Update: The UVA Collection of Old Things

Since my last update I’ve learned that some biographers are better than others, and it is important to know the difference. I’ve been reading Walter Rideout’s multi-volume biography on Anderson, which has been interesting, enlightening, and a bit slower going than I anticipated. On the other side of things, I spent two full days this week at UVA’s special collections library digging through a big box of Anderson typescripts and letters from the 1920’s and 30’s.

Going full-biography for this part of my project has been challenging. I’m so used to lit-analysis that straying away from fiction entirely for a couple weeks here has had me antsy at times, but I realize it’s necessary to get a proper depth of scope for Anderson and his work. The letters in particular, mainly between Anderson and his publisher, reinforced a lot of things I’ve been reading from secondary sources. It just hits a lot harder to see it in his words on his paper, talking about the restrictions of realism or the financial struggles of experimental artistry. Maybe it was the lack of windows in the UVA basement or the fact that it had been raining all day on the drive up but there was something eerie about going through letters, personal correspondence, handwritten a century ago. For a writer like Anderson, a writer whose own life was so tightly wound up in his fiction, it felt both like a series of footnotes and an invasion of privacy. You can see the struggles of his writing – particularly that of money vs. artistic integrity – splayed out in these letters in an extremely powerful way.

With my trip to Chicago and the Newberry Library now only about two weeks away, I’m excited to go deeper into this primary research. I don’t know how biographical my end thesis will wind up, but learning more about the author is only giving me a more complex understanding of the work.

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