|Info||Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore on September 20th, 1878. His alcoholic father moved the family to New York City in 1888. Although his own family were extremely poor, he spent periods of time living with his wealthy grandparents. He later argued that witnessing these extremes turned him into a socialist. |
A religious boy with a great love of literature, his two great heroes were Jesus Christ and Percy Bysshe Shelley. An intelligent boy, he did well at school and at 14 entered New York City College. Soon afterwards, he had his first story published in a national magazine. Over the next few years, Sinclair funded his college education by writing stories for newspapers and magazines. By the age of 17, Sinclair was earning enough money to enable him to move into his own apartment while supplying his parents with a regular income.
Sinclair's first novel, Springtime and Harvest, was published in 1901. He followed this with The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903), Prince Hagen (1903), Manassas (1904), and A Captain of Industry (1906), but they all sold badly.
In the early 1900s, Sinclair became an active socialist after reading books such as Merrie England (Robert Blatchford), The People of the Abyss (Jack London), Appeal to the Young (Peter Kropotkin), and Octypus (Frank Norris). In September 1905, Sinclair joined with Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
The work of Frank Norris was especially important to the development of Sinclair as a writer. He later spoke about how Norris had "showed me a new world, and he also showed me that it could be put in a novel." Sinclair was also influenced by the investigative journalism of Benjamin Flower, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker.
In 1904, Fred Warren, the editor of the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason, commissioned Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat packing houses. Julius Wayland, the owner of the journal, provided Sinclair with a $500 advance and, after seven weeks research, he wrote the novel, The Jungle. Serialized in 1905, the book helped to increase circulation to 175,000.
However, Sinclair had his novel rejected by six publishers. A consultant at Macmillan wrote: "I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich."
Sinclair decided to publish the book himself and, after advertising his intentions in the Appeal to Reason, he he got orders for 972 copies. When he told Doubleday of these orders, it decided to publish the book. The Jungle (1906) was an immediate success, selling over 150,000 copies. Within the next few years, The Jungle had been published in seventeen languages and was a best-seller all over the world.
After President Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle, he ordered an investigation of the meat-packing industry. He also met Sinclair and told him that, while he disapproved of the way the book preached socialism, he agreed that "radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."
With the passing of the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906), Sinclair was able to show that novelists could help change the law. This in itself inspired a tremendous growth in investigative journalism. Theodore Roosevelt became concerned at this development and described it as muckraking.
Sinclair was now a well-known national figure and decided to accept the offer of the Socialist Party to become its candidate for Congress in New Jersey. The venture was unsuccessful, with Sinclair winning only 750 out of 24,000 votes.
In 1906, Sinclair decided to use some of his Jungle royalties into establishing Helicon Home Colony, a socialist community at Eaglewood, New Jersey. One of those who joined was Sinclair Lewis, who was to be greatly influenced by Upton Sinclair's views on politics and literature. Four months after it opened, a fire entirely destroyed Helicon. Later, Sinclair blamed his political opponents for the fire.
Sinclair's next few novels, such as The Overman (1907), The Metropolis (1908), The Moneychangers (1908), Love's Pilgrimage (1911), and Sylvia (1913), were commercially unsuccessful.
In 1914, Sinclair moved to Croton-on-Hudson, a small town close to New York City, where there was a substantial community of radicals living, including Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Robert Minor, Boardman Robinson, and Inez Milholland. He also pleased his socialist friends with his anthology of social protest, The Cry for Justice (1915). John Reed wrote to Sinclair that his "anthology has made more radicals than anything I ever heard of".
Initially, members of the Socialist Party had argued that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system and were opposed to the United States becoming involved in the conflict. However, news of the atrocities carried out by German soldiers in Belgium convinced some members that the United States should join the Allies against the Central Powers.
Sinclair took this view and began arguing this case in the radical journal, The Masses. Its editor, Max Eastman, and John Reed, who had been to the Western Front and Eastern Front as a war reporter, disagreed and argued against him in the journal. The issue split the Socialist Party and eventually Sinclair resigned from the party over it.
After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, the Espionage Act was passed and this resulted in several of Sinclair's socialist opponents being imprisoned for their opposition to the war. Sinclair now took up their case and, when Eugene Debs was imprisoned, Sinclair wrote to Woodrow Wilson arguing that it was "futile to try and win democracy abroad, while we are losing it at home."
Sinclair continued to write politically committed novels, including King Coal (1917), based on an industrial dispute, and Boston (1928), on the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. He also wrote books about religion (The Profits of Religion, 1918), newspapers (The Brass Check, 1919), and education (The Goose-Step, 1923, and The Goslings, 1924).
Sinclair rejoined the Socialist Party and, in 1926, was its candidate to become governor of California. The following year, he wrote an article for The Nation where he admitted he had been wrong about the First World War.
In 1934, Sinclair once again stood as a candidate to become governor of California. He lost, but his EPIC program (End Poverty in California) gained considerable support and this time he won 879,537 votes against the winner's 1,138,620.
In 1940, World's End launched Sinclair's 11-volume novel series on American government. His novel Dragon's Teeth (1942), on the rise of Nazism, won him the Pulitzer Prize. By the time Upton Sinclair died in November, 1968, he had published more than ninety books.