- The Sherwood Anderson Diaries, 1936-1941, and: Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, Letters, and: Prairies Within: The Tragic Trilogy of Ole Rölvaag
Hilbert Campbell's Sherwood Anderson Diaries is a valuable addition to the published Sherwood Anderson canon. The diaries begin on 1 January 1936 and end on 28 February 1941, eight days before Anderson's death. Anderson's entries, in conjunction with Campbell's copious explanatory notes, complement the Memoirs and the approximately one thousand published letters in providing insights into Anderson's life.
The diaries evidence Anderson's incessantly-traveling final years. They reveal his literary work habits, relationships, values, inspirations, and frustrations along with his nonliterary side. They show Anderson's ability to separate literary "job" from enjoyment of life and shed light on the financial pressure he felt during these years. One component of this pressure is Anderson's complex, sometimes frustrating relationship with Mary Emmett, a well-to-do benefactor, regular house guest, and family traveling companion. Anderson's bouts of ill-health are also regularly reported. Finally, across their pages, the diaries offer a continuing statement of love for Anderson's wife, Eleanor, a woman whose sharing of their financial burdens and ongoing job responsibilities with the national YWCA made necessary her regular long-term absences.
Although Anderson's daily entries are short, virtually all less than one hundred words and many much shorter, they provide much of value to Anderson scholars. Their value is enhanced by the fact that only about a fifth of Anderson's extant letters have been published, thus leaving significant chronological and thematic gaps that the diary entries help fill. Also important is Anderson's complete honesty in the diaries. Anderson's candor is so great that, even forty-six years after Anderson's death, Campbell felt it necessary to expunge passages that would still prove "painful or embarrassing" to some.
Even for those with access to the Anderson collection in the Newberry Library and skill in deciphering Anderson's cryptic handwriting, Campbell's explanatory notes offer a valuable alternative. They provide context for the diary entries, identifying individuals, explaining relationships, clarifying elliptical references, citing ongoing projects and discussions, and cross-referencing all. So helpful are Campbell's explanatory notes that one wishes he had chosen a format with notes adjacent to diary entries on each page rather than resorting to sequential notes, divided by year, at book's end. The current format, although affording the opportunity to read Anderson's words unimpeded by critical intrusion, forces readers constantly to maintain two "places," flipping back and forth between them to appreciate fully Anderson's entries.
Campbell suggests that Eleanor, Anderson's wife of approximately three years at the time he began his diary writing, probably encouraged him to maintain a diary. She was conscious of Anderson's literary importance and determined to maintain the fullest possible record. She began a diary shortly after their marriage, and its entries center on her time with Sherwood. Her wisdom is increasingly obvious. The absence of a comprehensive Sherwood Anderson biography [End Page 237] even now makes her contribution, like that of Hilbert Campbell, all the more important.
Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speecto, and Letters, edited by L. Brent Bohlke, is another sourcebook. Bohlke's comprehensive collection offers some hard-won insights on Willa Cather and the evolution of her popular and critical reputation. Bohlke offers painstakingly-collected Cather interviews, speeches, and letters, and extensive biographical framing as well. Prior to each interview, speech, and letter, he presents the context, explains important aspects of the segment to follow, details how these elements recur elsewhere, and cites the library or collection from which the selection was gathered. The resulting collection functions better as a sourcebook from which important selections can be excerpted than...