Love at Last

Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio, met his fourth (and last) wife, Eleanor Gladys Copenhaver, in 1928. Initially, their courtship was fraught with difficulties. Sherwood was considerably older (20 years); moreover, he was still married to his third wife, Elizabeth Norman Prall. By 1931, their once-secret romance was sitting-room chatter—and Eleanor's reputation, formerly pristine, was in metaphoric tatters. But Sherwood was intent on marrying Eleanor and dedicated considerable energy to winning her hand. On January 1, 1932, he resolved to write to her every day for a year.

On Thursday, February 18, Sherwood wrote a particularly poignant epistle. He begins,

Dearest Darling Woman,

I am writing this on a grey rainy day in Marion (Virginia). It concerns your marrying me. I have a feeling that you have still dreadful times of doubt. We have been to each other what we have been, these last two years. It has been very wonderful to me, lifting me up out of my desperate despondency, the state I was in when I began loving you. I do not blame you for your doubt. My record is pretty black....

Obviously—I guess—life with me isn't very easy. I'm not very stationary. I change constantly, run forward, stand still, have moments of courage, dreadful times of doubt. If you decide against it, dearest one, I swear I will not feel that you have, in any way, led me on. You have always given more than you took. If that happens I'll probably go on being faithful to you in my own way.

The letter continues with an invitation to Europe, where Sherwood hoped to study factory conditions. He envisions them as "impersonal observers," toiling in concert to "get the story." He tells Eleanor that she has been an inspiration, and that "much of all that may have been good in [his] work" could be ascribed to her. The letter ends with an adamant declaration: "If you do it"—that is, marry Sherwood—"I want you please to do it only for yourself, because it seems to you the best way of life for yourself, a shot worth taking."

The couple married the following year.

The "letter-a-day" series belongs to the Sherwood Anderson Papers, which were donated to the Newberry in 1947. The collection contains 121 boxes of photographs, financial records, ephemera, and literary manuscripts.