In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sherwood Anderson

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Letters and Diaries
  • Biographies and Reminiscences
  • Special Collections and Archives
  • Reference Works
  • Journals and Special Issues
  • Theater and Film
  • International Studies

American Literature Sherwood Anderson
Chad Trevitte
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0139


Born in Camden, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (b. 1876–d. 1941) was the son of a harnessmaker whose failing business led the family to resettle in Clyde, Ohio—the town that Anderson would later draw upon in writing Winesburg, Ohio. As a teenager in Clyde, Anderson’s reputation as a versatile worker led to his nickname “Jobby,” and he soon dropped out of high school to continue work in various local businesses. After military service during the Spanish-American War he completed his high-school education at Wittenberg Academy in Springfield, Ohio; immediately thereafter he took an advertising job in Chicago in 1900, marrying his first wife, Cornelia Lane, in 1904. However, over the next eight years, Anderson’s domestic and professional life became increasingly strained, leading eventually to what appears to have been a nervous breakdown in 1912. Although Anderson would later mythologize this episode as an artistic awakening that triggered his rejection of a corrupt business culture, he continued working as an advertising writer in Chicago for the next ten years while receiving literary advice from Floyd Dell, Margaret Anderson, and other figures associated with the Chicago Renaissance. His early publications—Windy McPherson’s Son (1916), Marching Men (1917), and Mid-American Chants (1918)—were widely judged as flawed in style and execution, yet the publication of Winesburg, Ohio (1919) established Anderson’s reputation as a modern innovator in the short-story form. Shortly thereafter, Anderson visited Europe to meet Gertrude Stein and other modernist writers, introducing Ernest Hemingway to Stein; years later he would also become an influential supporter of William Faulkner. His next novel, Poor White (1920), a portrait of a beleaguered inventor-hero in the machine age, received encouraging reviews; however, Anderson’s adoption of an idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness style in Many Marriages (1923) began a critical backlash that would continue over the decade. In 1925 Anderson settled in Marion, Virginia, where he later met and married Eleanor Copenhaver, his fourth wife. With the coming of the Great Depression, Anderson began to visit factories in the South while supporting striking mill workers in Virginia; his novel Beyond Desire (1932) reflects his political concerns during this period, which led him to a brief flirtation with the Communist Party before turning his support to Roosevelt and the New Deal. By the time of his death in 1941, most critics regarded Anderson to be a once-promising writer who had succumbed to the mannerisms of muddled thinking in his stories, novels, and essays; it would take more than two decades for sustained reassessments of his legacy as a pioneer of the modern short story, and as a witness to the cultural impact of industrialism on small-town life in the United States.

General Overviews

The studies listed here vary in scope and depth as well as in their assessment of Anderson. Chase 1927 most directly reflects the author’s diminishing reputation after Winesburg, and it is primarily useful for specialists focusing on Anderson’s critical reception. Howe 1966 (originally published in 1951) is the first truly comprehensive study, and it remains a helpful source for more informed literary scholars. Weber 1964 and Taylor 1977 are more suited for a general audience, but they both are brief and limited in textual analysis; of the shorter studies, Burbank 1964 and Bassett 2006 have a finer balance of concision and critical engagement with the texts. Anderson 1967 is an authoritative study for modern Anderson scholars, whereas Papinchak 1992 offers the best treatment of Anderson’s short-story technique for specialists and nonspecialists alike.

  • Anderson, David D. Sherwood Anderson: An Introduction and Interpretation. American Authors and Critics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967.

    Reevaluation of Anderson as a storyteller, novelist, and social critic, both candid in addressing his literary shortcomings and ambitious in attempting to restore him as a representative voice in the cultural history of modern America. A key contribution to the resurgence of Anderson criticism over the next decade.

  • Bassett, John E. Sherwood Anderson: An American Career. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2006.

    Short but comprehensive assessment of Anderson’s writings, opening with a biographical sketch and followed by critical treatment of the novels, poetry, short fiction, autobiographies, and nonfiction. Recapitulates scholarly consensus on Anderson’s flaws as a novelist, while tracing the most significant themes that recur throughout the work as a whole.

  • Burbank, Rex J. Sherwood Anderson. TUSAS 65. New York: Twayne, 1964.

    Selective overview of Anderson’s work that provides a balanced perspective of its characteristic strengths and weaknesses; critical of the author’s novelistic forays into primitivism and sexual mysticism, while still establishing the author’s historical importance as a bridge between late-19th- and early-20th-century literary traditions.

  • Chase, Cleveland B. Sherwood Anderson. Modern American Writers 7. New York: Robert M. McBride, 1927.

    Early commentary on the author’s life and writings to date, distinctive mainly for its negative judgments. Maintains that Anderson typically lapses into confusion or sentimentality when addressing the harsher realities of modern life, and that his uneven talent is suited mainly to Winesburg and the short story form. Republished as recently as 1978 (Norwood, PA: Norwood).

  • Howe, Irving. Sherwood Anderson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966.

    First published in 1951; reissued as recently as 1978. Overview of Anderson’s life and literary career, generally positive and insightful in its treatment of Winesburg and selected later stories but otherwise tepid in its judgment of Anderson’s novels, poetry, and nonfiction. Contributed most significantly to Anderson’s mid-20th-century reputation as a “minor” writer.

  • Papinchak, Robert A. Sherwood Anderson: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction 33. New York: Twayne, 1992.

    Lucid study organized in three parts: “The Short Fiction,” which examines Anderson’s earliest short fiction and Winesburg, Ohio; “The Writer,” which offers excerpts from Anderson’s letters, essays, and memoirs that discuss the storyteller’s craft; and “The Critics,” which includes essays from five critics on Anderson’s accomplishments in the form.

  • Taylor, Welford D. F. Sherwood Anderson. Modern Literature Monographs. New York: Ungar, 1977.

    Selective account of Anderson’s life and writings, focusing more on the short fiction and late journalism; of the novels, only Poor White and Kit Brandon receive modest treatment, and Taylor often relies heavily on summary in the book as a whole.

  • Weber, Brom. Sherwood Anderson. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers 43. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964.

    Short (forty-five-page) monograph from the University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers series, with selective commentary on the major phases of Anderson’s life, the strengths and shortcomings of his major novels and short-story collections, and his diminished critical reputation after the mid-1920s.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.