Year of Birth: 1876 Place of Birth: Camden, oh year of Death


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Sherwood Anderson


Nationality: American

Year of Birth: 1876

Place of Birth: Camden, OH

Year of Death: 1941

Place of Death: Cristobal (one source says Colon), Panama Canal Zone

Genre(s): Short Stories, Novels, Travel/Exploration, Poetry, Essays, Autobiography/Memoir, Writing/Journalism

Table of Contents:

Personal Information




Further Readings About the Author

Personal Information: Family: Born September 13, 1876, in Camden, OH; died of peritonitis, March 8, 1941, in Cristobal (one source says Colon), Panama Canal Zone; son of Irwin M. (a harnessmaker) and Emma (Smith) Anderson; married Cornelia Lane, 1904 (divorced, 1916); married Tennessee Mitchell, 1916 (divorced, 1924); married Elizabeth Prall, 1924 (divorced, 1932); married Eleanor Copenhaver, 1933; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: Attended Wittenberg Academy, 1899.

Education: Entry Updated : 10/09/2003

Career: Writer. Worked as copywriter for advertising firm in Chicago, 1900; president of United Factories Co., in Cleveland, OH, 1906, and of Anderson Manufacturing Co., in Elyria, OH, 1907-12; advertising copywriter in Chicago, 1913; editor of two newspapers in Marion, VA, 1927-29; lecturer. Military service: U.S. Army, 1899; served in Cuba.

Prize from Dial, 1921.


  • Windy McPherson's Son (novel), John Lane, 1916, revised edition, B. W. Huebsch, 1922, reprinted, University of Illinois Press, 1993.

  • Marching Men (novel), John Lane, 1917, reprinted as Marching Men: A Critical Text, edited by Ray Lewis White, Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1972.

  • Mid-American Chants (poems), John Lane, 1918, reprinted, Frontier Press, 1972.

  • Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life (also see below), B. W. Huebsch, 1919, New American Library, 1956, reprinted with introduction by Malcolm Cowley, Viking, 1960, reprinted as Winesburg, Ohio: Text and Criticism, edited by John G. Ferres, Viking, 1966, reprinted as Winesburg, Ohio: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism edited by Charles E. Modlin and Ray Lewis White, Norton, 1996; Winesburg, Ohio, edited with an introduction by Glen A. Love, Oxford University Press, 1997; Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio: With Variant Readings and Annotations, edited by Ray Lewis White, Ohio University Press (Athens), 1997.

  • Poor White (novel), B. W. Huebsch, 1920, reprint, New Directions Publishing, 1993.

  • The Triumph of the Egg: A Book of Impressions From American Life in Tales and Poems, B. W. Huebsch, 1921, new edition with an introduction by Herbert Gold, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1988.

  • Many Marriages (novel), B. W. Huebsch, 1923, reprinted as Many Marriages: A Critical Edition, edited by Douglas G. Rogers, Scarecrow, 1978.
  • Horses and Men: Tales, Long and Short, B. W. Huebsch, 1923.

  • A Story-Teller's Story: The Tale of an American Writer's Journey through His Own Imaginative World and through the World of Facts, with Many of His Experiences and Impressions among Other Writers--Told in Many Notes--in Four Books and an Epilogue, B. W. Huebsch, 1924, reprinted as A Story Teller's Story: A Critical Text, edited by White, Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1968, revised edition with preface by Rideout, Viking, 1969, recent edition published as A Story-Teller's Story, Penguin, 1989.

  • Dark Laughter (novel), Boni Liveright, 1925, reprinted with introduction by Howard Mumford Jones, Liveright, 1925.

  • Hands and Other Stories (selections from Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life), Haldeman-Julius, 1925.

  • The Modern Writer (nonfiction), Lantern Press, 1925, reprinted, Folcroft, 1976.

  • Sherwood Anderson's Notebook: Containing Articles Written During the Author's Life as a Story Teller, and Notes of His Impressions from Life Scattered through the Book, Boni Liveright, 1926, reprinted, P. P. Appel, 1970.

  • Tar: A Midwest Childhood (semi-autobiography), Boni & Liveright, 1926, reprinted as Tar: A Midwest Childhood; A Critical Text, edited by White, Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969.

  • A New Testament (prose poems), Boni Liveright, 1927.
  • Alice [and] The Lost Novel, E. Mathews Marrot, 1929, reprinted, Folcroft, 1973.

  • Hello Towns! (collection of newspaper articles), Liveright, 1929, reprinted, Dynamic Learning, 1980.

  • Nearer the Grass Roots [and] An Account of a Journey, Elizabethton (essays), Westgate Press, 1929, reprinted, Folcroft, 1976.

  • Perhaps Women (essays), Liveright, 1931, reprinted, P. P. Appel, 1970.

  • Beyond Desire (novel), Liveright, 1932, reprinted with introduction by Rideout, Liveright, 1961.

  • Death in the Woods, and Other Stories, Liveright, 1933, recent edition, 1986.

  • No Swank (articles), Centaur Press, 1934, reprinted, Appel, 1970.

  • Puzzled America (articles), Scribner, 1935.

  • Kit Brandon (novel), Scribner, 1936.

