Sunday, May 08, 2011
Sherwood Andersen and Mothers, family members, and various suspects. (Winesburg, Ohio)
The very word itself evokes the essence of what is good and true. It has been this way from the beginning and not just in what is written. Just try saying something disrespectful about someone’s mother and you will find how truly sacred we hold this idea. Yet, Anderson’s novel shatters many of our preconceived ideas. Imagine how the readers received Anderson’s work upon its release. Nothing about this “small town” novel is what we tend to believe about small town life. The same holds true for Anderson’s characterization of George Willard’s mother. As the title broadly proclaims her sacred name, the reader expects to read a rosy, blessed description, but finds something quite different.
The author begins by describing her physically as “gaunt” and “marked with smallpox scars.” Not the quintessential mother we would expect and then goes on to write that she slaves away as the “chambermaid” of the hotel. This description is in stark contrast to the father who seems to be a dandy of sorts, who spends most of his day wandering about dreaming of an important life in politics. Removal of our preconceived ideas goes beyond the physical characterizations.
The relationships within the family are equally important to the chapter and further reflect Anderson’s ability to remove the veil from Middle America family life. Tom Willard holds no loving feelings for his betrothed, but considers her and the dilapidated hotel “as things defeated and done for.” The relationship George holds with his mother demonstrates more of the critical differences we begin to see between our
conceptualization of family and what might actually exist. An example of this taken from the text is described as an “outwardly formal thing without meaning.” The feelings that lie beneath are muddled and inextricably tied to self—absorption. The desperation can been observed easily enough when Elizabeth Willard clings to the belief that her son has that “special something” within him still. She knows it is that thing that she let be killed in her long ago. The image of the mother kneeling by the door of her son’s room, listening, and thinking these despairing thoughts is quite unsettling.
The author ends one of the chapters painting these relationships with much of the same sad ambivalence. The twist is that this can be an accurate portrayal. Nothing is as clear cut as we would like, but instead has much gray area. Many relationships between members of a family are not the Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best variety that we are spoon fed, but can be mixed with much of the painful emotions that are replete in Anderson’s characters. It is within this dynamic that I believe Anderson’s true writing acumen comes forth most clearly.
Wikipedia Article about the author:
Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, the third of seven children of Erwin M. and Emma S. Anderson. After Erwin's business failed, the family was forced to move frequently, finally settling down at Clyde, Ohio, in 1884.
Partly as a result of these misfortunes, young Sherwood found various odd jobs to help his family, which earned him the nickname "Jobby." He left school at age 14.
Anderson moved to Chicago near his brother Karl's home and worked as a manual laborer until near the turn of the century, when he enlisted in the United States Army. He was called up but did not see action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After the war, in 1900, he enrolled at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Eventually he secured a job as a copywriter in Chicago and became more successful.
In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane, the daughter of a wealthy Ohio family. He fathered three children while living in Cleveland, Ohio, and later Elyria, Ohio, where he managed a mail-order business and paint manufacturing firms.
In November 1912 he suffered a mental breakdown and disappeared for four days. He was found wandering around in nearby cornfields. Soon after, he left his position as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co. in Elyria, Ohio, and left his wife and three small children to pursue the writer's life of creativity. Anderson described the entire episode as "escaping from his materialistic existence," which garnered praise from many young writers, who used his "courage" as an example.
Anderson moved back to Chicago, working again for a publishing and advertising company. In 1914, he divorced Lane and married Tennessee Mitchell.
Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, was published in 1916, followed, three years later, by his second major work, Marching Men. However, he is most famous for the collection of interrelated short stories, which were published in 1919, known as Winesburg, Ohio. He claimed that "Hands", the opening story, was the first "real" story he ever wrote. Although his short stories were very successful, Anderson felt the need to write novels. In 1920, he published Poor White, which was rather successful.
In 1923, Anderson published Many Marriages, the themes of which he would carry over into much of his later writing. The novel had its detractors, but the reviews were, on the whole, positive. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, considered Many Marriages to be Anderson's finest novel.
Beginning in 1924, Anderson lived in the historic Pontalba Apartments (540-B St. Peter Street) adjoining Jackson Square in New Orleans. There, he and his wife entertained William Faulkner, Carl Sandburg, Edmund Wilson and other literary luminaries. Of Faulkner, in fact, he wrote his ambiguous and moving short story "A Meeting South," and, in 1925, wrote Dark Laughter, a novel rooted in his New Orleans experience. Although the book is now out of print (and was satirized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Torrents of Spring), it was Anderson's only bestseller.
