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Upton Sinclair’s Political, Occult and Metaphysical Fiction

[Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, who was sometimes identified as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. which was the name of his grandfather.]

Although Lanny Budd is evidently an alter ego of the author and a vehicle for his insights and opinions, Upton’s 1962 autobiography makes it clear that an actual American spy in the second world war also was a model for Lanny, which had previously been stated in his wife’s 1957 memoirs. “One such guest, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., was important because he had made up his young mind to be something more than a rich man’s son…. He made up his mind to do something about it. He would no longer be a self-centered aimless parasite, a playboy, spending his father’s millions on frivolity! After cruel debates with his grandmother and parents, he wrote a book called Farewell to Fifth Avenue, and went forth on his own to start a chain of truth-telling newspapers.” [Mary Craig Sinclair, Southern Belle, 271-272.] Later in the book she explains the factual basis of one aspect of the Lanny Budd novels.  Upton knew from personal experience about being recruited by FDR:

“Franklin D. Roosevelt showed his esteem for Upton by offering him a diplomatic post through Neil Vanderbilt: —The telephone rang and a man’s voice said it was Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr, speaking from Phoenix, Arizona. Neil had a message from his life-long friend F.D.R. to deliver to Upton: to offer him a most important diplomatic post.” [Ibid., 360.]

In his own autobiography, Upton wrote “Neil really was a Presidential agent. He traveled to Europe on various pretexts and came back and reported secretly to the boss.  He had been able to go into Germany and into Italy…Neil told me of the secret door by which he had entered the White House, and what Franklin wore and how he behaved. Presently, I said with some excitement and hesitancy, `That would make a wonderful story for Lanny Budd.’ Neil said `That is why I am telling it to you.’ It was a magnificent gift, and I here express my gratitude. Presidential Agent became the title of volume five of the series.” [Upton Sinclair, Autobiography, 241-2.]

Upton Sinclair’s series of Lanny Budd spy novels incorporates many tales of the paranormal into his political narratives.  In the second volume, Between Two Worlds, Lanny learns that his stepfather, an adherent of New Thought, “had become interested in certain souls which had ‘passed over’ into that realm of eternity…To his wife he said gently, `I have learned through Madame Zyszynski that Marcel is waiting for you.’” Marcel Detaze was a great artist, the previous husband of Lanny’s mother Beauty Budd and father of his half-sister Marceline. [Upton Sinclair, Between Two Worlds, Kindle edition, location 13288]

By the end of the series astrology has entered the narrative while Spiritualism and psychic research continue as themes. “But several years ago in Munich an astrologer had cast his horoscope and told him that he was fated to die in Hongkong. Lanny had no particle of belief in astrology, nor in the integrity of this sharp-witted Rumanian. But something in his subconscious mind had picked up this theme and proceeded to make up stories about it.  As a result, one interesting method of tapping the subconscious mind had been quite spoiled for Lanny; he no longer amused himself looking into a crystal ball, because all he saw there was a Cook’s tour of the land of Cathay.” [Upton Sinclair, A World to Win, Kindle edition, location 886] Lanny does not die in Hong Kong, but others do, changing his life and that of his wife-to-be.

Beauty’s second husband Parsifal Dingle is an Iowa-born enthusiast of New Thought: “In brief, Mr. Dingle believed that there was a God, and that he, Mr. Dingle, was a part of Him.  This God was alive and He was real, and He lived and worked in you; He would guide you if you asked him, especially if you believed that He would. The way of asking was to retire to some quite place, as Jesus had directed, close your eyes and think about God and His goodness, and believe that He would do what you asked, if it was a good and proper thing.” [Upton Sinclair, Between Two Worlds, Kindle edition, locations 10523-10525]

Lanny has spent his entire life in the South of France with his mother, who had never married his father Robbie Budd. When he first travels to Newcastle, Connecticut to meet his paternal relatives, he encounters both a Quaker aunt and Unitarian uncle along with his Episcopalian father, grandfather, stepmother, and stepsiblings. “Great-Great-Aunt Bethesda was a Quaker, gentle, quiet, like a little gray dove. She said: `Has thee had a pleasant trip?’ – and this was something new to Lanny, and awakened his curiosity. He knew that the old gentleman [Uncle Eli Budd– ed.] was a Unitarian, and that this had been a scandal in its time, and still was to Grandfather Samuel, and perhaps to Stepmother Esther.” [Upton Sinclair, World’s End, Kindle edition, location 6530] These reflect aspects of Upton’s own family background.

Cornelius Vanderbilt IV – Wikipedia