  • Plays: Winesburg and Others (includes Jaspar Deeter, a Dedication, Winesburg, The Triumph of the Egg, Mother, and They Married Later), Scribner, 1937.

  • Home Town (nonfiction), Alliance Book Corp., 1940, reprinted, P. P. Appel, 1975.

  • Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs, Harcourt, 1942, reprinted as Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs: A Critical Edition, edited by White, University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

  • The Sherwood Anderson Reader, edited by Paul Rosenfeld, Houghton, 1947.
  • The Portable Sherwood Anderson, edited by Horace Gregory, Viking, 1949, Penguin, 1970.

  • Letters of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Rideout and Jones, Little, Brown, 1953.

  • The Short Stories of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Maxwell Geismar, Hill Wang, 1962.

  • Return to Winesburg: Selections from Four Years of Writing for a Country Newspaper, edited by White, University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

  • Buck Fever Papers (articles), edited by Welford Dunaway Taylor, University Press of Virginia, 1971.

  • A Teller's Tales, selected and introduced by Frank Gado, Union College Press, 1983.

  • Sherwood Anderson: Selected Letters, edited by Charles E. Modlin, University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

  • Letters to Bab: Sherwood Anderson to Marietta D. Finely, 1916-1933, edited by William A. Sutton, University of Illinois Press, 1985.

  • The Sherwood Anderson Diaries, 1936-1941, edited by Hilbert H. Campbell, University of Georgia Press, 1987.

  • Sherwood Anderson: Early Writings, edited by Ray Lewis White, Kent State University Press, 1989.

  • Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, edited by Charles E. Modlin, University of Georgia Press, 1989.
  • Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters, edited by Ray Lewis White, Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

  • Certain Things Last: The Selected Stories of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Modlin, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1992.

  • Southern Odyssey: Selected Writings by Sherwood Anderson, edited by Welford Dunaway Taylor and Charles E. Modlin, University of Georgia Press (Athens), 1997.

  • The Egg and Other Stories, edited with an introduction by Charles E. Modlin, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Work represented in anthologies. Contributor to periodicals, including Dial.


While Sherwood Anderson did his best creative work in prose fiction, he created not only a distinctive, repetitive persona in his stories but also a public role. Giving impetus both to his fiction and to his life was a profound autobiographical need expressed in the lyrical nature of his fiction and in the creation of the public myth as well as in three major autobiographical works A Story-Teller's Story, Tar: A Midwest Childhood, and his Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs. Anderson's contributions to twentieth-century American letters are both defined and circumscribed by this need to express his intense personal vision.

Anderson's critical reputation has been a subject of much debate. However, in at least three areas his literary impact has been considerable. First, he was very active in helping other writers. For example, writer Ernest Hemingway carried Anderson's letter of introduction with him to writer Gertrude Stein's influential salon in Paris, and clearly such stories as Hemingway's "My Old Man" suggest how Hemingway found inspiration in Anderson's racetrack stories. More candid in acknowledging Anderson's influence was Nobel laureate writer William Faulkner, who in 1950 recalled how Anderson helped him publish his first novel, Soldier's Pay (1926), and provided an attractive example of a writer's lifestyle when they spent time together in the New Orleans French Quarter. In a statement made before he quarreled with Anderson, writer Thomas Wolfe declared that Anderson was the only man in America who taught him anything; the pervasiveness of the "aloneness" theme in the fictions of both writers is apparent to even the most casual reader. While these instances suggest Anderson's roles in the careers of our foremost novelists, they are but a few of the many instances of how, in literally thousands of letters, lectures, and essays, Anderson promoted the craft.

Another, more elusive aspect of Anderson's influence is found in the development of the short story form. Many studies of modern story theory and short story anthologies allude to his technique in and his pronouncements about fictive form. While Anderson's statements about his art do not add up to a clear, conscious sense of design, they are consistent and can be characterized as "expressive"--focusing on the writer in his art of creation, not on the fidelity of his imitation or the response of the audience. His notion of form is central to his aesthetics; and form for him was subjective and organic.

Such an approach to artistic form can be more vulnerable to failure than is an aesthetic that is self-conscious and dependent on willed techniques. Certainly Anderson experienced many periods when form did not come--or came imperfectly--while he seemed powerless to change the imperfections.

Two important ramifications of his aesthetic stance are his views of plot and characterization. He bitterly attacked the stories of O. Henry and others for their "poison plots"--stories that sacrificed characterization and fidelity to life for the sake of striking turns of event. In an almost perverse way, Anderson expected a writer to have utter loyalty to the characters in his imagination. His typical stories, then--both unique and typically modern in eschewing strict plots--offered a compelling model for other writers.

Most importantly, Anderson was the creator of some of the finest American stories. Winesburg, Ohio (1919), his masterpiece, remains a durable classic, and half a dozen or more individual stories, such as "The Egg," "I Want to Know Why," "The Man Who Became a Woman," and "Death in the Woods," are among the finest products of the American short story tradition. Winesburg, Ohio is a hybrid form, unified by setting, theme, and character; but clearly the stories are also discreet and are further evidence that Anderson's genius lay in the short form. He wrote seven novels, but most critics agree that not one is completely satisfactory. Some of Anderson's most acclaimed writing appears in the mixed genres such as A Story-Teller's Story (1924) and his Memoirs (1942), but his lasting achievement is in his short fiction.

