1-56025-001-1
  9. ^ There Will Be Blood(2007 movie) at IMDB

[edit] External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:

NAME Sinclair, Upton Beall, Sr.
SHORT DESCRIPTION American novelist, writer, journalist, political activist
DATE OF BIRTH 20 September 1878
PLACE OF BIRTH Baltimore, Maryland
DATE OF DEATH 25 November 1968
PLACE OF DEATH Bound Brook, New Jersey
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