Friday, February 17, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#7

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#7.Reverend Curtis Hartman

The Winesburg, Ohio story "The Strength of God" tracks the local pastor's perverse conversion from Presbyterianism to voyeurism.  While holed up in "the bell tower of the church, where on Sunday mornings the minister prayed for an increase in him of the power of God," Hartman catches glimpse of Kate Swift through the upstairs bedroom window of a neighboring home.  This woman "apparently far gone in secret sin" (i.e. she is spotted smoking a cigarette!) leads Hartman to more zealous sermonizing, but meanwhile the minister is guilty of his own private transgression.  Overwhelmed by "a carnal desire to 'peep,'" the married Hartman breaks a small hole in the church window so he can continue to ogle Kate undetected.

Illicit thought of the woman take over Hartman's life, and nearly ends it after the minister spends a freezing night spying in the bell tower.  He is ready to spurn his religion and succumb to lust, but is ultimately saved when he sees the naked Kate kneel down beside her bed in prayer.  "After ten years in this town, God has manifested himself to me in the body of a woman," Hartman declares.  His interpretation of the next-door scene is no doubt a dubious one, and as the subsequent story in Sherwood Anderson's linked collection reveals, Hartman's view of Kate ("an instrument of God, bearing the message of truth") is grossly inaccurate.

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