As a rule a writer’s juvenilia have three characteristics: they are almost by definition of lesser quality than the later work; but they give indications of the excellence that later work would have; and they suggest some of the preoccupations of the mature writer and writing. Sherwood Anderson’s “Honeymoon Journal and Other Early Writings, 1904,” the newly available “juvenilia” of a twenty-seven-year-old advertising man and would-be artist, follow the rule closely. In his Introduction, Hilbert Campbell has ably discussed such matters as they apply to all these early writings. I add further comment on the major piece, the “Honeymoon Journal.”
It is clear that Anderson was not only intending a record of daily events and his thoughts about them but was trying to write his record well. The modern reader may be somewhat amused or put off, or even charmed, by the recurrent sentimentalism of attitude and style in the early sections, may find them too self-consciously “literary”; but one must accept that at this early stage in his development as a writer Anderson, an imitator like most beginners, seems to have drawn on the then current vogue of the sentimental personal essay. (Read as little as you can stand of the essays by Henry Van Dyke, Presbyterian clergyman and professor of English at Princeton, if you want the full flavor of this genre from one of its most popular practitioners.) The diction of the early sections is often too “elevated,” too formal for the more colloquial modern taste, that taste which the author of such books as Winesburg, Ohio and Horses and Men was to do much to form. The frequent personifications of nature are particularly noticeable.
In the distance a little water fall murmured
among the trees. The river continued its story.
Ah little river, you are the magic for all the
wonder of the hills. The moonlight sits grand
and gloomy on the mountain tops, but it casts its
golden heart into your little bosom at the last.
See there it lies the heart of the moon in the
bosom of the waters.
Actually as personifications of nature go this is done rather skillfully; and however dated this and other stylistic “ornaments” may seem, Anderson was already searching, if here among shopworn materials, for a language through which to express accurately inward states of feeling, a search which in more successful ways would strikingly characterize his whole literary career. Besides, he knew he was being sentimental and with justifiable reason: “It [is] right you know to be sentimental when you are young and on your wedding trip.” “Trip,” one notes, not the more formal “journey.”
Significantly, in the midst of this idyll of early married love by the river among the mountains — an idyll despite the un-idyllic heat and the “southernness” of the Babahatchie Inn — the newlyweds twice read Browning together, once specifically the dramatic monologue “Fra Lippo Lippi.” This self-revelation by the roistering Fra Lippo of course tells of a streetwise 15th-century boy become monk, artist, and lover of women who out of sheer delight in things of this world paints human bodies as they hideously or lusciously are, not as mere symbolic embodiments of the soul, whatever that is. Although Cornelia, who believed in and practiced absolute honesty, would be right in assigning “great common sense” to herself and “the fanciful and the unreal” to her husband, Anderson, who liked such raffish people as Browning’s Fra Lippo and excelled in the oral tale, would in his mature work use his “fancy,” his imagination, to create a poetic form of realism by which he revealed his human characters as they inwardly really were.
As though to illustrate what he could already do when released from the limitations of a borrowed form, Anderson’s outlook and language in the later sections of the “Honeymoon Journal” are quite different from the earlier, much less sentimental, much more direct. Sherwood and Cornelia have, as it were, ceased being groom and bride and become husband and wife, happily joined but not so much looking at each other in their own little universe as inspecting, still through his eyes of course, things which travelers through the upper South in 1904 might see. Incidents or scenes observed on the train to Memphis, on the harbor cruise, on the Ferd Herold pushing up river to St. Louis are not presented as picturesque or quaint as during the stay in Oakdale but as things to be reported exactly; indeed the final entry in the journal is hardly more than a catalogue of exhibits at the great St. Louis fair. The prose changes decisively; the personifications and the other stylistic ornaments largely disappear. In Memphis, for example, Anderson writes plainly and effectively about another river at night when he comments that their room at the Gayoso Hotel “looked out upon a little roof garden with a fountain in the middle and over beyond that lay the big moving river, very silvery and quiet in the moonlight,” a description of the Mississippi which Mark Twain, Huck Finn, and the mature Anderson himself would have approved of. Again, one evening in Memphis husband and wife talk in a little park about “a man and woman’s right attitude toward certain great problems of life,” and then Anderson writes with admirable simplicity and concreteness:
When we had dined on flannel cakes and
strawberries we walked home in the first
spatter of the coming rain. In the room
we sat on the edge of the bed in the dark
and continued our talk.
He had a long way yet to go, but as this second half of the “Honeymoon Journal” shows, Anderson had at least set foot on the road to Winesburg and beyond.
Walter B. Rideout
Harry Hayden Clark Emeritus Professor of English
The University of Wisconsin-Madison