The Cornfields of Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson’s “The Cornfields” first appeared in print his first collection of poems, Mid-American Chants, in 1918. It’s the first poem in the book, too. So, a lot of “firsts” here. It would be dangerous for me (a two-time English major and avid poetry consumer) and a long read for you, if I were to launch into an interpretation of “The Cornfields.” Besides, one of the great joys of poetry is finding your own message alongside an author’s, tucked away inside their words. Editions of Mid-American Chants were issued and reissued over many years (we have three in Special Collections), but one of the things that makes “The Cornfields” stand out is that in 1939, it was published on its own:

In this form, it is a four-page booklet, produced by the House of Russell publishers in New York. It consists of the pages above, plus a short author biography at the end. Our recently-acquired copy also includes another small folded sheet of paper called “Trends of the Times: Poets Now Publishing in Brochure Form.” It’s basically an argument by the publisher for authors to publish individual poems, rather than entire volumes–ultimately because it’s a cheaper and more profitable format. It suggests that Anderson’s poem could have easily been a test case or advertisement for other authors. Anderson was a prolific and well-known author at the end of the 1930s, after all, and if he did it, perhaps others would follow suit. Our copy of the 1939, single version of the poem will be one of only 4 known copies in academic libraries, so we are quite pleased to add it to our holdings.

Of course, there’s a danger, too, in publishing a poem that was originally part of a collection on its own. The cover of the 1918 edition of Mid-American Chants features a simple image: an ear of corn next to the title and author. As a whole, a number of the poems rely on images and concepts relating to corn and agriculture more broadly, and there are themes of conflict and struggle in throughout, especially the growing industrialization of America and the urban v. rural contrast of the time. “The Cornfields” is only a small piece of Anderson’s voice in the larger volume. We can certainly appreciate it on its own…but also as part of a larger narrative, too. You can read Mid-American Chants online, if you’re curious to see more of Anderson’s poetry (he would published one more collection in 1927, A New Testament).

Before we part ways with Anderson, just a note about some other resources we have here. We’ve previously had a post on Sherwood Anderson and some of the “newer” manuscript materials (acquired in 2015) we had to share. At the time, the collection was being processed–now we can say it’s done (more on that in a moment)! Because of local ties to Anderson, we were also acquiring some other accessions relating to people in Anderson’s extended personal and professional circle during 2015 and 2016–A sort of of literary and artistic group of people in Southwest Virginia, if you will. I’m glad to say that, at long last, ALL of these collections are processed! I think we’ll need to work on some sort of visualization to clarify the relationships between people, but for now, here’s a list, complete with links to the finding aids and, where it isn’t obvious, an explanation of the connections in brackets:

  • Sherwood Anderson Collection, 1912-1938 (Ms1973-002). Correspondence among author Sherwood Anderson and family members, most notably letters written by Anderson to his daughter Marian, as well as some of his professional correspondence. Also includes research material about Anderson.
  • Sherwood Anderson Photograph and Postcard, 1929, 1939 (Ms2011-004). The collection consists of one postcard of Notre-Dame from Sherwood Anderson to Bert and Clara Dickenson and a photograph of Sherwood Anderson and Bert Dickenson in Florida with a line of fish in between the two men.
  • Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson, 1918-2006, n.d. (Ms2015-020). This collection contains several series of materials: correspondence to and from Sherwood Anderson, correspondence and research files about Sherwood Anderson, and a small group of photographs, audio, video, and graphic art materials. Materials generated by Anderson date from 1918-1940. Other materials date from about 1929-2006. [This was the collection mentioned in our previous post here.]
  • Sherwood Anderson Correspondence with Llewellyn Jones, 1916-1924, n.d. (Ms2015-044). This collection consists of eight letters written by American author Sherwood Anderson to Llewellyn Jones between 1916 and 1924 with three undated (but likely from the same period). Jones was the literary editor for the Chicago Evening Post. The correspondence primarily discusses the reviews of Anderson’s works by Jones and other critics. This collection is also available online.
  • Marvin H. Neel Papers, 1933-1988 (Ms2016-022). This collection includes biographical resources, ephemera, correspondence, and writings and woodcut prints by and related to Marvin H. Neel (1908-1978), created between 1933 and 1988. [Neel corresponded with Lankes and the two were artistic collaborators.]
  • Mary Sinton Leitch Correspondence with J. J. Lankes, 1932-1950 (Ms2017-001). The collection includes 27 letters (some with covers and envelopes) written by Mary Sinton Leitch to J. J. Lankes between 1932 and 1950. Introduced by a mutual friend, Leitch and Lankes maintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). [Lankes was a friend and artistic collaborator of Anderson.]
  • James T. Farrell Letters to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson, 1952 (Ms2017-005). This collection contains four letters written by American author James T. Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson between February and May of 1952. [Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson was Sherwood Anderson’s third wife.]

Of course, the bulk of Sherwood Anderson’s papers are housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson donated them in the 1950s. But if you’re in or near Blacksburg, we encourage you to stop by and make a connection. In addition to the manuscript collections, we have more than 260 books and publications by Anderson in Special Collections, too (plus one, when “The Cornfields” is cataloged)!

Challenging and Banning Literary Classics

This week is Banned Book Week (September 26-October 1, 2016), a week in which many libraries, teachers, readers, and their many allies celebrate the freedom to read and the many books which have historically (and still) face challenges and bans by a variety of people, organizations, or even whole countries. The ALA Banned Book website explains that “[a] challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Taking a tour through our British and American literature books, we’ve put together a slide show of 10 banned classics you’ll find on our shelves, along with an explanation of what has made each of them the topic of so much controversy and attention. Some books were banned or challenged in a specific place, during a specific time, and/or for a specific reason. Dates in the gallery indicate the year our edition was published. A number in parentheses indicates year the book was first published.