Because of the nature of Anderson's art, as outlined above, some survey of his life is of more than usual concern in assessing his literary achievement. The outline is familiar to most Anderson scholars: early boyhood in Ohio, mainly Clyde, Ohio; his "conventional" period when he became a businessman, husband to a better-educated, more sophisticated woman, and when he became father of three children; the break from commercial life into the greatest period of his artistic development and achievement--the decade after 1912; most of the 1920's when, despite a few exceptions and interludes of professional contentment, he struggled to maintain the level of earlier achievement; and a final period until his death in 1941, when from a base in southwestern Virginia, his writing turned increasingly toward social commentary, and he appeared to reach a state of relative equanimity, content in his fourth marriage and in the role as elder statesman in the writing community.

The richest lode of material for Anderson's best fiction was comprised of his experiences growing up in the Ohio small towns. While many of the characters in Winesburg, Ohio were based on people he met in an apartment house in Chicago, the fictional Winesburg is essentially Clyde, Ohio, in the 1890s. Critic Walter Rideout has shown how fully Anderson evokes the Clyde setting. Like the book's protagonist, George Willard, Anderson left his hometown after his mother's death in 1895 broke up the family, and both were budding writers. Furthermore, Tom and Elizabeth Willard are important creations in a long series of veiled portraits of and responses to Anderson's own parents. The trajectory of his coming to terms with his father's life can be traced from his first novel, Windy McPherson's Son (1916), through Winesburg, Ohio to a kind of acceptance in A Story-Teller's Story. His deepest feelings about his mother impel the characterizations of many of his women; but especially noteworthy are Elizabeth Willard, who figures so prominently in Winesburg, and, in a kind of apotheosis, the old woman in "Death in the Woods," one of his finest stories.

Anderson, like George Willard, was perhaps an incipient artist when he left his hometown, but the creative fires were banked while he pursued the American dream of business success. After short tenures as a Chicago laborer, as a soldier in the Spanish-American War, and as a student at Wittenberg Academy, he began working for a Chicago advertising firm in sales and copywriting. He did similar work in Cleveland, Ohio, and Elyria, Ohio; but despite his apparent success and growing family responsibilities--children born in 1917, 1908, and 1911--Anderson had begun to write fiction and to feel the warring claims of artistic creation and business values. Finally Anderson left the Anderson Manufacturing Company in November, 1912, as he said, in the middle of dictating a letter. He was found a few days later in a Cleveland hospital and did return briefly to the business world, but that day proved to be the great watershed of his career. When Anderson wrote of the urban settings, the business world, and businessmen in his fiction, it was usually to satirize corrupting materialism.

It was fortuitous that the Chicago to which Anderson returned provided an exciting milieu for writers--the so-called Chicago Renaissance. He met and was encouraged by such men and women as Floyd Dell, Margery Currey, Margaret Anderson, Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg, Burton Rascoe, Lewis Galantiere, Harry Hansen, Ferdinand Schevill, and Robert Morss Lovett. He heard discourses on socialism, on the pioneering psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, and on writers such as Fedor Dostoevsky, August Strindberg, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. And he began playing the bohemian role not only in appearance, but also in his second, "modern" marriage to Tennessee Mitchell. More importantly, he sounded the thematic notes of his writing career and discovered the distinctive voice of his best writing.

As critic Irving Howe has noted, Anderson continued to be under great pressure, not only the pressure of guilt for failing to meet family responsibilities but also that of his sense of inadequacy. In 1919, the year that Winesburg, Ohio appeared, he was a forty-three-year old, ill-educated ex-salesman. But it was exhilarating to try to catch up. His first published story appeared in Harper's, in July, 1914; and two of the novels he had been working on in Elyria were published soon after: Windy McPherson's Son in 1916 and Marching Men in 1917.

Windy McPherson's Son foreshadows the materials and themes of later works. Sam McPherson, the novel's title character, rises from humble, small-town beginnings to become a business executive and to marry the boss's daughter. But in an act that recurs in Anderson's fiction and career, Sam rejects the business world to find happiness in love rather than money. Simplistic, didactic, and very awkwardly written, this first novel did not augur well for future novels. Nor is Marching Men a successful novel, for in addition to the book's wooden dialogue and generally inept construction and style, Anderson's notion of a marching men movement, whether suggestive of fascism or not, is a simplistic, irresponsible response to the complex problems of a materialistic world. These earlier works did little to prepare readers for the immense leap in artistic quality represented by Winesburg, Ohio, published in 1919.

As critic William Phillips noted, Winesburg was written in a burst of concentrated creation in 1915 and 1916. A number of the individual stories appeared in periodicals before 1919. But, perhaps taking a clue from Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, a collection of poetic vignettes, Anderson probably discovered in his Winesburg stories a firmer unity as the project developed, and rounded off the collection with the unifying plotting of the final three stories.

Winesburg is not a novel; what unity it has is often tenuous. However, the book is tied together by four important elements: the common setting, the episodic story of George Willard's development, the "aloneness" theme, and the tone. All of the stories take place in or around a small rural Ohio community in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The community of about eighteen hundred inhabitants depends on the fertile cabbage and strawberry fields of nearby farms and boasts a train depot, a hotel, fairgrounds, and a prominent Presbyterian church. But, significantly, much is missing--the stories present very little dramatization of community life or even family life; much of the action takes place at night or at least in shadowy and private surroundings; and the characters themselves are hardly typical.

