Lewis, Sinclair: Kingsblood Royal
(researched by Carrie Han)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Sinclair Lewis. Kingsblood Royal. New York: Random House, Inc., 1947. The book was simultaneously published in Toronto, Canada by Random House of Canada, Ltd. The copyrights of introductions or biographical notes listed in future editions belong to Charles Johnson and Random House, Inc. respectively. The original copyright of the text belongs to Sinclair Lewis.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First edition is a hard cover published in cloth.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

175 leaves, pp. [6] [1] [2] 3-348 [2]

4 leaves in total are not counted as part of the numbering sequence. Numbered pages start from page 3 and proceed to page 348. Page numbers are located on the bottom middle section, 2cm from the edge of the page. Verso pagination is adopted.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The first edition is not edited nor introduced, but dedicated to S.S.S. (meaning small secret spies).  S.S.S. is believed to be Marcella Powers, Lewis’ mistress.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

The first edition is not illustrated.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

Margins are wide enough to help the reader with his/her reading experience. They are 3.81cm at the bottom, 2cm on the left side for left pages (vice versa for right pages), and 1.2cm at the top. Each letter is approximately 0.2~0.3cm in height and 0.1cm in width, adequate in size. 20 lines measure 9cm in depth. Chapters are numbered in Arabic numbers, though new chapters don’t necessarily start at a new page. There are 54 chapters in total. The first letter of a chapter is decorated to be large and bold. There are in average about 35 lines per page. Only black ink was used to print the letters. The book’s hard cover measures 21.5 cm in length and 14.3cm in width. The pages measure to be 21cm in length and 13.5cm in width. Fonts used are transitional serifs, which are “transitions between old style and neo-classical designs.” Using Identifont, the “granjon” was the most likely candidate. It is a type that includes oldstyle serif figures.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

Paper is smooth, woven, and in very good condition. Concluding that it is hard-wearing is acknowledgeable considering that it withstood more than 70 years. Other than being slightly yellowed due to time, there are no warpings, tears, or stains. It has a straight edge for both the sides and the top/bottoms.

11 Description of binding(s)

The first edition is case bound. Pages are divided and stitched together into 11 sections, the sections are than sewn together. The last page(endpaper) is sewn into the cloth-covered hard cover case. Each stitched section is about 0.3cm thick, and the binding is 2.5cm in length. The book is covered with light greenish gray cloth, and the spine of the book has two black slots which have the title and the name of the author written horizontally in gold ink. The cover is stamped “SL”, meaning Sinclair Lewis, in gold ink. The publisher’s name is stamped in black. The cloth covering is embossed calico grain. (Gaskell, p.238)

12 Transcription of title page

SINCLAIR LEWIS | KINGSBLOOD | ROYAL | [illustrated logo of Random House, Inc., 30 X 30 mm.] | RANDOM HOUSE • NEW YORK

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Proofs of Sinclair Lewis Books 1926-1952 by Sinclair Lewis contains galley proofs for Kingsblood Royal as well as other novels by the author such as Mantrap and Work of Art. This book is in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library in the University of Virginia.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

The dustjacket for the first edition is glossy, black paper. The front flap of the dustjacket advertises the book as “a blazing story with a theme that will jolt the nation!” in bold, capitalized letters. The black flap contains a photograph of Lewis, his achievement in winning the Nobel Prize for literature, and three of his novels which are listed in the Modern Library collection by Random House. The particular copy examined was a signed copy. It is to “Carl” and signed by the author as “Red Lewis.”

