Dodsworth

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Dodsworth is a satirical novel by American writer Sinclair Lewis first published by Harcourt Brace & Company in 1929. Its subject, the differences between US and European intellect, manners, and morals, is one that frequently appears in the works of Henry James.

Plot summary

Samuel Dodsworth is an ambitious and innovative automobile designer, who builds his fortunes in Zenith, Winnemac. In addition to his success in the business world, he had also succeeded as a young man in winning the hand of Fran Voelker, a beautiful young socialite. While the book provides the courtship as a backstory, the real novel begins upon his retirement. At the age of fifty and facing retirement due to his selling of his successful automobile company (The Revelation Motor Company) to a far larger competitor, he sets out to do what he had always wanted to experience: a leisurely trip to Europe with his wife. His forty-one year old wife, however, motivated by her own vanity and fear of lost youth, is dissatisfied with married life and small town Zenith, wants to live in Europe permanently as an expatriate, not just visit for a few months to allow Dodsworth to visit some manufacturing plants looking for his next challenge. Passing up advancement in his recently sold company, Dodsworth leaves for Europe with Fran but her motivations to get to Europe become quickly known.

Soon, both Sam and Fran are caught up in vastly different lifestyles. Fran falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites while Sam plays more of an independent tourist and eventually meets Edith Cortright, a woman who is everything his wife is not: self-assured, self-confident, and able to take care of herself. As they follow their own pursuits, their marriage is strained to the breaking point. Both Sam and Fran are forced to choose between marriage and the new lifestyles they have pursued. Fran is clearly Lewis' target here while Sam ambles along as a stranger in a strange land until the epiphany of getting on with his life hits him in the last act. Sam Dodsworth is a rare Lewis character: a man of true conviction and purpose. This purpose and conviction is relied on significantly as the book (and film) concludes with the two main characters going in quite different directions.

Adaptations

The novel was adapted for the stage in 1934 by Sidney Howard and filmed in 1936 by William Wyler. It also provided the basis for a 1950 British television drama starring Ruth Chatterton and Walter Abel, and a 1995 musical adaptation that was staged in Fort Worth, Texas with Hal Linden and Dee Hoty [1].

References

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