George Willard appears first in "Hands," and after the death of his mother and the climactic experiences of "Sophistication," he leaves Winesburg. In his eighteen years he has learned something about women in a progression from the first furtive experience in "Nobody Knows" through the rueful lesson of "An Awakening" to tentative sophistication in the story with that title. The young Winesburg Eagle reporter is also the auditor of the secret stories of many of the grotesques. His teacher, Kate Swift, most directly encourages him as a writer; but others not only pour out to George their most intimate truths in therapeutic release but also want him to perpetuate their truths. Dr. Parcival, for example, wants everyone to know that all men are Christ in that their love is rejected and they are crucified. One of the most important lessons George learns is that of silence, for, alter the prodigality of his expression in, for example, "An Awakening," George seems to have learned Kate Swift's lesson, as he walks "in dignified silence" with Helen White on the fair grounds. Except that the omniscient narrator and George share virtually the same Andersonian sensibility, no trace of George emerges in a number of stories; but his development is a thread seen frequently in the Wineburg fabric.

A third unifying motif is the aloneness theme, a main element in the "grotesque" concept. The title of the first story written, "The Book of the Grotesque," was also a title Anderson considered for the whole book. The implication is that Winesburg would be a collection of brief biographical sketches of people, many of whom are grotesque. The complete titles in the table of contents suggest the approach, as for example, "Hands"--concerning Wing Biddlebaum.

Anderson's concept of the grotesque, set forth in only a limited way in "The Book of the Grotesque," has been variously interpreted by such important scholars as Irving Howe, Malcolm Cowley, Edwin Fussell, and David Anderson, but among the most searching analyses is Ralph Ciancio's. Ciancio concluded that to Anderson grotesqueness "was nothing more than a metaphor of the natural condition of man, of his being at cross-purposes with himself, of his compulsive hearkening to the infinite call of transcendence which his finitude makes impassible from the start." Some of the grotesques are, indeed, horrible; but the largest group is motivated by genuine human emotions. Included in this group of Winesburg characters are Wash Williams, who seeks love beyond the physical, Curtis Hartman, who strives to reconcile his religion with his erotic feelings, and Elmer Cowley, who wants to belong. Grotesqueness can thus be seen as an imbalance--not that the thrust of an individual's fanaticism is intrinsically wrong but rather that any single note sounded exclusively repels the auditor. In describing what he perceives to be common to all of the "grotesques," Malcolm Cowley stresses their inability to communicate. This view plausibly accounts for typical behavior in Winesburg, however, as the above remarks suggest, chronic, crippling failures in communication may merely be symptomatic of the ineffable aloneness dramatized hyperbolically in these twisted beings. Whatever the case, the fair-grounds scene in "Sophistication" is climactic not only in George's development, but also in suggesting that only through others can we mitigate the "sadness of sophistication," consciousness of our cosmic limitations and aloneness.

Finally, complementing and sustaining Winesburg's theme is its tone. The omniscient narrator--seemingly fumbling along, arranging ill-fitting blocks of information, and complaining of his lack of art--provides a sympathetic continuo for the sad tales. This unity of feeling in the book Howe called "the accents of love."

The advance in the simplicity, directness, and evocative power of the language in Winesburg over the earlier work is remarkable. Gertrude Stein's stylistic experiments, as in Tender Buttons (1914), are often cited as a major influence on Anderson's style. In his Memoirs Anderson credited her example for making him conscious of his own vocabulary and how he might convey emotions through "a kind of word color, a march of simple words, simple sentence structures." The style of Winesburg became a staple of his best work. When he experimented with a very loose, impressionistic style in the twenties, the result compounded the blurred thinking that weakened too much of his later storytelling.

As critic Rex Burbank suggested in Sherwood Anderson, the stories of the hero and the heroine in Poor White (1920) are juxtaposed awkwardly, and too often the narrative loses effect by relying on assertion instead of dramatization. Nevertheless, Poor White is probably Anderson's best novel. The idea of industrialization's impact on a small Midwestern town sustains the novel when the narrative falters. Hugh McVey, one of the novel's main characters, progresses from innocence, to naive inventor in Bidwell, Ohio, to the realization that the new industrial society to which he contributes distorts community values, to a final, more fulfilling aesthetic and humane view of life. This progress is a more searching and cogent dramatization than those appearing in Anderson's first two novels. Unfortunately, the novel's parallel story of Clara Butterworth is awkwardly juxtaposed with Hugh's tale of development.

Poor White reflects both the influence of American writer Mark Twain and Anderson's lifelong critique of the values of the industrial society. His affinity for Twain and Twain's fiction is explained in part by Anderson's projection of his own sense of his career into the career of the older writer. For Anderson, both Twain and U.S. president Abraham Lincoln were Midwestern primitives whose innocence and integrity clashed with the intellectually more complex and morally more ambiguous Eastern culture. The very first sentence of Poor White conjures up the setting of Twain's classic Huckleberry Finn, and the early characterization of Hugh suggests the character and situation of Twain's protagonist Huck.