Anderson's third marriage also failed, and he married Eleanor Copenhaver in the late 1920s. They traveled and often studied together. In the 1930s, Anderson published Death in the Woods, Puzzled America (a book of essays), and Kit Brandon, which was published in 1936.
Anderson dedicated his 1932 novel, Beyond Desire, to Copenhaver. Although he was much less influential in this final writing period, many of his more significant lines of prose were present in these works, which were generally considered sub-par compared to his other works.
"Beyond Desire", set during the 1929 Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia, NC, resulted in yet another satirical mention by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway included a minor character in his 1937 novel To Have and Have Not who is an author. This character is working on a novel of Gastonia.
Anderson died in Panama at the age of 64 while on a cruise to South America. An autopsy revealed that he had accidentally swallowed a toothpick (presumably in a martini olive), which had perforated his colon and caused a fatal case of peritonitis. He was buried at Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. His epitaph reads, "Life, Not Death, is the Great Adventure."
Anderson's final home, known as Ripshin, still stands in Troutdale, Virginia, and may be toured by appointment.
Windy McPherson's Son (1916)
Marching Men (1917)
Poor White (1920)
Many Marriages (1923)
Dark Laughter (1925)
Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926, semi-autobiographical novel)
Alice and the Lost Novel (1929)
Beyond Desire (1932)
Kit Brandon: A Portrait (1936)
Short Story Collections
Winesburg, Ohio (1919)
The Triumph of the Egg (1921)
Horses and Men (1923)
Hands and Other Stories (1925)
Death in the Woods and Other Stories (1933)
Mid-American Chants (1918)
A New Testament (1927)
Plays, Winesburg and Others (1937)
A Story Teller's Story (1924, memoir)
The Modern Writer (1925, essays)
Sherwood Anderson's Notebook (1926, memoir)
Hello Towns! (1929, collected newspaper articles)
Nearer the Grass Roots (1929, essays)
The American County Fair (1930, essays)
Perhaps Women (1931, essays)
Puzzled America (1935, essays)
A Writer's Conception of Realism (1939, essays)
Home Town (1940, photographs and commentary)
Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs (1942)
The Sherwood Anderson Reader, edited by Paul Rosenfeld (1947)
The Portable Sherwood Anderson, edited by Horace Gregory (1949)
Letters of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Howard Mumford Jones and Walter B. Rideout (1953)
Sherwood Anderson: Short Stories, edited by Maxwell Geismar (1962)
Return to Winesburg: Selections From Four Years of Writing for a Country Newspaper, edited by Ray Lewis White (1967)
The Buck Fever Papers, edited by Welford Dunaway Taylor (1971, collected newspaper articles).
Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein: Correspondence and Personal Essays, edited by Ray Lewis White (1972)
The "Writer's Book," edited by Martha Mulroy Curry (1975, unpublished works)
France and Sherwood Anderson: Paris Notebook, 1921, edited by Michael Fanning (1976)
Sherwood Anderson: The Writer at His Craft, edited by Jack Salzman, David D. Anderson, and Kichinosuke Ohashi (1979)
A Teller's Tales, selected and introduced by Frank Gado (1983)
Sherwood Anderson: Selected Letters: 1916–1933, edited by Charles E. Modlin (1984)
Letters to Bab: Sherwood Anderson to Marietta D. Finely, 1916-1933, edited by William A. Sutton (1985)
The Sherwood Anderson Diaries, 1936-1941, edited by Hilbert H. Campbell (1987)
Sherwood Anderson: Early Writings, edited by Ray Lewis White (1989)
Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, edited by Charles E. Modlin (1989)
Sherwood Anderson's Secret Love Letters, edited by Ray Lewis White (1991)
Certain Things Last: The Selected Stories of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Charles E. Modlin (1992)
Southern Odyssey: Selected Writings by Sherwood Anderson, edited by Welford Dunaway Taylor and Charles E. Modlin (1997)
The Egg and Other Stories, edited with an introduction by Charles E. Modlin (1998)
1.^ Anderson, Sherwood (1876–1941) | St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture Summary
3.^ Sherwood Anderson
4.^ Anderson, Sherwood. Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1942.
5.^ Howe, Irving. Sherwood Anderson. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1951. (pg. 254)
6.^ Sherwood Anderson: A writer in America, p. 401
Cox, Leland H., Jr. (1980), "Sherwood Anderson", American Writers in Paris, 1920–1939, Dictionary of Literary Biography, 4, Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co.
Rideout, Walter B. (2005–2007), Sherwood Anderson: A Writer in America, 1–2, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press
on Mr. Anderson:
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