- Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, and: The Modern American Novel 1914-1945
Several volumes of Sherwood Anderson's letters have been published since the writer's death in 1941. The first collection, Letters of Sherwood Anderson, brought out by Howard Mumford Jones and Walter B. Rideout in 1953, contained over four hundred letters, documents chosen for their discussion of the author's ideas about literature and art from 1916 until shortly before his death. Then, after many years, I published in 1972 in Sherwood Anderson / Gertrude Stein the complete correspondence of these two unusual writers and distinctive personalities, letters revealing the unexpected nature of their twenty-year friendship. A second general collection of letters, Sherwood Anderson: Selected Letters, published by Charles E. Modlin in 1984, expanded upon the Jones-Rideout volume with many more commentaries by Anderson on literature and literary and artistic friends; especially valuable was Modlin's presentation of many letters from archives other than Chicago's Newberry Library, an institution which alone holds over five thousand letters. Then, in 1985, in Letters to Bab, William A. Sutton published Anderson's complete letters (over three hundred) to Marietta D. Finley Hahn, letters written from 1916 to 1933 to this friend of Anderson's first wife and his children (and, quite possibly, the writer's occasional lover). These four collections of letters have shown [End Page 557] Sherwood Anderson as an artist who expended a huge amount of his energy in correspondence that became truly voluminous, highly thoughtful, and intensely self-revelatory of a particularly sensitive and surprisingly interesting person.
Having for over a quarter century enjoyed and learned from the enormous store of Sherwood Anderson letters, published and unpublished, at the Newberry Library and elsewhere, I early on in my career became intrigued by a note in the index to the Newberry's Anderson Papers that the writer's five boxes of letters to his fourth wife, Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, were to remain sealed from access until long after this widow's death, whenever that death might be. Although I was tantalized by the sure appeal of these letters from my research subject to my aged friend Eleanor Anderson, I refrained from enquiry about the secret hoard and fully expected not to survive Eleanor long enough to read the intimate letters known only to her. Therefore, after Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson's death in 1985, I was delighted to learn that this admirable literary widow had authorized Charles E. Modlin to prepare for publication a selection from her husband's treasured and carefully preserved letters, over 1400 in all, written to her from 1929 until their separation by his death in 1941. Now, in Sherwood Anderson's Love Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, I can indulge myself in a collection of these emotional and compelling private documents . . . documents that I can unreservedly recommend to literary scholars and to all lovers of fine letters.
The courtship of Sherwood Anderson and Eleanor Copenhaver was an affair destined to bring from a literary man like Anderson a flood of correspondence, for their unlikely relationship seemed doomed to continuous frustration and ultimate failure. When Anderson met Miss Copenhaver in 1928, he thought that he had outlived his greatest accomplishments; he had been divorced twice; he was yet married unhappily to his third wife; he was twenty years older than his new friend; and he was in his despondency probably close to suicide. She, on the other hand, was the contented unmarried elder daughter of a prominent southern family; she was a successful career social worker; she, although no longer young, had never loved a man; and her family and her community were actively discouraging her affection for an admirer older, more worldly, and more than likely determined to ruin her personally and professionally.
Against these unhopeful odds Sherwood Anderson loosed a barrage of entreaties and appeals, often mailing to Eleanor Copenhaver several letters a day...