Dear Eleanor…Affectionately, James

I feel like, at some point, I should stop posting about Sherwood Anderson and his extended circle (this makes #3 for me and #4 total in the 18 months or so). On the other hand, over the last two years, we’ve been able to acquire some great new materials. This week, I’ve got a short set of letters from James T. Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson.

This collection contains four letters written by author James Farrell to Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson between February 1952 and May of 1954. The two had some on-going correspondence of which this represents only a small piece. As the letters suggest, one thing the two had in common was social activism–at various points in time, both worked for and supported various rights and activist causes. The April 8th letter is primarily concerned with Farrell’s updates about contacts in the UAW and his efforts to help Anderson get a job with them, if she was interested. (It appears she was not, as she was re-hired by her previous employer, the YWCA, in 1951, and she remained with the organization until 1961.) The third and fourth letters are about some of Farrell’s recent writings on Sherwood Anderson, Anderson’s influence on Farrell, and Farrell’s own writing efforts at the time.

The finding aid for the collection has biographical notes on Farrell and Anderson and you can view it here: (The nice thing about revisiting it is discovering one’s typos and fixing them!) I hope to have the letters posted on our digital site soon, at which point I’ll include links to those in the finding aid, too. While the collection is a small one, for Special Collections, it’s yet another piece of the Sherwood Anderson history we have here. It tells a little part of his posthumous story, showing how much of an influence and subject he proved to be consistently in the 10+ years following his death. Equally important, it gives us more insight into Eleanor’s continued connections with the literary circle and her own passion for social activism.


Victoria Cross & Other Pseudonyms

Virginia Tech Special Collections may not be known for our literary collections, but we have our fair share of literary surprises among the stacks. And we constantly find new ones. We have a wonderful selection of British and American first editions on our shelves, including a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses and a signed Langston Hughes’ A New Song. Although I am an archivist at heart, my background is in literature and the long 19th century of British writing. One day, perusing manuscript collections from the days before VT had a Special Collections department, I found a letter written by Victoria Cross. Her name may not sound familiar, but the letter says something about an author who was considered racy and bold in her own time.

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July 20, 1909

Dear Mr. Morris

I am sending you an autograph copy of Life’s Shop window and I should be so glad if you will read it through carefully from beginning to end and form your own opinion on it. People who are jealous of me always howl at my writings the reproach that they are immoral From my own point of view I have never written a single immoral line in my life. I am immensely proud of my books and would read them aloud to a jury of Bishops with the greatest of pleasure any time.

It is most important for you to feel the same confidence as I do in them and to know personally the contents of one at least so that you can combat the rediculous [sic] statements made about me. I know how extremely busy you are but if you will make time to read it carefully, I know when you are in the U. S. and can speak with authority on my work, you will feel the time spend in reading it was not wasted.

With so many thanks for all the trouble you have taken for me already

Yours sincerely

Victoria Cross

Victoria Cross was one of several pseudonyms of Annie Sophie Cory (1868-1952), a British writer in the late 19th and early 20th century. She also wrote as Victoria Crosse, Vivian Cory, and V. C. Griffin. Cory was born in India and educated in England. She never married, and traveled extensively– two things that put her outside the normal expectations of her gender and place in society. Both are aspects of her life that influence her writing, likely leading to declarations of her “immorality” mentioned in the letter. And yet she, and a score of other late Victorian “New Women” writers helped to shape the next generation of women authors.

Despite the claims of their scandalous, exotic, or “immortal” nature, Cory’s works were well-read and popular in many circles. After all, how many readers are tempted by the novel that they are told isn’t appropriate reading? Life’s Shop-Window, the book she mentions in her letter, was first published in 1907. You can read it online through the Internet Archive. In 1914, it was even made into a movie! If you’re seeking a slightly shorter introduction to “Victoria Cross,” I recommend her first published short story, “Theodora: A Fragment” which appeared in The Yellow Book in 1895. Contemporary morals may be different, but you’ll still be in for a treat.

And as for us, well, we get to keep a little piece of that progressive, confident, “New Woman” history in our Special Collections.