Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kingsblood Royal

1947, original Random House edition
Sinclair Lewis
Kingsblood Royal
Original price unknown, purchase price $4.95
Falling apart hardcover

Although more horrible things happen in this book than in Cass Timberlane, including a couple and their friends arrested for defending their home from a mob, I find it a more pleasant and more hopeful book.  Lewis takes a nice but bigoted young man-- a veteran, husband, father, and banker-- and shows how his world is turned upside-down when he finds out he has "black blood."  His ancestor was an admirable pioneer, who happened to be a Negro.  (Pace, George Carlin.)  Neil Kingsblood's father thinks that the family is descended from Catherine of Aragon, but Neil's amateur explorations in genealogy turn up a more dramatic story on his mother's side of the family.

As other online reviews show, this book still has the power to startle, that Lewis was talking about race 65 years ago.  (The year after it was published, Strom Thurmond ran for President as a Dixiecrat.)  White critics of the time found the book contrived, which it is, while many black critics found it courageous, which it also is.  I would give it a B, but I find the transformation of Neil and his wife Vestal, from owners of a dog named Nigger to the expectant parents of a child they half-jokingly plan to name Booker T., to be too quick and easy.

Also, I'm not sure what the point of Neil's flirtation with Sophie Concord is.  In Arrowsmith, Orchid Pickerbaugh is a distraction from Martin's marriage to sloppy saint Leora and from his noble bride Science, but he doesn't let it go too far.  Sophie seems to be here to assure readers that if Vestal leaves him, as her family and most people in town urge, Neil won't be alone.  And he also has surrogate parents and dear friends in the black community by the end, making up for all the white associates he loses.  (A few loyal whites, including Vestal, stick by him.)

The story is set in the same world as Timberlane, picking up at roughly the time that novel ended.  Indeed, Vestal is friends with Jinny Timberlane.  The judge is one of the more tolerant whites, although he doesn't have much impact on the story.

Lewis wrote two more novels after this, but I've never read them.  He died in 1951.  He was a very flawed man and a somewhat flawed writer, but I'm glad I own so many of his books.

No comments:

Post a Comment