Sherwood Anderson and the revolution in 20th century American literature

May 12, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Sometimes librarians get it wrong — at least, initially.

Sherwood Anderson, the author of the classic Winesburg, Ohio, was from the small town of Clyde, Ohio, and used that small town as the source of the novel. When it was first published, 100 years ago this week, it was praised by a few and panned by many as a corrupt, monotonous, one-dimensional work.

The book’s history is outlined by Bruce Falconer, a senior editor at The American Scholar, in an article in the New York Times. Many readers were shocked at its frank discussions of sexual repression and desire. (Those discussions are mild by today’s standards.)

Perhaps nowhere was Anderson more despised than in his hometown, Clyde. The town’s head librarian burned copies of his book, and for many years, any patron of the Clyde Public Library who requested it was met with a scowl as she fumbled for the key to a locked closet where she stored, together with other “bad books,” a single copy that had somehow escaped the flames. Source: Opinion | Sherwood Anderson’s Revolutionary Small Town – The New York Times

Fortunately, Anderson’s work survived the fire and censure of the town librarian and many of the nation’s critics and is now considered one of the great classics of American literature.

Anderson’s work opened the door for many authors who surpassed him in fame and impact on American letters. Some of them, such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, were assisted early in their careers by Anderson’s personal assistance and advocacy. As Falconer writes:

Hemingway and Faulkner, in particular, sought Anderson’s advice and support,which he happily provided, acting as a mentor to both and helping to get their first books into print. As their fortunes rose and his declined, they sought to distance themselves from Anderson with novels that cruelly mocked his personality and his prose style: Faulkner’s “Mosquitoes” and Hemingway’s “The Torrents of Spring.”

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