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Search results on websites GoodReads and AbeBooks list an edition published in 1997 by Random House. However there is no cover image available on both of the websites. WorldCat, the National Union Catalogue, and Amazon search results do not reveal a 1997 edition. Descriptions of illustrations or the size of the book were unavailable. A subsequent edition was published in 2001 by Modern Library. Random House, the original publisher, was set up in 1927 as a division of Modern Library (founded in 1917). Later, Random House and Modern Library switched places so that Random House became the parent company. In 2001, Kingsblood Royal was published in a new edition as a part of the “Modern Library Classics” series. This paperback edition is 215mm x 130mm in size. No illustrations are added. Search on Identifont suggested that “Berthold Baskerville Bold,” an oldstyle fashion font, was the closest typography to the text of this recent edition.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

From research on various websites (WorldCat, AbeBooks, GibbsBooks, Amazon), it seems that there was only one printing of Kingsblood Royal. The website Random House for High School Teachers supports this hypothesis, stating “Though popular at the time of publication, it was quickly expunged from the American literary canon and has been out of print since.” Kirkus Reviews, a literary review magazine, also states the following: “In 1947, Kirkus predicted—wrongly—that "any Sinclair Lewis book has tremendous sales impetus." Soon after publication, Kingsblood Royal fell out of print, and the cause seems apparent now: as much as readers readily took to Lewis's fictional attacks on American business (Dodsworth) and sham preachers (Elmer Gantry), they weren't quite prepared for his novel on race.” However this information is not certain as research for Kingsblood Royal on AbeBooks showed up a search result for a 2nd printing of the 1st edition.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

London: Jonathan Cape (the first UK edition, 1948), New York: Bantam Books (1949), the University of Adelaide Library (eBook edition, 2004). This information was gathered through searches on WorldCat and Amazon.

6 Last date in print?

As mentioned in question 1, there was a recently published edition of Kingsblood Royal by Modern Library in 2001. This seems to be the last date in print for this book based on search results of Amazon and WorldCat. However other books by Sinclair Lewis were still actively in print. A Reprint Edition of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here was most recently published on June 29, 2017 by Penguin Modern Classics. This novel was also printed on Jan 7, 2014 by Signet. Signet Classics also published a reprint edition of Lewis’ Main Street and Arrowsmith in June 3, 2008 and March 4, 2008 respectively. Free Air was recently published by Dover Publications on April 18, 2018.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

According to the July 19th, 1947 edition of Publishers Weekly, the book was published on May 23, 1947. 125,000 copies were sold as of July 5, 1947 according to Publishers Weekly volume 152, number 1, section 1. As of September 27, 1947, 790,000 copies of the book had been sold. A definite number is not given, but Alice Hackett’s 80 Years of Bestsellers (1895-1975) records that “the Lewis book had an overall sale of about 800,000, of which 115,000 were sold in the stores.”

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

It first made the “Candidates for the Best Seller List” on June 21, 1947. It was number two on the fiction category of the “National Best Sellers – June” list accumulated by Publishers Weekly and posted on their July 19th Edition (0.667%). It was number one on the same category, same list for July of 1947 (0.729%). Its sales figures decreased to fourth place in August (0.478% of sales). Alice Hackett’s 80 Years of Bestsellers (1895-1975) ranks the book as 8th place on its annual bestsellers list (fiction) for the year 1947. Publishers Weekly indicates that Kingsblood Royal was sold for $3.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

In the May 24, 1947 edition of Publishers Weekly, it mentioned Kingsblood Royal in its “the Weekly Record” section. The advertising copy is the following: “Neil Kingsblood, bank officer and veteran in a mid-western town, discovers that he is 1/32 Negro, decides to act upon his knowledge and live as a Negro and faces, embattled, the resulting storm of race hate.” In its June 21 edition, Publishers Weekly described the novel as “the leading new fiction Candidate that everyone’s talking about.” The New York Times for February 20, 1947 advertised Kingsblood Royal in its “Books-Authors” section by introducing it as a novel which “has great expectations.” It also stated that it was a Literary Guild selection for June. On the New York Times for October 12, 1947, a display ad was shown marking Kingsblood Royal as the 8th in leading fiction titles for the past 3 weeks.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

Searches on Publishers Weekly did not yield specific promotion of Kingsblood Royal, but Tebbel introduces some advertising practices of Random House. They worked with renowned typographers of the time to make their books more aesthetically beautiful, and then advertised this collaboration. Also, they had limited signed copies of the book which were advertised and sold with much public interest. They sometimes printed luxurious editions of a novel with full-page drawings by famous illustrators.


