Friday, August 24, 2012

The Untold Lie

Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)
From Sherwood Anderson: Collected Stories

Sherwood Anderson became a published author of fiction relatively late in life. As a young man he had written articles and essays for such regional periodicals as Agricultural Advertising, but his short stories were routinely rejected by publishers and his attempts at novel-writing went nowhere. His primary employment was as an advertising copywriter, and he owned a small business selling household products. But in 1912 the Anderson Manufacturing Company began to fail. On Thanksgiving Day, he left his office, walked toward Cleveland for four days (sleeping outdoors), and sent his wife a fairly incoherent seven-page letter describing his experiences. He was admitted to a hospital in Cleveland, and in early December a local newspaper reported the episode, attributing his behavior to “nervous exhaustion.” Eventually he recovered and his first published story, “The Rabbit-pen,” appeared in Harper’s in July 1914; two years later, at the age of forty, he finally published his first book, the novel Windy McPherson’s Son.

Soon after the book’s publication, Anderson began sending stories to the new and ultimately influential (if short-lived) journal The Seven Arts. According to Irving Howe, Anderson’s tales so impressed editor Waldo Frank that he wrote a glowing appreciation, “Emerging Greatness,” for the first issue, and stories by Anderson appeared in the second and third issues. In 1917 Anderson visited the Seven Arts offices; the staff expected an introverted young writer and was thrown by the sight of the actual man. As one editor recalled, “I had built an Anderson out of the stories, a shy sort of fellow, a little mussed, slipping against the wall so as not to occupy too much space. Instead of that I looked straight at an up-and-coming ad man with a stiff collar, and a bit of the super-salesman air.” But Anderson quickly became friends with many of the New York literary set, including the critic Van Wyck Brooks and the young poet Hart Crane. Frank later wrote, “To me, the young New Yorker, Sherwood Anderson was America.”

One of the two first stories that Anderson sent to The Seven Arts was “The Untold Lie.” When he initially wrote this and subsequent stories, each was meant to be read separately, but since they were set in the same locale, he revised and gathered them into Winesburg, Ohio, which contains twenty-five interlocking stories describing moments in the lives of the characters of one town. It was the first of four story collections that, as Joyce Carol Oates has written, “had an incalculable influence upon generations of American writers. The deceptively artless, unadorned, anecdotal Anderson voice has come to characterize for many readers the distinctive American voice.”

Incredibly, no publisher has ever gathered Sherwood Anderson’s four story collections into one book—until now. At the end of this year, The Library of America will publish the most comprehensive volume of Anderson’s stories ever published—containing Winesburg, Ohio; The Triumph of the Egg; Horses and Men; and Death in the Woods, plus fifteen stories that Anderson didn’t include in these four landmark collections.

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Ray Pearson and Hal Winters were farm hands employed on a farm three miles north of Winesburg. On Saturday afternoons they came into town and wandered about through the streets with other fellows from the country. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.

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