1943: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair

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Plot Summary:

In another great story of Lanny Budd and his fascinating family, Sinclair has made the world-shaking events and brilliant characters share a memorable reality.

He writes of the era between the Wall Street crash of 1929 and Nazi blood purge of 1934, as seen through the eyes of an American privileged to live behind the scenes.

Dragon’s Teeth is more dramatic than any of his other novels. In it we see characters born to a life of wealth and ease venturing into the Nazi fortress of Munich, Berlin, and-even-Dachau. We see Lanny matching wits with Magda Goebbels, winning the dubious confidence of Göring, searching the fevered eyes of the Fuhrer himself.

Once again Sinclair leads us into scenes of luxury and glamour, lays bare the inner workings of international society and world intrigue, makes real to us people and events which heretofore we have only known in headlines. Dragon’s Teeth is a rare and unforgettable reading experience.

My Thoughts:

In Dragon’s Teeth, Upton Sinclair finally hits the balance that he has been moving and striving toward through his Lanny Budd novels thus far, and the result is a thrilling and engrossing read. While the first novel in the series, World’s End, was very much a novel about world events that just happened to have characters in it to push the story forward, and Between Two Worlds felt like a transition into something else, not quite deciding whether the fictional characters should have their own stories amid the background of world events, Dragon’s Teeth delivers a compelling character-driven story that occurs within the framework of important historical events (although at the time it was published, they were very recent history). Continue reading

The 1943 Novel Decision

After the fiasco in 1942, all three jurors on the novel jury for the Pulitzer Prizes resigned their positions, and an all-new trio of jurors was formed to consider the books eligible for the 1943 prize. The jury was headed by John R. Chamberlain, who was at the time a journalist for Time, and a professor of journalism at Colombia University. The jury was rounded out by journalist Lewis S. Gannett and author and literary critic Maxwell S. Geismar.

The jury report states, “the novel most worthy of the Pulitzer Prize is Upton Sinclair’s ‘Dragon’s Teeth.’” Chamberlain writes that Sinclair’s novel appeared first on the list of two of the members of the jury, and was the second choice of the third. Chamberlain writes that “The Lanny Budd sequence, of which ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is an integral part, is Sinclair’s best fiction by far,” and attempts to soothe the advisory board by telling them that though Sinclair is “known as a socialist, he has, however, lost his old habits of the doctrinaire and pamphleteer. The subject of ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is not anything so narrow or questionable as the Marxist class struggle, which Sinclair used to portray thirty years ago.” Continue reading

The 1942 Novel Decision

In 1942, Dorothy Fisher was replaced on the novel jury by Gilbert Highet, a Scottish born professor of Latin and Greek at Colombia University, and joined long time veterans of the jury Jefferson Fletcher and Joseph Krutch. The three of them did not pull any punches in their recommendation letter, stating, “none of the novels brought to its attention seemed of really outstanding merit or equal to many at least of those which have received the prize in the past.” They further exclaimed, “Had it not been for the fact that no prize was awarded last year it would probably have recommended that none be awarded this year.” However, understanding that two years in a row with no prize for novel would be poor form, they recommended, in no particular order, four novels that were the least bad choices in their opinion: Windswept by Mary Ellen Chase, The Great Big Doorstep by E. P. O’Donnell, Storm by George Stewart, and Green Centuries by Caroline Gordon.

Members of the advisory board, always more than willing to step in and make their own decision, produced at least two letters addressed to Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., son of the man who had established the Pulitzer Prizes, who was still closely connected to prizes. One letter, from novelist W. E. Woodward, extolled the virtues of Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth, third in a series of novels, which explores American, and world, history, from the Wall Street crash of 1929 through Hitler’s rise to power leading up to World War Two, from the eyes of an illegitimate son of an American arms manufacturer. However, Sinclair’s novel was not published in 1941, but in 1942 (and would, in fact, go on to win the prize the next year). The second letter, written by Julian LeRose Harris of the Chattanooga Times, heaped extravagant praise upon Ellen Glasgow, whose novel In This Our Life, was published in 1941. Harris goes on at length about the long and notable oeuvre of the author, quoting several journalist and reviews which spoke favorably about Miss Glasgow, going so far as to call her one of the most important novelists of the past twenty years. Harris goes on to state that the full work of Miss Glasgow was more than enough to warrant her consideration for the prize, which she had not yet even been considered for, with the statement that, as Miss Glasgow was now approaching 70, though “there has been no diminution in the quality of her work, there is no assuredness that it can continue.” Continue reading