12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A


13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

1) De sang royal (French), translated by Helene Claireau, Paris: Flammarion. Editions published in 1948, 1964, 1974.

Another French edition translated by Gilbert Sigaux and Helene Claireau, Geneve: Edito-Service, 1968.

2) Kiralyi ver: [Regeny] (Hungarian), translated by Szilagyi Tibor, Budapest: Noval Irodalmi Intezet, 1948.

Another Hungarian edition (the translator’s name is unavailable) was published in 1978 by Budapest: Europa.

3) Kraljevska krv (Servian), translator’s name unavailable, Beograd, Prosveta, 1950. Another Servian edition by Beograd: Politika: Narodna knjiga was published in 2004.

4) Af Kongeblod (Danish), translated by Johanne Marie Larsen, Kobenhavn, H. Hagerup’s Forlab,1948.

5) Krolewska krew (Polish), translated by Jan Stefczyk, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo “Prasa Wojskowa”, 1949.

Another Polish edition was published in 1950 by Warszawa: Ksiazka I Wiedza

6) 血の宣言 (Japanese), translated by Naotaro Tatsunokuchi, スナー社(Tōkyō : Risunāsha, Shōwa), 1949. 

7) 王孙梦 (Chinese), translated by Xiaoshi Yang, 上海译 文出版社, 1957. Other Chinese editions were published in 1980 and 1990 by 新世纪出版社(Guang zhou : Xin shi ji chu ban she).
8) Kingsblad, potomok korolej (Russian), translator’s name unavailable, Moskva: Gosudarstvennoeizdatel’stco Inostrannoi Literatury, 1949. Other Russian editions were published in 1965 by Moskva: Sov. Rossiia and in 1989 by Moskva: Pravda.

9) Der königliche Kingsblood : Roman (German). The list of publishers and publication dates are as follows. If an edition is listed without a translator, the name was unavailable in research.

1951 Zurich: Steinberg (translator Rudolf Frank)

1956 Frankfurt/M. Ullstein Taschenbucher-Verl

1959 Berlin: Ullstein Bucher

1959: Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein

1960 Leipzig: List

1960  Berlin: Verl. Kultur u. Fortschritt

10) Sangre de Rey (Spanish), translator’s name unavailable, NewYork: Random House, 1947. Another Spanish edition was published in 1962 by Barcelona: Plaza & Janes.

11) Av Kungligt Blod (Swedish), translated by Aida Törnell, Stockholm: Albatross, 1949.

12) Kraljevski Kingsblood (Slovenian), translated by Janez Gradisnik, Ljubljana: Drzavna zalozba Slovenije, 1952.

13) Sangue reale (Italian), translated by Renato Guttuso, Milano: A. Mondadori, 1951.

14) Kingsblood, Urmasul Regilor (Romanian), translator’s name unavailable, Bucuresti: Pentru Literatura, 1961.

15) Z Rodu Kralovskeho (Czech), translated by Viera Szathmara Vlckova, Bratislava: Slovenske Vydavatelstvo Kraenej Literatury, 1957.

16) Krlska Kruv (Bulgarian), 1948. (publisher and translator were unavailable)

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Searches on the Publishers Weekly and Twaynes Authors Online did not indicate that the book had been serialized. However, searches on WorldCat showed that the Polish translation for the book (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo “Prasa Wojskowa”, 1949) was serialized into four volumes.

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

There are no sequels or prequels for Kingsblood Royal, but Lewis’ other works consist of a three-novel(Maint Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith) omnibus series, all of them taking place in the fictional city of Zenith.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

