Arrowsmith and Adam Smith

January/February 2024

with Elaine Sternberg
Pre-registration is required, and we ask you to register only if you can be present for ALL sessions. All readings are available online. You may use promo code VRG2023 to receive 35% off your purchase at Liberty Fund Books.  Participants who successfully complete ALL sessions will be eligible to receive an Amazon e-gift certificate.

Arrowsmith is the novel for which Sinclair Lewis refused the 1925 Pulitzer Prize.  It is also one of the five novels for which, in 1930, Lewis became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The others were Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth.

Rejecting the Pulitzer, Lewis stated:
  [T]he Pulitzer Prize for novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

 Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.
Arrowsmith is a satire and a bildungsroman.  It charts the personal and professional history of Martin Arrowsmith, first as a medical student, a practicing physician and a public health official in the US midwest, then as a researcher at an elite NYC institute, and ultimately as a fighter against an epidemic of plague in the West Indies using a serum that he discovered.  Throughout, the discipline of scientific research is contrasted with the demands of practicing medicine and those of social life.

All readings are available for free online.  Note that John Ford's 1931 film Arrowsmith bears little resemblance to the novel, except for having some characters with the same names.  

Questions to consider:
- What does the novel praise? What is presented as praiseworthy? On what grounds?
- Is Lewis's rejection of the Pulitzer a challenge to the standard of evaluation proposed by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments?
- What are the main sources of Martin Arrowsmith's moral and medical education?
- What do the authors mean by 'science'? by 'success'?
- What is the role of wealth in the novel?


- Lewis, Sinclair (1924) Arrowsmith. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Page references are to the Signet Classics edition:
- Smith, Adam (1904 [1776]) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations ('WN').  Cannan ed. London: Methuen. 2 vols.
References are to Book.Chapter.Part. Article numbers.
- Smith, Adam (1982 [1869]) The Theory of Moral Sentiments ('TMS'), 6th Glasgow Edition. Edited by D.D.Raphael and A.L. Macfie. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. 
References are to Part.Section.Chapter.Paragraph numbers.

Session I: Thursday, January 25, 2024, Martin Arrowsmith:  Student, Country Doctor

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, Chapters 1-17 (pp.5-115)

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments
- I.i.3,1-10                  pp.16-19
- I.i.4.7-9                    pp.22-23
- II.iii, intro                  pp.92-93    
- ii.iii.1.6-7                  p.96  
- III.ii.1-6                     pp.113-116
- III.3. 34-38                pp.152-154 line 2

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, vol 1:  I.i.2 (pp.15-18)
Session II:  Thursday, February 1, 2024, Public Health, Private Doubts

Arrowsmith,  Chapters 18-27 (pp.116-189)

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments
- III.3. 43-45            pp.155-156
- VI.i.1-16 (partial)     pp.212-217 line 1  'derision'
- VI.ii.1.15-20             pp.223-226
- VI.ii.2.16-18          pp.233-4

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, vol 2
- V, i.3.2 (partial)       p.256  'The ancient' - p.259 'corrupted.'
- V. i.3.3                    pp.280-281

Session  III: Thursday, February 8, 2024, Research and Development: Publish and Perish

Arrowsmith, Chapters 28-40 (pp.190-278)

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments ('TMS'):  VI.iii.37-53 (pp.256-62)