The "Shadow People": Feodor Sologub and Sherwood Anderson's 'Winesburg, Ohio.'

By Campbell, Hilbert H. | Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

The "Shadow People": Feodor Sologub and Sherwood Anderson's 'Winesburg, Ohio.'


Campbell, Hilbert H., Studies in Short Fiction


In the story "Adventure," from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), the lonely spinster Alice Hindman waits delusionally for a lover who will never return. Although "giving to another what she still felt could belong only to Ned seemed monstrous," she does walk out with Will Hurley "to avoid being so much alone." In her "passionate restlessness," one evening she undresses and runs naked out of the house into the rain. "Not for years had she felt so full of youth and courage." She is possessed by a "wild, desperate mood" and a "mad desire to run"; "She wanted to leap and run, to cry out." But, hearing a voice, "Alice dropped to the ground and lay trembling"; she returns to her room to weep "brokenheartedly" and tries to force herself "to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg" (112-20).

All the details from "Adventure" cited above show close resemblances to passages from a book of Russian short stories, Feodor Sologub's The Old House and Other Tales, published in English translation by John Cournos in 1915.1 The closest parallels are to a Sologub story called "The White Dog," in which the main character Alexandra, her heart "restless with a dark longing," compulsively undresses and runs naked into the yard at night. She "seemed once more merry and light-hearted, just as she was ten years ago." She experiences desire "to howl like a wild thing" and lies down in the grass on her stomach. At the end of the story, she is "groaning, weeping and raising cries of distress" (141-52).

At least two others of the Sologub stories, furthermore, show parallels in situation and/or phrasing to "Adventure." For example, Saksaoolov, in "The White Mother," "persuaded himself that he ought to remain single out of memory to his first love" (278); but, beset by "fear and loneliness," he does consider whether it "would be well to marry so as not to be alone" (282). In a third Sologub story, "The Old House," the characters are preoccupied with their delusions of the return of a lost loved one; and one of the characters has a "mad desire to run...to moan and to wail, and to flee" (102). The character Sofia Alexandrovna despairingly concludes, "It is my fate to die alone" (99).

Despite the notoriously uncertain nature of most such "internal evidence," these close patterns of similarity would seem to invite, at the least, a closer look at Sologub's work as one of the possibly significant influences on Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, in part because critics have been especially interested to identify factors that can account for what Irving Howe many years ago referred to as Anderson's "abrupt...creative ascent" (91) and John W. Crowley more recently has called the "artistic quantum leap" (8) from Anderson's earlier published work to the Winesburg tales.(2)

Close examination does reveal, I believe, many parallels, including the striking similarities of "Adventure" and "The White Dog" already mentioned, between several of the Winesburg, Ohio tales and at least three or four of the stories in Sologub's The Old House and Other Tales, as translated by John Cournos and published in 1915. The number and nature of these parallels provide at least a strong likelihood that Sologub's stories provided some of the stimulus for Anderson's imagination in writing Winesburg, Ohio.(3) Although I believe that as many as 12 of the Winesburg, Ohio stories were perhaps thus affected, I will limit myself here to indicating only some of the additional evidence for the influence of Sologub's "The White Mother" on Anderson's "Tandy" and of Sologub's "Light and Shadows" on Anderson's "Loneliness," "Mother," and "The Book of the Grotesque."

It is possible that Anderson found his inspiration to write the strangest story in Winesburg, Ohio, "Tandy," in an equally strange Sologub story called "The White Mother." Both stories deal with a disillusioned young man gripped by a vision of the perfect woman, called by one "Tamar" and the other "Tandy. …

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