In Winesburg the "Godliness" sequence provides the context of the impact of the post-Civil War industrialism on villages such as Winesburg, but most of Anderson's best work in fiction, including Winesburg, is more concerned with the personal and the psychological, rather than the socio-economic issues. However, in Poor White the battle is engaged against the dehumanizing machine age that later in Anderson's career would command much more of his attention.

Anderson's major single work was published in 1919, and his arguably best novel in 1920. While he wrote a number of good stories during the remainder of his career, the publication of the two story collections The Triumph of the Egg (1921) and Horses and Men (1923) marked the close of his major creative period. "Death in the Woods," a story that Anderson did not publish until 1926, was created from a fragmentary version he had written on the back of the Winesburg manuscript possibly before the publication of Winesburg and it epitomizes the best of his narrative art.

The narrative point of view is one of the most distinctive features of Anderson's stories and is especially salient in "Death in the Woods." Winesburg, Ohio and Poor White are narrated in the third person. The speaking voice in each of these works is unique. For example, the speaker in Winesburg is a groping, seemingly artless storyteller outside the story action, who constantly invites attention to how he is crafting the story--"it needs a poet there"; "It will, however, be necessary to talk a little of young Hal so that you will get into the spirit of it." In contrast, the first-person, frustrated speaker in "I'm a Fool" is the chief character in this tale of poignant social failure. However, there is a sense in most of Anderson's stories of an oral tradition, a convention that presumes a sympathetic audience and invites the reader to share in the epistemological search for the essence of a particular character.

What needs to be underscored in "Death in the Woods" is that the narrator is not an adolescent like the youths in "I'm a Fool" and "I Want to Know Why," but a mature person who is recalling not only a striking event of his youth but also subsequent experiences that modify his understanding of the event. The story contains a double theme: the significance of the old woman's complete life and the nature of the artistic process.

Like the Winesburg stories, "Death in the Woods" is not conventionally plotted. It is fabricated of a number of related episodes, of which the chief is the course of an old woman's winter day. The woman, Ma Grimes, walks to town to trade a few eggs for "some salt pork, a little sugar, and some coffee perhaps" and liver and meat bones. Trudging home through the heavy snow, she decides to take a short cut through the woods, and there in a clearing she sits down to rest and freezes to death. The dogs which have accompanied her seize the grain bag tied to her back and drag her body into the center of the clearing. A hunter finds the body, its dress torn off, and returns to inform the town. The crowd that returns to the clearing includes the young narrator upon whose consciousness the sight of the frozen, naked woman in the middle of that scene--the men, the tracks made by the circling dogs, the white fragments of clouds above--is impressed indelibly. As he says, the scene was the "foundation for the real story I am now trying to tell." It is the epiphany, like many of those illuminated moments in Winesburg--such as Alice Hindman running naked in the rain, Wash Williams attacking his mother-in-law, Ray Pearson running in the fields--moments that epitomize the character because the context of the character's life has informed the epiphany.

At one level "Death in the Woods" is about Ma Grimes, whose life is so wholly concentrated on feeding animal life that it takes on mythic dimensions. Throughout her joyless life she is preyed upon, by the farmer in whose home she is a hound girl and then by her vicious husband, children, and dogs, all of whom exploit her remorselessly. She is, to a degree, grotesque; but, reinforced by the repetitive, ritualistic language of the story, the reader is led to perceive her as an earth mother, an incarnate principle of that which feeds carnal need. In unpublished statements Anderson expressed his intent to stress her fundamental role in the community. Indirectly, through the orchestration of the narrator, the reader shares the narrator's respect and awe before the absolute purity and even beauty of her unified life.

But the other important character is the narrator himself, who is a variation of the character type who appears most frequently in Anderson's fiction: the artistic man. To be sure, as William Scheick has emphasized, an element of sexual guilt or at least sexual ambivalence exists in the narrator's make up--this, too, is a familiar motif in many of Anderson's stories that may contribute to his anxiety. However, at a level that respects the full data of the story, the source of the narrator's frustration is, more plausibly, his struggle for artistic expression. He is driven to tell the story. He has collected all of the experiences--the epiphany scene, gossipy stories about Ma Grimes, and even more oblique experiences such as the time when he saw dogs running in the circle--and he seeks to bring them all to artistic form. What he and the story say about the significance of Ma Grimes's life is a truth, "music heard from far off"; but both the "mystery of life" and artistic perfection lie beyond human grasp.

A few stories, including "Death in the Woods" and Winesburg, Ohio, then, created during the decade after he left his Elyria paint business, appear to be Anderson's most durable achievements; but he would go on to write four more novels and a number of good stories. One need not agree with Anderson's harshest critics, who stress a precipitous decline in his career after 1923, to nevertheless recognize that Anderson struggled often unsuccessfully with his craft in the later 1920s. He had received recognition: the Dial award in 1921 and growing praise for his fiction both in the United States and abroad. But he was never to be secure financially; he was forced to depend on advertising writing through most of the period of his greatest achievements and then on lecturing, a generous allowance from publisher and theatre producer Horace Liveright, and the patronage of Burton Emmett to supplement his income in the 1920s. Furthermore, since income and status came with success in writing novels, Anderson directed much of his energies to a form uncongenial with his artistic gifts. The bizarre fable of Many Marriages (1923) alienated critics, publishers, and general readers; while Dark Laughter (1925) was the only commercial success among his novels, it did little to restore his critical reputation and even inspired Hemingway's parody Torrents of Spring.