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  • Ulysses by James Joyce. First published in serial format between 1918 and 1920, first published as a single volume in 1922. Ours is number 222 of the first 1000 printed. Ulysses was not only banned for obscenity, it was actually burned in some countries, including the U.S. (1918), Ireland (1922), Canada (1922), and England (1923). It was banned outright in England in 1929; not officially, but unofficially banned following an obscenity trial in the U.S. in 1921; never officially banned in Ireland, but never easily available. In 1934, it was available freely for the first time in the U.S.
  • An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1927, following several censorship efforts for alleged obscenity, and a subsequent trial.
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Challenged at a religious college in South Carolina in 1987 due to both language and sexual references.
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1930, in Ireland in 1953, and in Riverside and San Jose, CA, in 1960 because of it language and use of profanity, and its central focus on sex, promiscuity and the overall decadence of its characters. It was also burned by the Nazis in Germany in 1933, possibly for the decadence of its characters and/or for its realistic depictions of war.
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence. Banned for obscenity by U.S. Customs (1929), in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), and Canada (1960-1962). In addition, it was banned by the Chinese government in 1987.
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. The novel appeared in a June 1929 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, resulting a ban of the magazine in Boston, MA, that year. The novel was banned in Italy in 1929 for its depictions of war actions (specifically those taken by Italian forces); in Ireland in 1939; and, like many of Hemingway’s works, was burned by Nazis in 1933. It was later challenged by school districts in Texas (1974) and in New York (1980) for its discussions and depictions of sex.
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. Banned in a school district in Kentucky (1986) for profanity and language (eventually overturned due to pressure from the ACLU and negative publicity). Challenged in school districts in Kentucky (1987) and Maryland (1991) for language, dialect, and obscenity. Banned temporarily by a school district in Kentucky (1994) for profanity and questions about the existence of God.
  • Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Banned in Anaheim, CA, high school (1978) and an Illinois school district (1984) for use of racial slurs.
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. In 2005, an Alabama Representative proposed legislation limiting the use of public money to purchase books that “recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” and proposed removing any such books from school, public, and university library shelves.
  • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike. Banned in Ireland (1962-1967) for obscenity, indecency, and promiscuity. Restricted to students with parental permission in a Maine school district (1976). Removed from a Wyoming school district reading list in 1986.

Not every book is challenged or banned for the same reason, but even with these 10 examples, you can certainly see some themes. You can read more about other challenged or banned classics, as well other kinds of challenged or banned books and the reasons behind them online. But, as always, the decision about what to read is in your hands.

Serialization of the 19th Century Novel

In the 1830s, a new trend began in publishing (a “novel” idea, if you will!): Novels started to appear in newsstands. But rather than publishing in a large, cumbersome form that one couldn’t carry easily, they were issued in small, portable, serialized segments. Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers was the first to appear this way in print, but he wouldn’t be the last author to try it (a bit more on that in a moment). For authors AND audiences, this format had a number of advantages. For authors, it meant they could begin to sell a story before it was completed, that they didn’t actually have to have everything plotted out, and they had a little more time to write. For audiences, it meant following a story as it unfolded (rather than waiting for a full novel), a more dramatic reading experience that was drawn out by having to wait, talk with people, and guess, and easier to access the literature of the era. Novels were expensive, but a single serial volume could be purchased for a shilling and passed from person to person. Of course, this does mean the volumes were ephemeral, on cheap paper, and not meant to last. Lucky for us, some of them survived. Special Collections is home to a number of serialized novels, either in complete or mostly complete form.

The first of two we’re sharing today is Charles Dicken’s Bleak House, originally published in 20 parts (though two are combined, so it’s only 19 volumes) between 1952-1953.  (Due to the fragile nature of the publications and the bulky nature of their housing, I had to photograph, rather than scan these items. Apologies for the occasionally blurry quality and/or fingertips!)

The second example is William Thackeray’s The Virginians, published in 24 parts between November 1857 to October 1859.

Other than the obvious fact that these are different authors and different novels, there’s something else unique about the serialized novel: when a novel was issued independent of another publication (the parts of many serialized novels appears within literary magazines of the time), authors had their own color for a cover. It made new parts stand out on shelves and caught potential readers’ eyes. Dickens’ covers were blue, Thackeray’s were yellow. George Eliot’s covers were green, and from what I’ve found so far, Anthony Trollope’s were brown (at least those from the same publisher). I think I recall another writer having purple covers, but I haven’t been able to come up with who that was. If you know, let me know in the comments!

A little later in the 19th century, another form of the serialized book emerged: the “three-volume” novel (aka the “three-decker” or  my favorite, the “triple-decker”). Longer novels like Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady or George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss both appeared in this format (we have a copy of the latter in our collection). The triple-decker afforded some of the convenience of the serial in a more condensed form and by the time it was popularized, book-making processes (and consequently book-buying) had become cheaper. On the other hand, both established and new authors of the age began to make their living this way, many of them through sensational, overly-dramatic tropes and as a result, in some literary circles, the triple-decker took a lot of criticism and mockery. As one of Oscar Wilde’s characters remarks in one of my favorite plays, The Importance of Being Ernest, “It [a baby carriage] contained the manuscript of a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.” (Wilde himself published some of his writings in serial format in literary journals of the time, though he didn’t produce any triple-deckers.)

Whether you’re an English major, a literature lover, or just curious about unique formats of books, you’re always welcome to pay us a visit to see our serial sets, three-deckers, and more!