Friday, July 23, 2021

Summer Triptych

“Adventure” is the ninth of the twenty-two stories that make up Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Anderson’s fiction is hobbled by his half-baked understanding of Freud. In this, he was not alone. He is best read when we are young. I discovered him at age seventeen. His prose can be soppy but occasionally it achieves a quality Donald Justice, writing of Poor White (1920), calls “poignancy”: 

“In the spring when the rains have passed and before the long hot days of summer have come, the country about Winesburg is delightful. The town lies in the midst of open fields, but beyond the fields are pleasant patches of woodlands. In the wooded places are many little cloistered nooks, quiet places where lovers go to sit on Sunday afternoons. Through the trees they look out across the fields and see farmers at work about the barns or people driving up and down on the roads. In the town bells ring and occasionally a train passes, looking like a toy thing in the distance.”


Chekhov wrote nothing in the summer of 1888, but thought about writing a novel. He stayed at the villa of his editor and friend Aleksi Suvorin in Feodosia, in Crimea on the Black Sea. He was leading a “vile, lotus-eating life,” as he says in a letter to his family written July 23-24:


“The days pass in an endlessly replete stream, the cup of life overflows . . . Lounging about on the beach, Chartreuse, punch, fireworks, bathing, good cheer at supper, trips, songs – all such pleasures make the days go by so quickly that you hardly notice them; time flies while the drowsy head nods off to the sound of the waves and refuses to get down to work.”


Earlier that year he had written “The Steppe.” Soon he would write “A Dreary Story” and “Gusev.” The novel was never written.


Every year we are surprised by summer’s passing, as though it were a fluke. We go on sensing within us the cycle of the seasons. Howard Nemerov writes in “Summer’s Elegy” (The Blue Swallows, 1967):


“A failing light, no longer numinous,

Now frames the long and solemn afternoons

Where butterflies regret their closed cocoons.

We reach the place unripe, and made to know

As with a sudden knowledge that we go

Away forever . . .”


[The passages from Chekhov’s letter can be found in Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters (trans. Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips, 2004).]


Baceseras said...

Strange, I thought you had written frequently about Edward Arlington Robinson, but using the search box just now turned up only two old posts, and neither one mentioned "The Sheaves," which today's reminded me of.

Faze said...

Visited Austin, Texas last week, and returned with gratitude to the rich, green summer canopy of Anderson's Northern Ohio.

Dave Lull said...

A search of Anecdotal Evidence for “E A Robinson” turns up references and comments.

Baceseras said...

Thanks, Dave. VST (vary search terms) : an old lesson I have to re-learn. Stupid 'puters.