For an overview of Lewis’ life, refer to entries on Main Street and Babbitt. Mark Schorer commented on Lewis as “a prime example of […] the man who enjoys a tremendous and rather early success and then suffers through a long period of decline and deterioration.” The time of writing and publishing Kingsblood Royal was precisely during this “long decline” toward the end of his life in 1951. Two years prior to the publication in 1947, Lewis learned that his son is killed in Alsace. Around this time, he parted with Marcella Powers, his love affair. Powers eventually left Lewis to marry another man in 1947, when Kingsblood Royal was published. It is believed that Lewis started planning the book in early 1946, but in Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street, Richard Lingeman writes that Lewis’ fascination for racial issues had started before writing Kingsblood Royal. Lewis had written literary columns for Esquire reviewing three novels about racial problems in America. He gathered primary sources for his novel by inviting blacks, whites, and Jews to dinner parties at his house. There, “he tossed provocative questions” which yielded valuable discussions that would help him with his novel. He continued his research by traveling to South Carolina and Minneapolis, comparing ideologies about race across the North and South. He began his research in earnest when he moved to Thorvale Farm in Massachusetts. There, he went “door to door in black sections of southern-towns” asking residents to retell their experiences as ethnic minorities. Walter White of the NAACP, with whom Lewis had befriended in the 1920s, “served as a possible model for Neil Kingsblood.” White also helped Lewis write the book by connecting him to African American intellectuals, thereby giving an insiders’ view on the subject matter. The complete first draft took only 5 weeks to write, and the whole book was finished within a year. Despite his repeated failures in romance (two failed marriages, one failed affair with Powers, and many courtships throughout his life), Lewis’ attraction to “strong women” actively working as authors, columnists, or literary agents has affected female characters in his novels. The most prominent figure is Vestal Kingsblood in Kingsblood Royal. Vestal Kingsblood considers abortion, which is surprisingly radical, not to say illegal, in the beginning of the 20th century. This description of females as self-thinking individuals reflect upon Lewis’ personal life, where he incorporated opinions of his female companions in revising the book. Revisions of the Babbitt or Grace Casanova’s “With Love from Gracie” are some examples of this active exchange of ideas. Kingsblood Royal was a sharp return to the Lewis’ signature observation of an aspect of American life—along with his criticism of extreme detail and harshness. Fleming speculates that this return was because of Lewis’ downward spiral during his 1930s; his novels did not get the social uproar that they used to have, and Lewis desperately needed a success.

Sources cited are as follows: 

Dooley, D. J. The Art of Sinclair Lewis. University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. Borealis Books, 2005, p.495.

Pastore, Stephen M. Sinclair Lewis: A Descriptive Bibliography. YALEbooks: New Haven, 1997.

Hutchisson, James M., editor. Sinclair Lewis: new essays in criticism. Whitston, 1997. Entry by Sally E. Parry, Boundary Ambiguity and the Politics of Abortion: Women's Choices in Ann Vickers and Kingsblood Royal

Bucco, Martin, editor. Critical essays on Sinclair Lewis. Boston:Hall, 1986. Essay by Robert E. Fleming, Kingsblood Royal and the Black "Passing" Novel

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Many critics charged the book with exaggerating the degree of racism within the white society, along with the fault of unreasonably unravelling events in the plotline. As represented by Lingeman, many of the book’s disparagers argued that no plausible white man would “voluntarily assume the public identity of a black man, bringing grief on himself and his family.” In Cleveland Open Shelf, Vincent Sheean summarized another leading criticism of the book: “In all its astonishing vigor and pungency, his prose is likely at times to weary the palate by its narrowness of rage.”

However, New Yorker’s Jackson defended the book, saying the public is indignant because the book, with its accurate description of racism, pricked their conscience. Clifton Fadiman of the Saturday Review of Literature also stood by Lewis’s side. In his article, he wrote that if readers did not accept this “implausibility” as a convention, they would miss the “cleansing acridity” of “the old Lewis zingo.” He introduces another interesting insight about the book; that while it is indeed a novel about interracial conflict, it is primarily “about the American Problem” which “chronicles our ridiculous and noble attempt to become the free and rational people.” In other words, it is uncomfortable to readers because the novel reveals how—contrary to their beliefs—Americans are not great nor morally superior. The book also received much praise from African American press. Ebony magazine awarded the book its annual award “that did most to promote interracial understanding.” In Kirkus Review’s March 15 edition, Henderson praised the novel as “a book of tremendous importance” and “Sinclair Lewis’ greatest book.”

