Over the past week or so I have been dutifully plugging a hole in my literary education. I am reading Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry. If you are unfamiliar with the story, the title character is a rudderless, narcissistic, unsavory fellow who, through a series of somewhat implausible events, gets ordained as a Baptist minister. Mayhem ensues! The book was somewhat controversial when it was first published, since it does not exactly make evangelical Christianity look good. I am currently halfway through it and loving every page of it.
In reading the following brief excerpt, keep in mind that this was published in 1927. The “Sharon” mentioned here is the leader of a traveling group of evangelists.
The lady Director of Personal Work had unexpected talent in making up anecdotes about the death-beds of drunkards and agnostics; Lily Anderson, the pretty though anemic pianist, had once been a school teacher and had read a couple of books about scientists, so she was able to furnish data with which Sharon absolutely confuted the rising fad of evolution; and Art Nichols, the cornetist, provided rude but moral Maine humor, stories about horse-trading, cabbages, and hard cider, very handy for cajoling skeptical business men. But Elmer, being trained theologically, had to weave all the elements — dogma, poetry to the effect that God’s palette held the sunsets or ever the world began, confessions of the dismally damned, and stories of Maine barn-dances — into one ringing whole.
The more things change, and all that.