In 1923, a year in which he was dissolving his second marriage in Reno, Nevada, Anderson's fourth novel, Many Marriages, appeared. Rex Burbank has called this story of a man's rebellion against puritan repression of sexual expression "irresponsible," despite the validity of Anderson's motive and thesis. The acts of John Webster, the book's main character, are grotesque in a negative sense, featuring a scene with the naked Webster, his wife, and daughter that in length, symbolism, and muddled thought illustrates the novel's chief weaknesses. Dark Laughter also concerns sexual repression and reflects, as Burbank and Howe have shown, the influence of D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce. Anderson was not only again assaying the longer form but also seeking to generate subject matter beyond that of his earlier successes. However, Dark Laughter is not much better than Many Marriages in execution, flawed again by the unconvincing analysis of the conflict between middle-class values and the primitive expression of feelings and additionally by the Joycean stream-of-consciousness style, which in this novel and in his later writings seems pretentious and serves to exacerbate the problems of his intellectual analysis.

More successful during this period of his career were Anderson's two fictional autobiographies. A Story-Teller's Story is in the tradition of mythic works or parables. Not interested in telling the whole biographical truth, the book presents stories to illustrate an argumentative position or moral. Anderson was in his element in writing this book, for he was writing both about the personality and role that is ubiquitous in his fiction and about settings and plot rooted in fact. The book is loose in form and episodic, but the stories that make up his life are often intrinsically interesting and finally unified by the narrator's personality. The exploration of such issues as craftsmanship in literature, business and artistic ethics, the impact of industrialism on human life, and the role of the American artist make A Story-Teller's Story profitable reading for students of American literature.

The second fictional autobiography, Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926), focuses on the earliest stage of the author's life, the boyhood years when he was growing up in Clyde, Ohio. The text includes a version of "Death in the Woods" and other effective passages, but the book repeats much of the material of A Story-Teller's Story, and the stylistic mannerisms that seek to reflect the boy's sensibility are unsuccessful. Anderson's intent was to recapture the boyhood scenes and ideals in tales projected to be published as a series in The Woman's Home Companion, and, indeed, six installments were published


in this magazine. His decisions about how Tar would be written might have been influenced by his sense of the Companion readers.

In 1927, Anderson's career took an unexpected turn when he bought two newspapers in Marion, Virginia, and became a country editor. For two years these papers absorbed his energies, and apparently he found the business, the reporting, and the writing to his liking. However, his newspaper writings, some of them gathered in Hello Towns! (1929), could not sustain the self-esteem of one who had tasted international acclaim only a few years before. Critics Walter Rideout and Welford Taylor have examined this epoch in Anderson's career with subtlety and depth. In 1929, he turned over the papers to his son Robert, during the same year that his third marriage broke up.

While we may designate the period from 1930 to Anderson's death in 1941 as the final phase, we do so because of his developing relationship with Eleanor Copenhaver and his growing interest in the industrial South that his association with her fostered. This connection signaled a new direction in his life and career toward greater personal contentment and toward writing which reflected his developing interest in the contemporary economic, political, and social scene, a dominant but not exclusive direction for his final years.

But Anderson did not stop writing fiction. Indeed, Death in the Woods, published in 1933, is a story collection that includes not only "Brother Death" and the title story first published in 1926, but also other stories that give evidence that his creative power in the shorter forms was diminished but intact. The conflicts in "Brother Death," between the values represented by the younger brother who dies but maintains his freedom and those of the older brother who surrenders his spiritual freedom to secure the legacy of the farm, are quite effective symbolically but the important theme obtrudes as that element does not in the greater, earlier stories. It is important to note that Anderson's final collection of stories appeared in the middle of the Great Depression and that the bankruptcy of his publisher Liveright permitted only a technical publication of the book, without the marketing that might have bolstered Anderson's bank account and his morale.

In addition, Anderson wrote two novels in the 1930s. Divided into four books, Beyond Desire (1932) is Anderson's dramatization of the New South, stressing especially the southern mill workers' struggle against the established power behind the machines. Anderson's growing interest in socio-economic conflict and even his attraction to aspects of Communism lie behind the story, though Anderson's real concern remains, as always, with the relationships among people. Unfortunately, in structure and style the novel is confused and awkwardly written.

Kit Brandon (1936), his last published novel, is in many ways more satisfactory than Beyond Desire. Heroically, in the sixtieth year of his life, Anderson sought, as he told Maxwell Perkins, to be "more objective," to exercise greater control over the form. Despite technical problems in handling point of view and transitions, the novel may be, in David Anderson's words, "the best constructed of any of Anderson's long works." He published thirteen stories with a similar Appalachian setting that stressed a similar social pattern, but Kit Brandon is his only full treatment of the hill setting and bootlegging. The sense of place is established well, and the episodes and characters encountered as the novel traces Kit's career are effective in themselves and for what they reveal about the human cost of the mechanized culture. Kit is a southern mountain girl who is raised on a poverty-ridden farm where the chief "crop" is moonshine. She leaves her moonshining family at sixteen to take a mill job and then marries the weak son of a powerful bootlegger. After the marriage fails, Kit joins the bootleg gang and becomes a wealthy, notorious runner. Her obsession with the powerful cars she drives provides a short-lived compensation for the failures of the men she encounters. Although at the novel's end Kit has not found fulfillment, she has learned the emptiness of pursuing mere wealth and adventure, the same lesson Windy McPherson learned in Anderson's first published novel.