Others gave mixed opinions about the novel, mainly represented by Poore’s review in the New York Times Book Review. Lewis is admonished for its routine of rebelling against inertia as Poore writes “These (signs and symbols used in the bok), it must be confessed, don’t grow any fresher with the passing of the years.” Also, his weakness in connecting events is pointed out again (“simply piling on crises […] and shoveling in illustrative material by the ton.”) At the same time, he writes that we should not speculate about whether this plot is an exaggeration because the majority of readers have not undergone any similar experience that Neil Kingsblood went through to give a reasonable decision about this issue. 


Book Review Digest. Vol. 42, H.W. Wilson Company, 1947, p.546.

Fadiman, Clifton. “The American Problem.” Saturday Review of Literature, 24 May 1947, p. 9.

Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. Borealis Books, 2005, p.505-507.

Poore, Charles. “Trouble in Grand Republic, Minn.” The New York Times Book Review, 25 May 1947, section 7.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Subsequent reception has noticeably more positive critique compared to reception of the book shortly after its publication. Much of it praises Lewis’s journalist-like ability to effectively capture American society at the time. Richard Lingeman, in Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street, gives a spin to the prevalent criticism of Kingsblood Royal that it portrayed whites as uniformly evil and racist. He writes that this complaint, though it is valid, was “also a form of denial of race prejudice.” He goes on to commend the book as “a fantastic, satirical slide show and monologue on American racism.” In his article “Kingsblood Royal and the Black “Passing” Novel”, Robert Fleming describes Lewis as “a skillful modifier of themes that had been used before.” While previous books about race had been about a black individual living in the white world, Lewis reverses the setting to have the main character move from the white to the black. However, he points out the problem that “he (Lewis) had simply spent too little time on the actual writing” compared to the extensive research he had conducted in gathering racist views in the United States.

Criticisms about the book’s unnatural plotline and uniformly hateful white characters still prevail. Grebstein provides an interesting insight as to why the general public at the time was so hostile with Kingsblood Royal. He speculates that “while the reader finds it difficult to challenge the veracity of any single piece of evidence of the injustice and inhumanity […] Lewis makes the weight of our guilt so oppressive that we tend to escape from it rather than to shoulder it.” He goes on to criticize Lewis’s attitude on white individuals as “stereotyping his opponents for easy recognition and classification.” Daniel Brown agrees that the book is poorly written because of “the author’s insistence on driving home his message.” The plotline is not carefully brought out: “They describe no struggle or conflict but present instead a basic situation and a series of episodes.” However, Grebstein abstains from debasing the book altogether by acknowledging the book’s role as “a public service,” even though it might have failed at being a “work of art.” The book helped spur the direct assessment of racial conflict that raged starting in the 60s.

One new point of discussion in the book is a parallel between how Easterners condescend the Midwest and how whites condescend people of color, as introduced by Edward Watts. This explains the racial struggle as not only a collision of whites versus the others, but also where power struggles inside the white population also come into play. Midwesterners, according to Watts, are still colonized by the East and “poor imitations of Easterners and pathetically struggle […] to meet an Eastern standard of American identity.” Thus, the town’s intolerance toward the Kingsblood family is an effort by the Midwesterners “to be the mirror of, first, Europe, and then, the East.” In his point of view, the complacent Midwesterner is “incapable of overcoming the racist and imperialist forces” which had eroded the rare heterogeneous diversity they had once prided.


Dooley, D. J. The Art of Sinclair Lewis. University of Nebraska Press, 1967, p.224-227.

Fleming, Robert. “Kingsblood Royal and the Black Passing Novel.” Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis, G.K Hall, 1987, p. 215-220.

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. Twayne Publishers, 1962, p.152-154.

Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. Borealis Books, 2005, p.505-507.

