Sherwood Anderson in New Orleans

“Blessed be these people,” Sherwood Anderson wrote in 1922 from his third-floor apartment in the Vieux Carré. “They know how to play. They are truly a people of culture.” Anderson, riding the crest of literary fame following his novel Winesburg, Ohio, was in search of an American city free from the “speeding up and the standardization of thought” produced by industrialization. In New Orleans he found the leisure and charm that he felt the nation had lost: the value of “putting the joy of living above the much less subtle and.. altogether more stupid joy of growth and achievement.” In the Vieux Carré, the famous Modernist had found his American Paris.

After a short stay in the winter of 1921, in 1924 Anderson decided to move permanently into an upper Pontalba building apartment with his new wife, Elizabeth Prall, and his son Robert. The building, constructed in 1849 by the wealthy Baroness Pontalba as a center for the social elite, had fallen into disrepair and, by the turn of the 20th century, become tenement housing. An artist had renovated the building only a few years before Anderson’s arrival.

Anderson quickly became a central figure in the bohemian social scene of the Vieux Carré. He was a regular contributor to The Double Dealer, a small Modernist magazine founded in 1920 by two young men from prominent local Jewish families. The magazine would later be the first to publish the work of two young writers, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Faulkner immediately won Sherwood’s friendship when he showed up on the Andersons’ doorstep during one of their frequent dinner parties for artists and writers.

When he was not socializing, Anderson usually spent his mornings writing and his afternoons strolling the streets or the levee along the Mississippi river. Here he watched the African-American stevedores “working, laughing, sweating, and singing.” Anderson would later use his perception of African-Americans, people who “love like healthy animals,” in his novel Dark Laughter. In it, the white protagonists of America and Europe engage in erratic sexual affairs as they attempt to escape the shadows of World War I and modern industrialization, though they lack the simple unity of spirit that Anderson felt he saw in the dockworkers along the Mississippi. The novel’s title references the laughter and singing of African-American people whom the male protagonist meets in New Orleans.

Some of Anderson’s other works referenced specific acquaintances, such as his close neighbor on Chartres Street, Aunt Rose Arnold, an elderly Chicagoan who owned a house of gambling and prostitution. In Anderson’s short story “A Meeting South,” he casts her as Aunt Sally, a matronly businesswoman from the Midwest who has since retired. She and the Ohioan narrator have a conversation in New Orleans with a young poet named David, wounded in war and soggy with drink. David’s character is based on William Faulkner.

Anderson himself was featured in two works by Faulkner. The first, “Mosquitoes,” tells the true story of an unfortunate trip in which a group of bohemians becomes stranded on a small boat on Lake Pontchartrain. Another work by Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, is a light-hearted caricature of the Vieux Carre’s artistic characters, with sketches by William Spratling, of silversmithing fame, and an introduction that Faulkner intended to be a parody of Anderson’s writing.

After nearly two years in New Orleans, the Andersons left in the summer of 1926 for the mountains of Virginia.

Images

Upper Pontalba Building, 1937.

Upper Pontalba Building, 1937.

Upper Pontalba building, New Orleans, 1937, after WPA renovation work. Shows Jackson Square side along St. Peter Street from an archway of the Cabildo Building, with a man smoking a pipe in foreground at left. June 27, 1937. | Source: WPA Photograph Collection, The Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA. Series Number, 11.56. View File Details Page

Newspaper Clipping Announcing Anderson's Arrival

Newspaper Clipping Announcing Anderson's Arrival

Source: “Modernist Beguiled by Old New Orleans.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 19, 1925. View File Details Page

A Newspaper Advertisement for Anderson's&nbsp;<em>Dark Laughter</em>, 1925.

A Newspaper Advertisement for Anderson's Dark Laughter, 1925.

Source: “‘Dark Laughter’: The Latest Novel by Sherwood Anderson- Brilliant Novelist of the Vieux Carre Colony.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), September 23, 1925. View File Details Page

A caricature of Sherwood Anderson in William Spratling and William Faulkner's book, <em>Sherwood Anderson &amp; Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans</em>

A caricature of Sherwood Anderson in William Spratling and William Faulkner's book, Sherwood Anderson & Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans

Source: Spratling, William, and William Faulkner. Sherwood Anderson & Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans. New Orleans: Pelican Bookshop Press, 1926. | Creator: William Spratling View File Details Page

Title page of William Sprawling and William Faulkner's 1926 book,<em>&nbsp;Sherwood&nbsp;Anderson &amp; Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans</em>

Title page of William Sprawling and William Faulkner's 1926 book, Sherwood Anderson & Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans

Source: Spratling, William, and William Faulkner. 1927. Sherwood Anderson & Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans. New Orleans, Pelican Bookshop Press, 1926. | Creator: William Spratling View File Details Page

The <em>Double Dealer</em> Magazinze

The Double Dealer Magazinze

From 1920-1926 the Double Dealer promised to establish New Orleans as a cultural center of the Modern literary movement.  | Source: Bruns, Becky. “Getting Into Print: How far the Creative Writer Can Go in New Orleans.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), Nov. 16, 1975. | Creator: The Times-Picayune View File Details Page

The Upper Pontalba Building From Above

The Upper Pontalba Building From Above

Source: The Clarence John Laughlin Archive at The Historic New Orleans Collection, acc. no. 1981.247.1.431. View File Details Page

Interior of Upper Pontalba Apartment, 1937.

Interior of Upper Pontalba Apartment, 1937.

Source: The historic Pontalba Buildings (St. Peter and Chartres Streets) were renovated by the WPA preserving the old buildings and converting the old apartments into modern living quarters. Interior. June 10, 1937. WPA Photograph Collection, The Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA. Series Number, 11.55. | Creator: The Works Progress Administration View File Details Page

View From the Andersons' Balcony

View From the Andersons' Balcony

Source: The Clarence John Laughlin Archive at The Historic New Orleans Collection, acc. no. 1981.247.1.657. | Creator: Clarence John Laughlin View File Details Page

Entryway to 540 St. Peter Street, 2015

Entryway to 540 St. Peter Street, 2015

Creator: Photograph by Jacob Green View File Details Page

Close up of Plaque on 540 St. Peter Street

Close up of Plaque on 540 St. Peter Street

Creator: Photograph by Jacob Green View File Details Page

Street Address:

540B St. Peter Street [map]

Cite this Page:

Claire M. Cook, “Sherwood Anderson in New Orleans,” New Orleans Historical, accessed March 30, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/954.
Tour navigation:  Previous | Tour Info | Next
comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story