“She’s a sweet little creature”: Taking Mimi to Paris, 1926-27

When Sherwood Anderson set sail from New York for his second trip to Europe in early December 1926 on the United States Lines S.S. President Roosevelt, he was accompanied by his third wife Elizabeth Prall Anderson, his son John (age 17), and his daughter Marion “Mimi” (age 15). Almost up to the sailing date, his plan had been to travel with his wife and son only. In later years, Mimi would remember “having been pulled out of class [in Michigan City, Indiana] by her mother only the day before and told she was going to Europe” (Townsend 241). Whether the suggestion that she go came from her father or from her mother Cornelia Anderson is not known; but this last-minute change of plan to include Mimi would prove to be both a complicating factor for the European stay and an important stimulus for a closer relationship over several years between Mimi and the father that she barely knew, having lived apart from him for practically her entire life.

Among the possible reasons for Anderson’s European trip in 1926-27, undertaken while he was still trying to get settled in a new home in southwest Virginia, biographers have suggested a desire to test the waters of his budding French reputation, an expectation of reinvigorating his creative powers, a need for “diversion,” or even an intention of doing something constructive for John, who wanted to be an artist (Schevill 236-37; Townsend 241). Whatever the reason or reasons, however, it has not usually been emphasized that the trip was not the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision. Anderson had been thinking about a trip to Paris at least as early as August 1925, mentioning several times to Gertrude Stein in his correspondence between August and December of that year his intention of seeing her in Paris “next fall” (Anderson/Stein 48-52). He wrote to her on April 25, 1926 that “we have our plans all made for coming to Europe in the fall, perhaps as late as November” (Anderson/Stein 53); and he was writing to Burton Emmett by November that “My son John -17 – is to join us in New York and go to Europe with us” (Selected Letters 87).

On the trip, after a short stay in England of which little is known except that he lunched with Frank Swinnerton and Arnold Bennett, Anderson and his party went on to Paris later in December. Other than his always pleasurable meetings with Gertrude Stein and receiving moderately good news about impending French publication of some of his work, Anderson’s Paris experience this time was largely unhappy, including spells of illness and depression and brief unsatisfactory contacts with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.

The clearest evidence that Mimi’s presence was proving to be at least a mild complicating factor, both socially and financially, is found in an early January letter, heretofore unpublished, from Elizabeth Prall Anderson to Cornelia Anderson, just at the time Mimi was being enrolled as a pupil at Cours du Parc Monceau, directed by Madame Illartein:

Hotel Reynard
4 Rue Reynard
Paris, France
January 4, 1926

My dear Cornelia: –

I’ve just come back from Mimi at her new school. We began to feel, as Sherwood has written I think, that our life was a little demoralizing for a child of fifteen as to hours and food and the age of her companions; so we felt that as we weren’t going to travel the best thing for her to do was to go to school where she would have a regular life and learn enough French so that it would really soak in at the same time.

As I suppose you know, there aren’t so many schools to choose from where I felt it safe to trust her, so though this is not as cheap as I’d hoped to find, it’s very good and she’ll have good food and a nice place to live in. She’ll need only her present simple clothes and that’s a blessing. Most of them ask for linen and uniforms and what not. It costs about three hundred and fifty dollars from today till the first of April. Of course, if we have to go home a little before that she’ll just be out that much. But I hope we can stay till then.

I think she’ll get a lot out of this new experience. She’s seen a good deal of girls just about her own age who are studying and who can speak French and she’s in a frame of mind to rival them if she possibly can, and it’s not a bad beginning. She’s a sweet little creature and I only hope she won’t get sophisticated too fast. I’d love to get her some pretty French clothes but, really, I think your money is much better spent like this.

My brother-in-law [Max Radin], who has a little daughter of sixteen, went with me to investigate the matter of schools and he liked this one we chose. He’s a professor at the University of California and has had a good deal of contact with schools of all sorts.

John is having a good time, I think. His French is coming on and I want to get him established in a pension where he’ll have to speak French at once so that he’ll be at home in Paris when we leave him in the Spring. I think he’s feeling just a little lost at present with so many new impressions all at once. His father is enjoying him greatly and I think they’re good for each other. Sherwood has had the flu for ten days or so and our plans were changed a good deal on that account. We may go to the south of France for a few weeks — or Sherwood may go alone — till he feels stronger.

I hope you are having a peaceful winter. And I hope, too, you’ll like our plans for both the children.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Anderson

Sherwood then filled up the last page of the letter with financial calculations, from which we can conclude that Cornelia was paying all of Mimi’s expenses:

Dear Cornelia –

I feel very upset, going ahead to spend your money but with the absence of definite instructions rather have to.

We have spent on her a little over $400 so far.

School board, etc. $350


about $250 to get her back home


Looks as though that was about how it would come out.

Have had to advance $150



Will need about $250 more


Don’t know at all what you expected to have to put in.

This is about what E, myself. and John are spending each. It’s about as low as it can be done.


Leaving John and Mimi behind, Anderson and his wife sailed about March 3 for the return to America, apparently aboard the Hamburg-Amerika Line’s Cleveland, and reached New York on March 16. When his ship docked, Anderson was greeted by the news that his brother Earl had died earlier the same day in Newport, Rhode Island; and he and his brother Karl took the body by train to Clyde, Ohio, for a funeral and burial on March 19.

Before he returned to Virginia in early April, a brief lecture tour took Anderson to Memphis, Tennessee, to Madison, Wisconsin, and to New York City. He saw Cornelia in Chicago on March 28; and two days later he wrote to Mimi in Paris, “Saw your mother on Monday and she was mightily pleased with the story I could tell her of your progress” (unpublished letter). Although Anderson apparently hadn’t seen much of Mimi in Paris, the experience did in some way spur him to seek a closer relationship with his daughter than he had earlier enjoyed.

Mimi remained at school in Paris until June 1927. Whereas Anderson had not been in the habit of writing to her earlier in her life, he now began to write to her regularly, sending to her in Paris at least eleven letters between March and June, expressing his love for her, his pride in her accomplishments in the past months, his desire to see more of her, and his concern for her future. On June 15, for example, he wrote, “I am delighted that you have been able to get so much out of it all. You are all right — bless you. It certainly is grand for a dad to see a daughter take hold the way you have. …You have certainly won us” (unpublished letter).

In the years just ahead, furthermore, Anderson would continue to assist Mimi, to see her when he could in Chicago or Virginia, and to write to her frequently. Between 1929 and 1933, he wrote her some sixty letters as she progressed in her own life through attendance at the University of Chicago (1929-1932), marriage to Russell Spear (April 1932), the birth of her first child Karlyn (March 1933), and the apparently severe difficulties she experienced while attempting to establish a marriage and a family during these depression years. The really important consequence of Mimi’s being included in the trip to Europe was, therefore, the much closer relationship that Anderson enjoyed with his daughter for at least several years afterward.

Works Cited

Anderson, Sherwood. Selected Letters, ed. Charles E. Modlin. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.
_________________. Unpublished letter to Marion Anderson, March 30, 1927.
__________________. Unpublished letter to Marion Anderson, June 15, 1927.
__________________ and Gertrude Stein. Correspondence and Personal Essays, ed. Ray Lewis White. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
Anderson, Elizabeth Prall. Unpublished letter to Cornelia Anderson, January 4, 1927.
Schevill, James. Sherwood Anderson: His Life and Work. Denver: University of Denver Press, 1951.
Townsend, Kim. Sherwood Anderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.