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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 84, Number 4 (May 1983)

Murphy, Tom
Sinclair Lewis and how he undid me,   pp. 10-12


Page 10


The least he could have done
   was leave a farewell note
            By Tom Murphy
            00 Editor 0
istorians won't be able to pinpoint
        the exact time the idea first
        struck me. Actually, it didn't re-
ally strike: it got in somehow and worked
its way to the surface slowly, like a sliver.
We do know it began no earlier than 1961.
That was the year Mark Schorer '29, '36
did something pretty notable; he got all the
reviewers in the country to agree on a
book. They said his new biography of Sin-
clair Lewis was terrific, although I'm put-
ting it more mildly than they did;
adjective-wise, they started with "monu-
mental" and got more ecstatic from there.
I read the book that year and never forgot
the part about Lewis spending time here
on the campus in the fall of 1940. He spent
less of it than he'd led one and all to ex-
pect, though. He had promised to be here
for the whole semester and maybe even on
into spring. But late on November 6 he got
a phone call from his lame-duck wife, col-
umnist Dorothy Thompson, in New York
and before another sundown all that was
left of Sinclair around here was an English
department with twenty-two budding nov-
elists it didn't know how to credit.
   Nobody knows what really happened.
Some said he took off because he never
found a place to park, but the record
shows he'd brought a chauffeur to fetch
and carry, so we can forget that. Schorer
didn't know what to make of it; he says
Lewis told friends it was because he had a
new book about due, but nothing came
out. Others heard him say they were going
to do his new play on Broadway, but
Schorer says the producers who'd read it
said it shouldn't happen to Weehawken.
   I went over to the University Archives
 and asked for all the material an orderly
 university would send there to be pre-
 served under Lewis: Sinclair; Inside Dope
The subject, at the Capitol,
  prior to his getaway.
  On. The treasure came in two parts. First,
  there was a copy of a Daily Cardinal from
  September, 1940, saying that Sinclair
  Lewis was coming to teach on campus.
  Then came a copy of a Daily Cardinal
  from November, 1940, saying he left. With
  this bounty to build on, I knew the next
  step was to get to those who were on the
  English faculty that year, so I called Pro-
  fessor Walter Rideout. He wasn't here in
  1940, he said, but he knew several who
  were--emeriti who still live in Madison.
  He was anxious to help. He could afford to
  because he is in on the plot. When I do the
  definitive feature on emeriti I will blow this
  thing sky-high, but for now let me just say
  I have made a couple of discoveries about
  them. 1. Emeriti may live somewhere, but
  they never go there. Instead, they head for
  Cape Cod or San Diego. (That much I can
  prove; the rest falls into place rather neatly
  now that I've had a chance to mull it over.)
  When they get to Cape Cod or San Diego
  they send a telegram in code to Walter Ride-
  out. Chances are it will read as a simple
  message-maybe something like "Ann
  Emery is toasting anchovies"--but it really
  means that they are out of harm's way
  now, so it is safe for him to be Helpful.
  From then on, whenever someone calls
him with a list of questions that would take
  no more than a fortnight for any of those
people to sit down and answer, Walter
says, "Yes, that would be something to ask
 of Madeleine Doran," or "I'd send that to
" Ednah Thomas, I think, or perhaps to
Mark Eccles. Write to her/her/him in Mad-
ison. If she/she/he happens to be out of
town for a few days, surely your letter will
be forwarded." If you're alert, you'll hear
i him chuckle as he hangs up, because
  there's more to this.
     2. Out there in Cape or San, emeriti
10 / THE WISCONSIN ALUMNUS


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