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"This slum of literature"

TheJobI've been reading some of the 'best books', which has been surprisingly fun. Perhaps slightly less educational than I had assumed it would be, but there's a virtuous buzz that comes from reading anything with <10 downloads on Gutenberg. 

Although not one of Sinclair Lewis' best works, The Job has a lot going for it. This is a sort of Babbitt for the working woman, and Lewis tries to balance warm-hearted (and progressive) feminist thinking with a thinly-veiled disgust for, well, everyone, including its own protagonist.

It is a tricky line to walk, and the book occasionally stumbles a little too far into one camp or another: either with full-on preaching monologues or vast swathes of parenthetical scorn. 

Still, mean is funny. And this lengthy, abusive aside about the 'literary itch' was particularly entertaining:

* * *

An astonishing number of Americans with the literary itch do contrive to make a living out of that affliction.

They write motion-picture scenarios and fiction for the magazines that still regard detective stories as the zenith of original art. They gather in woman-scented flats to discuss sex, or in hard-voiced groups to play poker. They seem to find in the creation of literature very little besides a way of evading regular office hours.

Below this stratum of people so successful that one sometimes sees their names in print is the yearning band of young men who want to write. Just to write—not to write anything in particular; not to express any definite thought, but to be literary, to be Bohemian, to dance with slim young authoresses of easy morals, and be jolly dogs and free souls. Some of them are dramatists with unacted dramas; some of them do free verse which is just as free as the productions of regular licensed poets.

Some of them do short stories—striking, rather biological, very destructive of conventions. Some of them are ever so handy at all forms; they are perennial candidates for any job as book-reviewer, dramatic critic, or manuscript-reader, since they have the naïve belief that these occupations require neither toil nor training, and enable one to “write on the side.” Meanwhile they make their livings as sub-editors on trade journals, as charity-workers, or as assistants to illiterate literary agents.

To this slum of literature Walter Babson belonged. He felt that he was an author, though none of his poetry had ever been accepted, and though he had never got beyond the first chapter of any of his novels, nor the first act of any of his plays (which concerned authors who roughly resembled Walter Babson).

He was distinguished from his fellows by the fact that each year he grew more aware that he hadn’t even a dim candle of talent; that he was ill-planned and unpurposed; that he would have to settle down to the ordinary gray limbo of jobs and offices—as soon as he could get control of his chaotic desires. Literally, he hated himself at times; hated his own egotism, his treacherous appetite for drink and women and sloth, his imitative attempts at literature. But no one knew how bitterly he despised himself, in lonely walks in the rain, in savage pacing about his furnished room. To others he seemed vigorously conceited, cock-sure, noisily ready to blame the world for his own failures

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From The Job (1917) by Sinclair Lewis. 

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