Sinclair Lewis's Mantrap
Mantrap is Sinclair Lewis’s 1925 novel of an effete Eastern lawyer’s trip into the wilderness where he competes for the affection of the beautiful but bored city wife of a more competent backwoodsman. Scholars studying gender roles in the 1920’s have been interested in this book for what it says about the society’s conflicting values for men of brawn and brain. Humorously, some critics find significance in the title not knowing that Lewis and his brother Claude actually had an adventure on a river in Canada named Mantrap.
Mantrap is not great literature but since the novel followed Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith we can forgive the author. In 1926 this romantic story was, however, a perfect fit for Hollywood. Clara Bow, the future “It” girl, was a perfect fit in the role of the seductive former manicurist who finds herself exiled in the wilderness and married to an older he-man.
This photoplay edition was acquired as part of the Library’s effort to document Lewis’s work in Hollywood. Perhaps no American writer saw as much of his work adapted for the movies as Sinclair Lewis. Lewis loved the medium and enjoyed associating with the glamorous personalities of Hollywood. More importantly Lewis’s two dozen films added to his reputation, widened his influence, and became a significant part of his income.
Through the generous gifts of Villaume Industries and the Linsmayer family the MHS library has acquired manuscripts, books, and ephemera that greatly enhance our understanding of this aspect of Sinclair Lewis’s career. The manuscripts include letters requesting the rights to a particular work, contracts, proposals of how to treat the text, and Lewis pitching ideas to the studios in an effort to turn even more of his work into film. Combined with the cheap “photoplay” reprints of Lewis’s novels and the publicity campaign material put out by the studios, these recent acquisitions help to illuminate the business of both Hollywood and of a popular American writer.