The Life and Works of Upton Sinclair
Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. was born in a boardinghouse in Baltimore, Maryland on September 20, 1878, to Upton Beall and Priscilla Harden Sinclair. Sinclair's childhood was complicated and the future of his family was always economically uncertain. His family was still recovering from the devastation dealt to the Southern aristocracy by Federal Reconstruction, and his father, an unsuccessful liquor salesman, was an alcoholic who often squandered the family's income. When he was ten, Sinclair's family moved to New York City, where they lived in numerous boardinghouses. Sinclair explains, "...one night I would be sleeping on a vermin-ridden sofa in a lodging house, and the next night under silken coverlets in a fashionable home. It all depended on whether my father had the money for that week's board" (qtd. in Liukkonen).
Priscilla was unlike Upton Sr. in many ways. Where he came from a long line of naval officers, Priscilla's father was the secretary-treasurer of the Western Maryland Railroad and a Methodist deacon. Priscilla had a strong "Protestant distaste for liquor," while her husband was a habitual alcoholic. Sinclair was greatly influenced by his mother. She is credited with nurturing Sinclair's focus on literature, and he also acquired her distaste for liquor (Parini 279).
Sinclair entered public schools in 1888, when his family moved to New York City. As a testament to his superior intellect, he took two years to pass the eight elementary grades (Yoder 20). Sinclair's formal education began when he was fourteen years old; he enrolled in the City College of New York to study philosophy and literature. During his time at City College, Sinclair supported himself by writing ethnic jokes and fiction for pulp magazines (Liukkonen). Sinclair graduated after five years, and started his graduate work at Columbia University in 1897, producing a novelette every week for New York publisher Street and Smith, who paid him forty to seventy dollars each week, depending on the length of the novelette (Yoder 22). Sinclair never attained a master's degree, choosing instead to intentionally not pass his classes (Yoder 23).
In the year 1900, Sinclair stopped his formal education and married Meta H. Fuller. This unhappy marriage inspired Sinclair to write his first serious work, Springtime and Harvest. When he could not find a publisher to release Springtime, he saved and borrowed enough to publish it himself. "He sent copies to the New York newspapers, but managed to sell only two copies of the novel to people who did not know him personally" (Yoder 25). However, Funk and Wagnalls eventually accepted the book and published it as King Midas. The book was still not terrible successful, and Sinclair moved with Meta to Lake Erie. It was here that Sinclair wrote Prince Hagen, "the story of a Nibelung, grandson of the dwarf Alberich, who brings his...