Watts, Edward. “Kingsblood Royal, the God-Seeker and the Racial History of the Midwest.” Sinclair Lewis: New Essays in Criticism, The Whitston Publishing Company Troy, 1997, p. 97-101

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

By publishing Kingsblood Royal in 1947, Lewis tried to reclaim his kudos as a critic of complacency in America. His way of gathering background information and writing stories was what he had done many times before, and what he had proved himself to be good at. He conducted extensive research, recorded actual “race talks” between African Americans whom he had invited to his house, and melted what he had learned into the story[1]. The main character, Neil Kingsblood, finds out that he is one thirty-second African American. His struggles effectively deliver the message Lewis had intended: Racism in America is still prevalent, menacing, and destructive. However, while the attainment of this goal enables Kingsblood Royal to be recognized as a bestseller, it also stops the novel from being considered a literary classic.

             Kingsblood Royal shares the qualities of a bestseller in three ways. To begin with, it has a strong journalistic quality. It is not written to entertain its audience but to provide readers with an eye-opening experience to the reality of racism. As Mencken puts it, his book “is fiction only by a sort of courtesy[2].” Lewis intentionally places long monologues within dialogues that Neil Kingsblood has with different members of the African American and Caucasian community. These orations report the diverse spectrum of racist thoughts. Dr. Buncer of the Baptist Church represents the rationale that whites have used to justify their “separate but equal” discrimination of blacks. He says that “segragation […] was instituted […] to protect them, from the evil-minded men of both races, until such time as they grow up mentally and are able to face reality like you and I and other white men do[3].” Mr. Topman, along with some “extra cordial” neighbors, expects Kingsblood to know “a Negro preacher down in Atlanta, Georgia” that he cannot accurately recall the name of[4]. Seemingly innocent inquiries are humiliating and degrading already, but Kingsblood also has to suffer the threats of the former mayor, his former friends, and anonymous blackmailers[5]. The novel resembles narrative journalism in that it investigates a particular subject (racism) through the eyes of an individual (Neil Kingsblood). Its connections to Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin are prominent. The term “Uncle Tom” is mentioned many times to refer to African Americans who abandon their dignity and toady to whites. Ryan Woolcape’s dismissive description of Evan Brewster as “the favorite of a lot of foot kissing Uncle Toms[6]” highlights the conflicting views between African Americans in deciding the correct way to battle racism. The novel’s aim to link “the American bestseller and the American social conscience[7]” is an inheritance of the literary tradition that Stowe had initiated.

             Kingsblood Royal embodies another trait of bestsellers because it benefits from the halo effect of being written by a renowned author. The Babbitt, written by Lewis in 1922, was an enormous success. It was praised as an accurate attack on “hypocrisies and dishonesties[8]” in all little people. Its contribution to modern American culture helped Lewis to be the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930. After his worldwide success, his new novels always gained the attention of publishers and readers. Kingsblood Royal may have been the largest beneficiary, because post World War Ⅱ American readers had more time to tune into the latest Lewis novel. The war that had preoccupied them for over 5 years was over, and they could now spend leisure time. The book was advertised even before its publication, exemplified by the New York Times article in February 20, 1947, which introduced it as a novel with “great expectations.” Lewis’ writing style is so evident and looming in the story that “the public image of the author is stronger than the impression of the book itself[9].” This is illustrated by the large portion of the reception that is dedicated to comparing Kingsblood Royal with other books by the author, rather than analyzing the novel on its own. For example, many praises and criticisms are all based on “the old Lewis zingo[10].” Reviewers either praise it as yet another effective demonstration of his writing style or denounce it as redundant. Clearly the author’s early success was too great for Kingsblood Royal to be considered original.

             The social context of the 1940s also contributed to the novel’s high sale numbers. America after World War Ⅱ began an earnest pushback against racism. The war created a confusion that robbed traditional elites of their hierarchical power. War propagandas focused on freedom and equality stirred citizens to be “more thoughtful about the ideas (they) were fighting for[11].” The NAACP toiled to stop discrimination in the warfront. It planned “a double victory—full democracy abroad and at home[12].” It was also in the government’s interest to accommodate the requests made by organizations such as the NAACP. The government had warred against fascists on the justification that the allies upheld democratic values. They had to be consistent with their pursuit if these ideals in domestic settings as well. Stakes interlocked to succeed in installing black organizations in the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy and Marines. William Hastie and Colonel Johnson were ground breakers as African Americans to be appointed in skilled, competitive positions[13]. The battle against racism continued to gain momentum as a national agenda, along with Truman’s speech at NAACP’s Annual Convention on June 30, 1947[14]. Kingsblood Royal was published in the midst of all this uproar. The novel interacted with the social background: Its timeliness urged people to read it, and many readers joined the cause and continued the resistance. 

