Date of publication: 2017-08-24 11:40
Elmer Gantry, then, is notable as the book in which Lewis moved religion to the center of his critique of American values and declared it to have failed. He thereby makes a defiant gesture, nonetheless, somewhat apart from his customary preoccupation with quixotic heroes whom he could admire for their protests, rebellion, and search for freedom.
This is not to say that it has been transformed into a simple adventure. It is a complex story running nearly two and a half hours, but its length is hardly noticeable since its many vignettes, each sharply presented, are joined into a theme that somewhat changes Gantry, Sister Falconer, et al., from Lewis' conception but has them shape up as forceful, and often memorable, individuals. Perhaps the sleaziness of some forms of evangelism is not too pressing an issue these days but in "Elmer Gantry" it is made authentic and engrossing.
Oh, dear. Fifty years since I married a preacher! And if I could still only be sure about the virgin birth! Now don’t you go explaining! Laws, the number of times you’ve explained! I know it’s true—it’s in the Bible. If I could only believe it!
Elmer’s next position is at a church in Monarch. On the train he meets a traveling salesman who invites him for a drink, which results in Elmer failing to keep his appointment at the church. Fired from the Seminary, he is hired as a traveling salesman of farm implements.
A woman visits Paris with her brother only to discover the following morning he has gone missing and the hotel staff have no recollection of his presence.
Reverend Andrew Pengilly is the old pastor of the Catawba Methodist Church. He is a simple, decent, pious man who is loved by his congregation. He befriends Frank Shallard.
There is a great deal of fantasy in the novel, but it is weird and crude and goes badly with the realism. An example is the bizarre marriage ceremony which takes place between Elmer and evangelist Sharon Falconer before her grotesque shrine. A more elaborate kind of fantasy arises out of Lewis’s belief that formal religion is based on the self-interest of its leaders. As in Babbitt and Arrowsmith , we are made aware that there are sinister forces combining to strike at the very foundations of American liberties. Here, they are the sinister forces of righteousness.
Lulu Bains is the daughter of Barney Bains. Elmer tries to seduce her, but once she has become devoted to him he gets bored with her and treats her cruelly. She is forced by her father to marry Lloyd Naylor. Lulu later meets Elmer again many years later in Zenith, where they resume their clandestine affair. After Elmer dumps her for Hettie, Lulu loses interest in life.
William Donninger Styles is a rich businessman in Zenith. He is treasurer of the Congregational church, but Elmer succeeds in getting him to support the Methodists instead.