Literature Lesson: Sherwood Anderson’s “The Other Woman”

This is the best story I’ve read so far in the collection, and it’s no surprise because Sherwood Anderson is a genius. A titan of American literature, he captures the feeling of Americanness like nobody else.

In the story, a man trapped in a sexless marriage with an infantilized frigid woman is obsessing over a single time in the past when he had good sex. Nothing much happens in the story. It doesn’t narrate events but transmits the descent into obsessive madness of a sexually frustrated man.

Prudery and miserable, sexless marriages are a subject that’s ever-present in Sherwood Anderson’s work. I don’t know anybody who captures better than he does the supremely American drama of trying to reason away physiology and always failing at the task.

Today, we deprive ourselves of sex in a much more literal way than in Anderson’s times. Anybody can have as much sexual intercourse of any sort as they can get but accepting human physiology is still taboo to the point where we can’t even say the word “woman” anymore. (See my earlier post with a quote from “Lancet.”) As we boringly and repetitively celebrate the variety of sexual acts and partners we can enjoy, we fail to notice that we are even more pathetic than Anderson’s character. Nobody is forced into loveless marriages anymore but we are being obligated to deny reality, reason, and truth to service the sexual hangups of a handful of entitled guys.

Anderson’s character would have been shunned by his professional and social circle if he’d ditched the frigid rich girl and chosen the sexy cashier instead. And today he’d get shunned by his professional and social circle if he said “women don’t have penises.” How is that any better?

One thought on “Literature Lesson: Sherwood Anderson’s “The Other Woman”

  1. My milieu includes sci-fi for what are now mostly historical reasons.

    Dani and Eytan Kollin’s “The Unincorporated Man” presents a business baron-type protagonist Connecticut Yankee in a King Arthur’s Court who gets to experience the reality of VR chairs from a future perspective.

    In that story’s past, VR chairs were very popular as escapism for people trapped within failing economic and social systems, and it became tolerated if not accepted to a degree that those caught out as “failures” in these systems would escape into VR.

    However, these VR chairs also had ways to override the systems that make sure you don’t become overly attached to them, forgetting your biological imperatives in the real world.

    And so those who have lost all hope reprogram their VR chairs so that they don’t get out.

    In the future, The Powers That Be make you experience a museum where you can try out the VR chairs and also watch real people in the past die in them, just so you don’t get the idea of trying to implement this technology again.

    But what’s so different about the man in Anderson’s story escaping into a simulacrum of his past where he could imagine the sex was better, then disabling the controls to his libido?

    You could also call this type of “word magic” you’ve described a type of technology, but what is it for?

    Cue the playing of “Imaginary Lover” by Atlanta Rhythm Section, a sort of Southern Rock dirge from the Carter era …


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