             While topicality was a major success factor for Kingsblood Royal, its fame was short lived precisely because of it. The first edition had two printings at best (Abebooks notes a 2nd printing, but WorldCat, GibbsBooks, and Amazon only list the first printing). Random House for High School Teachers comment that the book “quickly expunged from the American literary canon[15].” As Barry Targan writes, “anything depending too closely upon a specific political or economic or societal subject is unlikely to live any longer than the subject does[16].” Even though racism is still an ongoing agenda in the American public discourse, Targan’s critique is definitely applicable to Kingsblood Royal. Minnesota’s rule of defining an African American “as a person having even one drop[17]” of black blood no longer exists. Neil Kingsblood’s shocking realization of his identity, which the book solely depends on for its plot, is presently not relatable to anyone. The betrayal that Kingsblood feels as he experiences the sudden change in attitude from his family, neighbors, and colleagues lost its realistic, journalistic feature. The topic was too narrowly tailored to meet the specific needs of Midwestern America during the 1940s that while it was enough to have immediate social impact[18], it could not transcend its time. This over emphasis on social conscience is also why the personas in the novel are flat figures incapable of rising as archetypes of humanity. Many reviewers have pointed the “implausibility[19]” of Kingsblood, who was a typical white middle-class businessman, suddenly developing an overwhelming love for colored people even at the cost of his family’s safety. The moment Kingsblood realizes his ancestry, there is not one black person who hates whites with the same degree of baseless contempt, or someone who is not wrongfully denied the right to learn and work, despite his/her competence and ability. Even Belfreda, his former maid whom Kingsblood had thought as disrespectful, is revealed to be a down-to-earth, mature woman who does not hold a grudge[20] against his family. Whites are “uniformly evil and racist[21]” with the sole exception of Vestal, who is at times torn between her love for Neil and her dislike of the colored race. Even though his pale complexion would have let him pass as a white man for all his life, Neil Kingsblood wholeheartedly accepts the notion without once regretting it. He even says that if he were not “even a tiny bit” black, he would have volunteered to convert himself as an African American because they are prized for their “kindness and courage and intelligence[22].” Barry Targan writes that the finest fiction (which may be synonymous with the term “literary classic”) “grasps and shapes complexity[23].” Characters in the Kingsblood Royal are far from ordinary people who are neither saintly nor devilish, and who are always having second thoughts. Psychologists Hoorn and Konijn observed that readers go through three stages of encoding, comparing, and responding to fictional characters to fully appreciate them[24]. The encoding stage places characters into certain types according to ethics (good-bad), aesthetics (attractive-ugly) and epistemics (realistic-unrealistic). Then readers compare the characters’ goals and struggles to their own in order to engage or distance themselves. When they spot dislikeable features, they detach themselves from the character to dislike that character and grow fond of his/her opponent. Readers of Kingsblood Royal who follow these stages will have a hard time identifying themselves inside the novel because the characters stand at either extreme end of the spectrum.

             From an intrinsic approach to critiquing literature, Kingsblood Royal fails to qualify as “a work of art[25].” The “actual writing[26]” is low-quality, compared to the noble intention of the author to end racism. The intrinsic approach observes the work without connecting it to social context or the author. It considers how the rhetoric is structured and brought out. Thus reviewers look at how the author used diverse aesthetic features such as rhythm, metaphors, symbols, or paradoxes. Aesthetic literature simply please the audience with the beauty of writing itself—readers are not compelled to learn a lesson and contribute in developing the society. An example of it would be The Great Gatsby. Regardless of what Gatsby’s life represents of materialism in 20th century America, the final quote “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” stirs something inside our hearts. Even though Kingsblood Royal shares the topic of business and post war American societies, there is no rhetoric that excels beyond the boundaries of the setting to be pleasing in itself.

