Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

Published as one of the final chapters of Winesburg, Ohio, ‘‘Sophistication’’ received positive criticism when it first appeared in 1919. In the New Republic , Maxwell Anderson remarked, ‘‘As a challenge to the snappy short story form, with its planned proportions of flippant philosophy, epigrammatic conversation and sex danger,...

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Published as one of the final chapters of Winesburg, Ohio, ‘‘Sophistication’’ received positive criticism when it first appeared in 1919. In the New Republic, Maxwell Anderson remarked, ‘‘As a challenge to the snappy short story form, with its planned proportions of flippant philosophy, epigrammatic conversation and sex danger, nothing better has come out of America than Winesburg, Ohio. . . . It was set down by a patient and loving craftsman; it is in a new mood, and one not easily forgotten.’’ The acerbic critic H. L. Mencken, whom Anderson himself criticized for making fun of small-town folks, nevertheless declared that ‘‘What remains is pure representation—and it is representation so vivid, so full of insight, so shiningly life-like and glowing, that the book is lifted into a category all its own. Nothing quite like it has ever been done in America. It is a book that, at one stroke, turns depression into enthusiasm.’’ The author Rebecca West in 1922 called it ‘‘an extraordinarily good book.’’

As the twentieth century advanced, Anderson lost his initial critical acclaim; he was satirized as ‘‘Sherwood Lawrence’’ (a reference to D. H. Lawrence) because a dark sexuality seemed to be the primary motivation of many of his characters. When Anderson died in 1941, Waldo Frank paid critical homage to the novel twenty years after it first appeared, calling Winesburg, Ohio ‘‘a classic.’’ Ten years later, Irving Howe contended, ‘‘The ultimate unity of the book is a unity of feeling, a sureness of warmth, and a readiness to accept Winesburg’s lost grotesques with the embrace of humility. Many American writers have taken as their theme the loss of love in the modern world, but few, if any at all, have so thoroughly realized it in the accents of love.’’ In 1962 Walter Rideout, Anderson’s biographer, agreed that Winesburg, Ohio is ‘‘a kind of American classic.’’ Among other Anderson critics, Malcolm Cowley has stated about that ‘‘There are moments in American life to which [Anderson] gave not only the first but the final expression.’’

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