A Start: Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and Feeling Overwhelmed

“In the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth.”

Sherwood Anderson starts off Winesburg, Ohio with this grand thesis of human existence. I started off my honors research a few weeks ago and now have a great many thoughts as well, but often feel I have no such thing as a thesis. It’s been tricky at the start here, and a bit overwhelming at times, which is why I haven’t yet posted here concerning my progress. But taking stock now, and in the wake of a very reassuring meeting with my adviser, I feel direction-d again.

I guess what I’m what I’m trying to say is that you can’t have any idea the scope of a project like this until you’ve tried to do one. Since I got back from my study abroad at Oxford I’ve reread Winesburg, Anderson’s third novel Poor White, Sinclair Lewis’ bestseller and Pulitzer Prize rejectee Main Street, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems, and Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. I’ve also looked at Kim Townsend’s Biography on Anderson and Liesl Olson’s recent deep-dive on the Chicago Renaissance, among other assorted secondary readings. It’s a been a lot of material in a short amount of time but I believe strongly, though with mild whiplash, that I am learning a ton. The pool of background reading I needed seems to grow with every new piece I read, but I’m starting to get a fuller picture of Anderson’s career, the role of Winesburg in the American literary canon, the contemporary prose and poetry of the town, the American Midwest and city of Chicago in the early 19th century, and how it all fits together. Or rather, the many, many different ways it fits together, and overlaps. It’s a lot. I often feel like I’m gasping for breath knowing less than I need to.

But that, I’m finding, is how this works. My thesis is changed from what is was a month ago, and it is far from complete, and I’m rather happy about that. Whether I’ll be looking specifically at Winesburg criticism, the greater trned of small-town prose in early American lit, or Anderson career from a more biographical angle, I’m not entirely sure. There’s more background to fill in Walter Rideout’s extensive biography on Anderson looks like it will keep me busy for some time. But I’m learning, and at this stage I think (and hope) that’s what really matters. next week I’ll be heading to UVA to look at their collection of Anderson manuscripts and letters, and in about a month I’ll be sitting in Chicago’s Newberry Library pouring over their archives. I’m excited. I’m a bit winded butI have many thoughts and I’m heading somewhere.

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