             Kingsblood Royal is a faithful representation of the standard Lewis way of writing. Lewis conducted thorough research on how racism destructs an individual’s life, and how many white Americans justify their discrimination in order to remain oblivious to the harm they cause. In a time of intense nationwide efforts to improve the standard of living for African Americans, his book received much public attention. Being written by an already-famous author when readers could afford to spend the time and money in reading also contributed to its success. However, the glory days of the novel were only limited to those few years. It failed to expand its focus to the broader theme of inequality or “banalities of evil” in ordinary people, which would have helped more recent readers to appreciate the novel. Despite its enormous fame half a century ago, Kingsblood Royal is now no more than just another Lewis novel.


Works Cited

 “Random House for High School Teachers | Catalog | Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis.” Accessed April 15, 2018. http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375756863

Fadiman, Clifton. “The American Problem.” Saturday Review of Literature, 24 May 1947, p. 9.

Fleming, Robert. “Kingsblood Royal and the Black Passing Novel.” Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis, G.K Hall, 1987, p. 215-220.

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. Twayne Publishers, 1962, p.152-154.

Hamilton, editor. “Book and Current Literature Reviews.” Greensboro Daily News, 3 Dec. 1922.

Hoorn, Johan F., and Elly A. Konijn. “Perceiving and Experiencing Fictional Characters: An Integrative account1.” Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 45, no. 4, 2003, pp. 250–268., doi:10.1111/1468-5884.00225.

Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001

Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. Borealis Books, 2005, p.505-507.

Mencken, H L., The Smart Set, Oct. 1922, pp. 138–140.

NAACP, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom World War II and the Post War Years.” World War II and the Post War Years - NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom | Exhibitions - Library of Congress, 21 Feb. 2009, www.loc.gov/exhibits/naacp/world-war-ii-and-the-post-war-years.html.

Sutherland, John. Bestsellers: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2007, Ch.4.

Targan, Barry. "Where Does Fiction Go?" The Sewanee Review, Vol. 112, No. 2 (Spring, 2004), p.258.


[1] Lingeman, Richard R. Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. Borealis Books, 2005, p.505-507.

[2] Mencken, H L., The Smart Set, Oct. 1922, pp. 138–140.

[3] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.121.

[4] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.221

[5] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.279.

[6] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.114

[7] Sutherland, John. Bestsellers: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2007, Ch.4.

[8] Hamilton, editor. “Book and Current Literature Reviews.” Greensboro Daily News, 3 Dec. 1922.

[9] Ibid

[10] Fadiman, Clifton. “The American Problem.” Saturday Review of Literature, 24 May 1947, p. 9.

[11] Ibid.

[12] NAACP, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom World War II and the Post War Years.” World War II and the Post War Years - NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom | Exhibitions - Library of Congress, 21 Feb. 2009, www.loc.gov/exhibits/naacp/world-war-ii-and-the-post-war-years.html.

[13] Ibid.


[15] .“Random House for High School Teachers | Catalog | Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis.” Accessed April 15, 2018. http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375756863

[16] Targan, Barry. "Where Does Fiction Go?" The Sewanee Review, Vol. 112, No. 2 (Spring, 2004), p.258.

[17] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.59.

[18] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.260

[19] Ibid.

[20] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.163.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.213.

[23] Lewis, Sinclair. Kingsblood Royal. The Modern Library, 2001, p.261.

[24] Hoorn, Johan F., and Elly A. Konijn. “Perceiving and Experiencing Fictional Characters: An Integrative account1.” Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 45, no. 4, 2003, pp. 250–268., doi:10.1111/1468-5884.00225.

[25] Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. Twayne Publishers, 1962, p.152-154.

[26] Fleming, Robert. “Kingsblood Royal and the Black Passing Novel.” Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis, G.K Hall, 1987, p. 215-220.


You are not logged in. (Sign in)