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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, Ohio, on September 13th 1876, but spent his formative years in a small town, Clyde, which inspired the setting for many of his stories. His writing career however began quite late, in the year 1912, when he abandoned his business and his family for the literal pleasure of literature. This act symbolized the best known archetype of the gifted American, caught between the pull of riches, success, respectability and family responsibility on the one hand and the call of creativity, probably to be accompanied by poverty and disappointment on the other.
In 1916, Anderson divorced his first wife Cornelia to marry Tennessee Mitchell and shift to Chicago. This year also saw the light of his first novel, 'Windy McPherson's son.' But it was however the year 1919, which brought fame and recognition in the form of his book 'Winesburg, Ohio.' This book was a revolution in the American short story genre, and was a major influence on the younger generation of important writers, including William Faulkner and Earnest Hemmingway.
The 1920's saw a plethora of books, notable ones being 'Poor White' (1920), 'Triumph of the egg' (1921), 'Horses and Men' (1923) and the autobiographical, 'A Story Teller's story.' His marriage to Tennessee was not a success. He shifted to New York, where he married Elizabeth Prall. This period saw the works 'Many Marriages' and 'Dark Laughter' came to light.
In the fall of 1927, he purchased the Marion Publishing Company, in Marion and became editor and publisher of two weekly newspapers, articles from which were collected in a 1929 book, 'Hello Towns.' He and Elizabeth separated in late 1928 and in 1933 he married Eleanor Copenhaver.
Among his publications, in the 1930's are 'Beyond Desire' (1932), 'Death in the Woods and other stories' (1933) and 'Kit Brandon' (1936). He traveled widely with Eleanor and en route to South America, he died of peritonitis in Colon on March 8th 1941.
Sherwood Anderson, both through his writings and his acts of personal kindness was a major influence on Faulkner, Hemingway, Wolfe and Steinbeck. His portrayal of the town Clyde and the characters in it, has a marked resemblance to the Indian writer, R.K. Narayan's portrayal of the imaginary town of Malgudi, in India.
Sherwood Anderson through his 'Winesburg, Ohio' established himself as a leading figure in the Chicago literary Renaissance, and marked a new Realism in American writing.
Anderson began writing this book in 1915. At this time, he was living alone in a rooming house at 735 Cass Street, and working at the Critchfield Agency. His mind had been set in motion with the reading of two books 'Spoon River Anthology' by Edgar Lee Masters and 'Three Lives' by Gertrude Stein.
Anderson's earlier books, though accepted by his publisher, were unable to satiate his inner self. Then, years later, he described his experience of a certain day, which turned out to be the start of 'Winesburg, Ohio.' He had been in his room, depressed and frustrated with the loss of his job hanging over his head menacingly, when inspiration struck him and he wrote 'Hands.' This story was included in 'Winesburg, Ohio' and is one of the best stories. Immediately after this he wrote 'The Book of the Grotesque,' which is the first story in the book, and 'Paper Pills', and so on. All the stories fell into place one after the other and 'Winesburg, Ohio' was born.
The town of Winesburg, which is the setting for all the stories is based on his fond memories of Clyde, his hometown. Thus the stories are clearly autobiographical. The hero in all the stories, George Willard is the author himself and it is believed that many of the other characters were old neighbors and acquaintances from Clyde.
There are twenty-five stories in the entire set up (counting the four parts of 'Godliness'). Certain characters are repeated in the stories, with George Willard remaining the mainstay. The last few stories round up the entire series up, with the last story 'Departure', showing George leaving his hometown in search of adventure and learning.
'Winesburg, Ohio' has been attacked as a morbid book, full of sexual innuendoes, by some critics. But what it really is, is an attempt to depict the various emotions of man and their intricacies, as well as a need to bring men closer without hatred and enmity.
The town 'Winesburg, Ohio' is in reality only a fictitious place, formed out of the author's memory. However, it bears acute resemblance to Clyde, the birthplace of Sherwood Anderson. Anderson grew up in Clyde and characterized the townspeople. This new realism in writing influenced many other writers like Hemmingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck.
This book however shocked the small town community people of Clyde. Sherwood was even scorned by the older critics, though praised by the young ones.
The town of Clyde has certainly achieved fame through this book. People actually visit the place made famous by the book. Yet the people apparently never forgave him since they could recognize themselves in it even though the names were changed!