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Classical Notes

Public Perceptions Then and Now

Posted at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2006 by Bob Christiansen
Filed under: The blog

I've been reading Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street" and have been struck by a couple of things. First, his descriptions of St. Paul and how familiar it is, even after 86 years. Nothing puts me into a story as much as being familiar with the locale, and having the main character stand on Summit Avenue and look out over Lowertown to the bluffs of the Mississippi really makes me know her.
Second, his mentioning of the music performed at a graduation party. Lewis talks about "Carmen" and "Madame Butterfly" and the "Soldier's Chorus" without ever mentioning Bizet or Puccini or Gounod, or even that they were operas. His readers knew all that in 1920...they didn't have to be told. I don't think that any author today could make that comfortable assumption.