Essays On Winesburg

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I must have been no more than fifteen or sixteen years old when I first chanced upon Winesburg, Ohio.

Gripped by these stories and sketches of Sherwood Anderson's small–town "grotesques," I felt that he was opening for me new depths of experience, touching upon half–buried truths which nothing in my young life had prepared me for.

It was in the freedom of the city, in its readiness to put up with deviant styles of life, that Anderson found the strength to settle accounts with—but also to release his affection for—the world of small–town America.

The dream of an unconditional personal freedom, that hazy American version of utopia, would remain central throughout Anderson's life and work. In 19 Anderson published two novels mostly written in Elyria, Windy Mc Pherson's Son and Marching Men, both by now largely forgotten.

Occasionally there occurs in a writer's career a sudden, almost mysterious leap of talent, beyond explanation, perhaps beyond any need for explanation.

In 1915–16 Anderson had begun to write and in 1919 he published the stories that comprise Winesburg, Ohio, stories that form, in sum, a sort of loosely–strung episodic novel."I create nothing, I boost, I boost," he said about himself, even as, on the side, he was trying to write short stories.In 1904 Anderson married and three years later moved to Elyria, a town forty miles west of Cleveland, where he established a firm that sold paint. Next year a bigger house; and after that, presumably, a country estate." Later he would say about his years in Elyria, "I was a good deal of a Babbitt, but never completely one." Something drove him to write, perhaps one of those shapeless hungers—a need for self–expression?Trilling charged Anderson with indulging a vaporous sentimentalism, a kind of vague emotional meandering in stories that lacked social or spiritual solidity.There was a certain cogency in Trilling's attack, at least with regard to Anderson's inferior work, most of which he wrote after Winesburg, Ohio.(There are some writers one should never return to.) But now, in the fullness of age, when asked to say a few introductory words about Anderson and his work, I have again fallen under the spell of Winesburg, Ohio, again responded to the half–spoken desires, the flickers of longing that spot its pages.Naturally, I now have some changes of response: a few of the stories no longer haunt me as once they did, but the long story "Godliness," which years ago I considered a failure, I now see as a quaintly effective account of the way religious fanaticism and material acquisitiveness can become intertwined in American experience. His childhood and youth in Clyde, a town with perhaps three thousand souls, were scarred by bouts of poverty, but he also knew some of the pleasures of pre–industrial American society.Still, about Winesburg, Ohio and a small number of stories like "The Egg" and "The Man Who Became a Woman" there has rarely been any critical doubt.No sooner did Winesburg, Ohio make its appearance than a number of critical labels were fixed on it: the revolt against the village, the espousal of sexual freedom, the deepening of American realism.a wish to find a more authentic kind of experience?—that would become a recurrent motif in his fiction.


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