Cass Timberlane Analysis
by Sinclair Lewis

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Grand Republic

Grand Republic. Minnesota hometown of District Judge Cass Timberlane, located in fictional Radisson County, eighty miles north of Minneapolis, more than seventy miles from Duluth, with a population of 85,000. Having lived a large part of his life in the real town of Duluth, Sinclair Lewis describes his fictional epitome of middle America as large enough to have a painting by Jean Renoir, a school-system scandal, and both millionaires and a slum. The city has the prejudices and small-mindedness of smaller towns and the caste system of the bigger cities. Cass reluctantly concedes the imperfections of Grand Republic but nevertheless loves it. He sees it as a new kind of city, a city for everyone, a city of “decency and neighborliness.” He feels secure there, but the pull of the city on him is part of the reason that his marriage to Jinny begins to crumble.

Bergheim

Bergheim. Cass’s family home. Built in 1888, it is a somber dark green structure with a circular tower and an octagonal conservatory, Some people consider it a “monstrosity” and remember that both of Cass’s parents died in it, but Cass himself loves the house. His first wife Blanche hates the house. His second wife appreciates his attachment to it, but when Cass comes into a substantial sum of money and asks Jinny how they should spend it, her first suggestion is that they buy a new house. Left empty for months after the Timberlanes move out, Bergheim becomes the site of yet another tragedy when the Timberlanes’ pet cat is killed there by dogs on the day Cass visits the house one last time.

New Timberlane home

New Timberlane home. Modern house in the Country Club district near Dead Squaw Lake. Built in a modern “streamlined” development, the house is everything that Jinny likes, and has little that Cass appreciates. Its furnishings include new gray furniture, mulberry-colored carpets, and paintings of flowers in an Impressionist style. It has fewer and smaller rooms than Bergheim, and Cass is never truly happy or comfortable in it. He accepts it, secretly hoping that living there will help tame Jinny’s restlessness.

Baggs City

Baggs City. Florida community near Palm Beach to which Cass takes Jinny on their first honeymoon. Baggs City is a re-creation of Grand Republic in Florida: staid and stodgy, full of older people who resemble Cass more than his young wife. They stay at the Bryn-Thistle-on-the-Bay Inn, far removed from the bright lights and diversions of nearby Palm Beach. Baggs City provides the privacy that Cass desires, but Jinny bears it for only a few days before persuading him to take her to Palm Beach. There Jinny revels in what Lewis calls the “American Cannes,” all of whose people are beautiful, whose houses all made of gold, and whose ocean water is imported from the Riviera.

*New York City

*New York City. Site of Cass and Jinny’s second honeymoon. Hoping to expand Jinny’s horizons and doing everything he can think of to show his devotion, Cass takes Jinny to New York, a city that he has visited before but for which he has no affection. He dislikes the city’s hustle and bustle. However, Jinny is both frightened and entranced by New York and loves it. The city becomes for her a solution to her growing dissatisfaction with her marriage. She persuades Cass to agree to move there, giving up his judgeship, and going into private legal practice. However, Grand Republic’s hold on Cass is too great, and he soon returns to his hometown.

Hatter boardinghouse

Hatter boardinghouse. Jinny’s residence before marrying Cass. Described as “the hobohemia of Grand Republic,” it consists of a dozen bedrooms above the Lilac Lady Lunchroom. Young and not-so-young so-called intellectual, working class, educated nonconformists live there, and Jinny feels at home there. Cass feels out of place when he goes there to court her, but he perseveres.

Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dooley, D. J. The Art of Sinclair Lewis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. Reviews major criticism and considers arguments that the novel’s contrived ending is more ironic than sentimental. Analyzes the contrapuntal effect of the brief accounts from “ An Assemblage of Husbands and Wives.”

Geismar, Maxwell. The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Argues that Cass Timberlane displays Lewis’ return to the values of his native Midwest. Asserts that Judge Timberlane is a true aristocrat, whose values are in contrast to corrupt East Coast values.

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Twayne, 1962. Intelligent commentaries on Lewis’ major novels, along with useful annotated bibliography. Praises the economical sketches in “An Assemblage of Husbands and Wives” as some of Lewis’ best writing. Acknowledges that Cass Timberlane degenerates at times to soap opera, but argues that Lewis’ aim is realism rather than satire.

Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. An authoritative biography. Points out parallels between Lewis’ own life and that of Cass Timberlane; suggests that both were victims of a matriarchal complex. Sums up early reviews of the book, including comments by H. L. Mencken. Identifies similarities in structure with Main Street.

Wilson, Edmund. “Salute to an Old Landmark: Sinclair Lewis.” The New Yorker, October 13, 1945, 94, 96-97. One of the most perceptive early reviews. Sees Cass Timberlane as significantly different from earlier Lewis novels in its treatment of Midwestern values and of liberated young women.