Our Mr. Wrenn: The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man is a 1914 novel by Sinclair Lewis.Lewiswas an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters."I find it interesting that Lewis, at the age of 13unsuccessfully ran away from home, wanting to become a drummer boy in the Spanish-American War.Who runs away to become a drummer boy?And in a war of all places?Although I'm not sure where else but in a war he would have been a drummer boy.
Getting back to our book, "Our Mr. Wrenn" was the first to be published under his real name.Now when I first learned that the thing that popped into my mind was "what book did he publish under a different name?" and here is the answer: " Lewis's first published book was Hike and the Aeroplane, a Tom Swift-style potboiler that appeared in 1912 under the pseudonym Tom Graham."
I must say that I usually love novels by Sinclair Lewis, just thinking of Babbitmakes me want to go dig it out and start reading it; "Main Street"," Elmer Gantry", "Dodsworth" I just love them all.However there were other ones that I wouldn't exactly say that I loved, "Free Air", "Ann Vickers", "It Can't Happen Here", I liked them but didn't love them."Our Mr. Wrenn" falls in with those that I didn't love.
In the beginning of the story we meet our "Mr. Wrenn" a very mild, very ordinary American clerk.Mr. Wrenn was the sales-entry clerk of the Souvenir Company. He is described as "a meek little bachlor—a person of inconspicuous blue ready-made suits, and a small unsuccessful mustache, who was always bending over bills and columns of figures at a desk behind the stock room."Mr. Wrenn is not happy with his life; he does not want to work for the Souvenir Company and he does not want to live at Mrs. Zapp's boarding house:
"Mrs. Zapp was a fat landlady. When she sat down there was a straight line from her chin to her knees. She was usually sitting down. When she moved she groaned, and her apparel creaked.....Mr. Wrenn did nothing more presumptuous than sit still, in the stuffy furniture-crowded basement room, which smelled of dead food and deader pride in a race that had never existed. He sat still because the chair was broken. It had been broken now for four years."
No, Mr. Wrenn is not happy with his life; in the evenings he goes to the" Nickelorion Moving-Picture Show".There are many other picture shows that are closer to the boarding house where Mr. Wrenn lives, but at the Nickelorion is a ticket-taker who nods to all the patrons and his nod is "the most cordial nod in town.Poor, lonely Mr. Wrenn passes"ever so many other shows, just to get that cordial nod, because he had a lonely furnished room for evenings, and for daytime a tedious job that always made his head stuffy."Mr. Wrenn is a lonely man who says he has one friend where he works, Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper at the Souvenir Company.As for any other friends we are told,
"But on the old marble mantelpiece lived his friends, books from wanderland.Other friends the room had rarely known. It was hard enough for Mr. Wrenn to get acquainted with people, anyway, and Mrs. Zapp did not expect her gennulman lodgers to entertain. So Mr. Wrenn had given up asking even Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper at the Souvenir Company, to call. That left him the books, which he now caressed with small eager finger-tips. He picked out a P. & O. circular, and hastily left for fairyland."
What Mr. Wrenn wants to do above all else is travel, foreign travel is the aim and goal of his life.He lives as cheaply as possible saving up all his money for "future great traveling".We are told that Mr. Wrenn is "so experienced in all of travel, save the traveling."He dreams of the day when he can leave "The Job" forever and travel the world although,"his fear of losing The Job was almost equal to his desire to resign from The Job."
Then one day it happens, Mr. Wrenn receives a small inheritance, nine hundred and forty dollars, which is enough to allow him to quit his job and go abroad, for a while anyway.In the words of meek Mr. Wrenn:
"Gee! It's happened. I could travel all the time. I guess I won't be—very much—afraid of wrecks and stuff. . . . Things like that. . . . Gee! If I don't get to bed I'll be late at the office in the morning!"
He does resign from his job, a thing that surprised me, I never thought he would have the nerve to do it.Two weeks after leaving his job:
"He was lying abed at eight-thirty on a morning of late June, two weeks after leaving the Souvenir Company, deliberately hunting over his pillow for cool spots, very hot and restless in the legs and enormously depressed in the soul. He would have got up had there been anything to get up for. There was nothing, yet he felt uneasily guilty. For two weeks he had been afraid of losing, by neglect, the job he had already voluntarily given up. So there are men whom the fear of death has driven to suicide."
So poor Mr. Wrenn still hasn't begun his grand dream of traveling the world.We are told that he has planned so many trips these years that now he can't decide on any one of them for more than an hour at a time, and that after saving money for his trip for so many years he can't bring himself to spend it.This is the state he is in when one day he happens to see a help wanted advertisement:
"MEN WANTED. Free passage on cattle-boats to Liverpool feeding cattle. Low fee. Easy work. Fast boats. Apply International and Atlantic Employment Bureau,—Greenwich Street."
This is how he gets to Europe, on a cattle boat.It is on this boat that he makes another friend, a youth named Morton who is a clerk for the P.R.R. in New York.Mr. Wrenn is excited about having a new friend and makes plans of how he and his friend will travel through the countries together, then when the money is gone they will get jobs and work together. Morton, however has other ideas and shortly after arriving in Liverpool Wrenn finds himself alone again.Now he begins his trip through England always dwelling on his friend Morton."Wouldn't Morty have loved this?" or "Wouldn't Morty have loved that?" he is often wondering. Mr. Wrenn then spends a few lonely weeks in England, until he meets the elegant art student Istra Nash.Mr. Wrenn and Istra begin traveling through England together and of course he falls in love with her, but she too leaves him.After losing Istra he sits in his room and thinking that now he had no friend in all the world.
"Friends… I got to make friends, now I know what they are…. Funny some guys don't make friends. Mustn't forget. Got to make lots of 'em in New York. Learn how to make 'em."
He has decided to return to America.His travels are over.He sails for New York, one month and seventeen days after leaving Portland.
There is much more to the story than this.There is his return to Mrs. Zapp's boarding house and the reaction of the people there.There is his returning to his old job at the Souvenir Company which he seemed to think would be as easy as walking through the door and he would have the job just as if it were simply another work day.It wasn't as easy to come back to his company as he thought it would be,but in the end worked out well.There is the great change in his old pal Charley that has taken place in the short amount of time he has been gone.There is his reunion with Morton, and near the end of the novel his reunion with Istra, neither reunion ending the way Mr. Wrenn thought it would.
If I would have to say what I thought the theme of the novel was I would say loneliness.Mr. Wrenn is an extremely lonely man, perhaps the loneliest man I've ever known in a novel, at least in the beginning.Perhaps not though, for much of the novel Mr. Wrenn seems desperately seeking a friend, he seems so lonely to me, but perhaps the theme isn't loneliness, perhaps it is friendship.Mr. Wrenn wants friends, he needs friends, and when he returns to New York he does work harder at making friends than every before.Does Our Mr. Wrenn end up a happier, less lonely man surrounded by friends and loved ones?Read the book.