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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

May 26, 1991|Alex Raksin

SHERWOOD ANDERSON'S SECRET LOVE LETTERS edited by Ray Lewis White (Louisiana State University Press: $29.95; 283 pp.) . On Nov. 28, 1912, Sherwood Anderson, the owner and manager of a paint-manufacturing company in Elyria, Ohio, stopped in the middle of dictating a letter and walked out of his office. He just kept walking--through cornfields, along railroads and across creeks, 30 miles--until he turned up in Cleveland four days later. Anderson's lapse into this fugue or dream state is often cited as the inspiration for his career as a novelist, but what is less well-known is that he often lived life itself in a similar state of lonely detachment.

A case in point are these letters. Written for every day in 1932 to his lover Eleanor Copenhaver (whom he later married), they were found, hidden in a cupboard, only after his death in 1941. The letters offer eloquent tribute to the unsung women Anderson knew (he quotes Eleanor, for instance, exclaiming, "If only I could show the men in power" of the essential goodness of human beings) as well as penetrating criticism of over-sung literati: "You feel no human tenderness in him," Anderson writes of Upton Sinclair. "Such a man marshals facts against the rich. There are enough of them, God knows."

Most of all, though, the letters capture Anderson's ardor for Eleanor: bittersweet for him because he does not yet know if he will be able to marry her; beautiful for us because we know he will. "Dance down to the sea," he writes her in one poem. "Dance to islands in the sea. Dance south. Dance north. Dance, woman. You are queen."

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