Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Man Who Became A Woman

The Ex found a copy of Eight Great American Short Novels in the throw-away pile of books in the town dump while I was visiting him this summer. He picked it up for me because it included Sherwood Anderson's "The Man Who Became A Woman" (Exes—don't you just love them!). I'd never heard of it though I'd certainly heard of him (Winesburg, Ohio) and we've all, even we all in this book club, have read his short story "Hands". "TMWBAW" which I think of rather as a long short story than as a novella, was originally published in Anderson's short-story collection Horses and Men (1923), "originally" as in it first appeared in that book—it had never been published in any magazine before! I more than dutifully read it and had been wondering how to mention it to readers of this blog when I came across an interview of James Purdy in Conjunctions (Fall, 1982). I'll let him do the describing:

PURDY: … Anderson wrote a wonderful story called “The Man Who Became a Woman”: one of the most amazing stories ever written. I don’t know whether he knew how startling it is. It’s about a young boy who is a groom in the stables, he takes care of horses. The story is really a problem of crisis of sexual identification, to use a pretentious psychological phrase. Suddenly, working around these awful, rough men, and being just a young boy who simply loved to curry the horses, suddenly one night he wanders into a saloon and he looks into the mirror and instead of seeing himself he sees a young woman. Horrified, he runs back to the stables. There these Negro … [spoiler deleted] … but there is no real closing to the story: Anderson shows such deep insight into the terror of adolescence in this story.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds to me like a James Purdy story.
PURDY: Yes, it does! It’s the only story by Anderson where I think he really plumbed the depths.

Definitely a must-read! We could pair it with something else on a short night or even give the whole hour over to it alone. Unfortunately, it seems never to have been widely anthologized, and the only book I've been able to find it in (other than the two already mentioned) is the Sherwood Anderson short story collection Certain Things Last. All three are out-of-print. No copy of the story seems to be up on the internet. But there may be cause for hope. Anderson died in 1941 and if his copyright expires in 70 years, it may soon appear. I'll keep you posted (and please, vice versa)!

1 comment:

DCSteve1441 said...

Great suggestion, Tim! Let's keep it in mind...