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Sherwood Anderson: Winesburg, Ohio

This is not really a novel but a series of short stories. They were originally written in 1916, except for the four stories entitled Godliness which were taken from an abandoned novel in 1917, though not published till 1919. Studies of the manuscripts indicated that they were written quickly but revised extensively. They are all linked by their setting – Winesburg, Ohio, based on Anderson’s hometown of Clyde, Ohio. Many of the characters and settings are based on people and places Anderson knew. As in, for examples, the Yoknapatawpha County novels of his friend William Faulkner, many of the characters appear in more than one of the stories, particularly, the Willard family. What makes the stories particularly distinctive is that they are not the straightforward realist stories of a Midwestern town that you might expect but, rather, surrealist in nature. The people tell their story to George Willard, a newspaper reporter. These people are not sophisticated urban dwellers and nor is Willard. They are often lonely and frightened. They have strange dreams and often behave in an unconventional manner. All too often, they have missed out, on love or on life. Winesburg, itself, if a microcosm of an American town, is not your pretty Hallmark town. Its community spirit has all but gone, as the people struggle with their unhappy lives, generally having to manage on their own, with little help from their fellow men and women. Anderson will never reach this height again but this work is certainly well worth reading as a counterbalance to conventional small town values.

Publishing history

First published 1919 by B W Huebsch