Winesburg, Ohio

Life in a small market town like Lanark has its charms and frustrations. There you glimpse its fat cats and notice its small fry, its friendly locals and its entrenched conservatism. But what lies behind the faces of folk at the supermarket veg stall, the petrol station, at the leisure centre, at the Summer gala day, and on the medieval streets? Fiction might help us guess the content of all those private lives, and an appropriate choice would be Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson (


The book is a cycle of short stories concerning life in a fictional small town at the end of the nineteenth century. At the centre is George Willard, a young reporter who becomes the confidant of the town’s solitary figures. Most of Anderson’s characters face a challenge of meaning, of self-definition. Their hidden secret is not some private vice. Rather, they are struggling to discover what sort of person they really are. The banker’s daughter Helen White is grappling with the meaning of growing from girlhood to womanhood. The Reverend Curtis Hartman struggles with lust, and this presents itself as a dilemma of his soul. His decision is not about an actual affair – he has ‘known’ no woman other than
his reserved, unaccommodating wife – but a question of the kind of self he hopes to cultivate and the vocation he should pursue. Elmer Cowley’s crisis draws on his determination to break away from the strangeness of his parents and embrace a more normal, mainstream existence like
others in Winesburg.


Winesburg, Ohio makes for an appealing read because the characters are portrayed as admixtures of beauty and deformity. The author takes the trouble to get to know the fullness of their lives. Towards the end he writes: ‘One shudders at the thought of the meaningless of life while at the same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes’. A traveller in the town sees only the familiar comings-and-goings of civic life. The reader is brought into the inner sanctum, and given an elusive glimpse of the secrets within. You may never walk down Lanark High Street in quite the same way again.


Anderson’s stories influenced many American writers including Hemingway, Faulkner, Updike, Oates and Carver. Check if this charming account of small town life in America is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at



208 pages in Alma Classics

Title first published in 1919

ISBN  978-1847492166


Sherwood Anderson

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