Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Three of the Best Stories from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

"Adventure" (1919, 7 pages)
"The Untold Lie" (1919, 6 pages)
"Death"  (1919, 6 pages)

Three of the Best Short Stories of
Sherwood Anderson

In the opening chapter of his book of lectures on the short story, The Lonely Voice-A Study of the Short Story Frank O'Connor first talks about Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat".   Shortly after that he turns to the stories in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.   He says Winesburg, Ohio is the most influential American collection of interrelated short stories.    Ford Madox Ford in his The March of Literature listed it as one of the essential works of American literature.    I think somehow  many potential readers find it hard to accept that a collection of short stories set in a small town in Ohio in 1919 can look so deeply into the hidden despair in the lives of ordinary people.    (I have previously posted on Anderson's amazing short story "Hands" and there is some background information in my post on it.)     It almost seems like you walk into a small town cafe in a little town in Ohio and you find out one of the patrons has looked as deeply into the dark as Conrad or Dostoevsky.     Yesterday I read  the three short stories of Anderson that O'Connor said were his best work.  I will post briefly on them.  (His work is in the public domain now and can be easily found online-I will list a link where you can read them at the bottom of this post.)

"Adventure" is O'Connor's  and my choice for best Anderson short story.    It is about a woman driven to despair and near madness by loneliness.    I cannot really summarize the story in a way that does not lose the power of the story but I will say a bit.   It is about a woman who we meet in her early 20s.   She is a nice well mannered well brought up young woman.    I will not tell you how it happens but ends up running naked through the streets and offers herself to the first man she sees.   

"Death" is a very sad story about steps never taken.   As it opens we meet the owner of the town hotel in Winesburg (an imaginary community) and his daughter.      The daughter seems to be in her early twenties.   She wants to get married because it is what women in that age bracket do, not because she feels any great love for the man she marries.    There is nothing really wrong with him, she just does not feel a lot for her husband.   As the father is on his death bed he tells his daughter he knows he has not made much of his life.    The hotel is mortgaged so he will not be leaving her a lot.   Suddenly he tells her he has some money set aside that he was going to use to escape his life in Winesburg.    He was already planning to do it soon.    He gives the money to his daughter with and makes her promise that she will not tell her husband about the money.    He wants to at least be able to  die knowing that his daughter has her "escape money". I think there will be few people who cannot relate to the heart break at the end of this story.   

The Untold Lie" appeals to me the less of the three stories.   It is about the price people pay for what they thing is living the right way a person in Winesburg, Ohio is supposed to live. 

All of these stories are about people from what O'Connor called submerged population groups.    All of the three stories I posted on today are about being trapped, about being in a society where you are supposed 
to do certain things but no one really tells you what to do or why to do it.

All of these stories and more of Anderson can be read HERE

Mel u


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read Winesburg, Ohio last year and really loved it. He wrote some incredibly poignant stories.

Miss Good on Paper said...

I love Winesburg, Ohio! I never hear anyone talk about it anymore, though. When I studied link short story collections in grad school, this was one of the essentials. Really interesting post. Thanks!