Beyond Desire and Kit Brandon deserve emphasis because Anderson's reputation resides not solely but primarily on his fiction; however, in addition to the posthumously published Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs, he wrote a number of journalistic pieces and four other nonfiction books during the last decade of his life: Perhaps Women (1931), No Swank (1934), Puzzled America (1935), and Home Town (1940). While Irving Howe and David Anderson, two astute critics of Anderson's social criticism, offered essentially contrasting evaluations of Anderson's social analyses, even the more adversely critical Howe found insights buried within "untenable" theses and admiration for Anderson's unique gifts. For example, Howe wrote, "Puzzled America is one of the few books that convey a sense of what it meant to live in depression America."

Appropriately Anderson's last important work was his Memoirs, published first in 1942 but more dependably edited by Ray Lewis White in 1969. This is appropriate first because, like Winesburg, Ohio, A Story-Teller's Story, and Tar, it is another maverick form: fact and fiction, biographical and mythic, unified and fragmented. Secondly, Memoirs is written in the natural style of his most successful works. The mannerisms of Tar are gone, and Anderson's "voice" is steady, informed, and mature. Finally, the Memoirs, though unfinished, is unified once more by the Anderson myth. One last time he has put on record the anecdotal parable of the life of an American artist. Beyond the aesthetic issues, the Memoirs is also the record of a sensitive American who experienced the coming of the modern industrial world, its factories and advertising, and--measuring that world by the criteria of craftsmanship, brotherhood, and love--often found it wanting. In the Memoirs Anderson judged himself harshly: "For all my egotism I know I am but a minor figure." Some have chosen to underscore the word minor, but such ratings can distort value. One may, as did T. S. Eliot, prefer Italian renaissance poet Dante Alighieri to William Shakespeare, but the value of such judgments should be to honor and foster what is valuable in writings of both. Sherwood Anderson wrote much that will not stand close scrutiny; however, in Winesburg, Ohio, in a number of short stories, and in at least parts of such works as A Story-Teller's Story and Poor White, Anderson's literary achievement is impressive.

Since his death, Anderson's diaries, early works, and letters have been published in collections. Jotted in the free desk calendars provided by an insurance company, the entries in The Sherwood Anderson Diaries, 1936-1941 record Anderson's frequent trips, his writings and submissions, and other notes about his daily life, especially the weather, his health, and his fourth and last wife, Eleanor Copenhaver. "We do not come away with a second sight into Anderson's works," concluded Yolanda Butts in The Georgia Review. "What does emerge is an aging writer in the inglorious trappings of daily life-enough, I think, for a true portrait of the man." Reviewer Tom Williams observed in Chicago Tribune Books: "Always coming through in bits and pieces is the sadness of a writer in his 60s looking for something, anything, to bring back the remembered fervor and ease of mood that might enable him to write the grand masterpiece he never gave up trying to do."

Editor Ray Lewis White collected sixty-six short prose pieces written by Anderson between 1902 and 1916 for inclusion in Sherwood Anderson: Early Writings. The pieces include articles written for magazines, short stories, and essays. "White's collection traces the author's developing narrative and literary voice, technique, and philosophic orientation to advertising, materialism, and literature," noted Philip A. Greasley in Modern Fiction Studies. J. J. Patton acknowledged in Choice that the selections "evidence characteristics of [Anderson's] later fictional style," including his "sharp eye for the telling detail." Concluded Greasley: "This book is valuable to anyone seeking to understand Sherwood Anderson, the evolution of twentieth-century fiction, and even America's growing sense of self in the early twentieth century."

The three volumes of letters published between 1985 and 1991 brought to five the number of books offering an epistolary look at Anderson. Letters to Bab: Sherwood Anderson to Marietta D. Finley, 1916-1933 contains letters Anderson wrote to his longtime friend and benefactor during the period he was writing his major fiction. The letters have stories and poems worked into them. "The letters are of interest as a record of Anderson's preoccupations--with writing (both stories and ad copy), women, and modern America-at a crucial time in his career," remarked New York Review of Books writer Christopher Benfey. Eugene T. Carroll expressed a similar view in Modern Fiction Studies: "[T]he letters reveal a frank and subjective portrait of a steady craftsman whose concerns about war, industrialization, women, and the literary figures of the time parallel his fictive writings. . . . However, the letters are not affectionate; they completely obscure whatever relationship he and Finley had for each other, and although they demonstrate personal feelings for or against a particular social or political event, they inevitably show the craftsmanship, the cameralike precision of the right word for the right moment."

The other two volumes of letters were written to Eleanor Copenhaver. Every day of 1932 Anderson wrote a letter to Eleanor, whom he would make his wife in 1933 despite a twenty-year difference in their ages and the discouragement of her family. He hid the letters in a cupboard of his home, where she discovered them after his death. They are collected in Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters. Jack B. Moore wrote in Studies in Short Fiction: "While the letters contain a great deal of knee jerk lamentation, they also depict Anderson's sadly impossible desires midway through his fifties." A reviewer for American Literature found that "the letters not only detail Anderson's daily activities and give insights into his character but also show him at his descriptive best, whether he is writing of his love or recording how ordinary Americans are struggling through the worst year of the Great Depression." The second epistolary volume, Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, contains a selection of the some 1400 letters written by Anderson to Eleanor between 1929 and 1941. "[T]his volume is often engaging, partly because Anderson acknowledges his faults and makes no attempt to conceal them, and partly because the letters reveal a man who refused to let his passion for life be diminished by age or doubt," Greg Johnson summed up in the New York Times Book Review.



  • Anderson, David D., Sherwood Anderson: An Introduction and Interpretation, Holt, 1967.

  • Anderson, David D., editor, Sherwood Anderson: Dimensions of His Literary Art, Michigan State University Press, 1976.

  • Anderson, David D., editor, Critical Essays on Sherwood Anderson, G. K. Hall, 1981.

  • Anderson, Sherwood, Winesburg, Ohio, introduction by Malcolm Cowley, Viking, 1960, new edition edited by John G. Ferres, Viking, 1966.

  • Anderson, Sherwood, Beyond Desire, introduction by Walter B. Rideout, Liveright, 1961.

  • Anderson, Sherwood, Poor White, introduction by Walter B. Rideout, Viking, 1966.

  • Bridgman, Richard, The Colloquial Style in America, Oxford University Press, 1966.

  • Burbank, Rex, Sherwood Anderson, Twayne, 1964.

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939, 1980, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945, 1981, Volume 86: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, First Series, 1989.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Volume 1, Gale, 1982.

  • Geismar, Maxwell David, The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925, Houghton, 1947.

  • Howe, Irving, Sherwood Anderson, William Sloane Associates, 1951, reprinted, Stanford University Press, 1966.

  • Kazin, Alfred, On Native Grounds, Reynal Hitchcock, 1942.

  • Rideout, Walter B., editor, Sherwood Anderson: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1974.

  • Rosenfeld, Paul, Port of New York, Harcourt, 1924.

  • Schevill, James, Sherwood Anderson: His Life and Work, University of Denver Press, 1951.

  • Small, Judy Jo, A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Sherwood Anderson, G. K. Hall, 1994.

  • Sutton, William A., Exit to Elsinore, Ball State University Press, 1967.

  • Sutton, William A., The Road to Winesburg: A Mosaic of the Imaginative Life of Sherwood Anderson, Scarecrow, 1972.

  • Taylor, Welford Dunaway, Sherwood Anderson, Ungar, 1977.

  • Townsend, Kim, Sherwood Anderson, Houghton, 1988.

  • Trilling, Lionel, The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society, Viking, 1950.
  • Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1978, Volume 10, 1983.

  • Walcutt, Charles C., American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream, University of Minnesota Press, 1956.

  • Weber, Brom, Sherwood Anderson, University of Minnesota Press, 1964.

  • White, Ray Lewis, editor, The Achievement of Sherwood Anderson, University of North Carolina Press, 1966.


  • Accent, Volume 16, number 2, 1956.

  • American Literature, Volume 23, number 1, 1951; Volume 40, number 1, 1968; Volume 41, number 1, 1969; December, 1989, p. 731; December, 1991, p. 781.

  • American Quarterly, Volume 20, number 4, 1968.

  • Antioch Review, spring, 1988, p. 278; fall, 1989, p. 505.

  • Choice, January, 1990, p. 794.

  • Esquire, September, 1992.

  • Georgia Review, spring, 1988, p. 208.

  • Hudson Review, Volume 10, number 4, 1957-58.

  • Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Volume 54, number 4, 1955.

  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 26, 1991, p. 8.

  • Mark Twain Journal, Volume 11, number 2, 1960.

  • MidAmerica, Volume 1, 1974.

  • Midcontinent American Studies Journal, Volume 3, 1962.

  • Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 5, number 2, 1959; Volume 5, number 4, 1959-60; summer, 1986, p. 273; winter, 1990, p. 533, 557.

  • National Review, June 5, 1987, p. 44; May 31, 1985, p. 42.

  • New Statesman Society, September 29, 1989.

  • New York Review of Books, January 30, 1986, p. 16.

  • New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1988; February 25, 1990, p. 25; December 20, 1992.

  • PMLA, Volume 74, number 3, 1959; Volume 80, number 4, 1965; Volume 87, number 5, 1972.

  • Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 4, number 3, 1967; Volume 11, number 2, 1974; fall, 1991, p. 572.

  • Tribune Books (Chicago), September 13, 1987, p. 10.

  • University of Chicago Magazine, January, 1955.

  • Wilson Library Bulletin, November, 1989, p. 110.

  • Winesburg Eagle, 1975--.

  • World Literature Today, spring, 1988, p. 286.*

Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.

Source Database: Contemporary Authors

PEN (Permanent Entry Number): 0000002252

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