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The Sophus Winther Collection


Correspondence & Writings


Born in Denmark June 24, 1893, Sophus Winther arrived in America in 1895, spent three years in Massachusetts, moved with his family to Nebraska, then to Oregon in 1912. He attended the University of Oregon, earning a BA in English in 1918 and a MA in 1922. He completed his dissertation on Matthew Arnold in 1925 while a teaching assistant at the University of Washington. He became an instructor there and married one of his students, Mabel Eline Peterson.

He taught at the University of Washington for forty-one years. While he taught courses in Victorian period, he urged the teaching of contemporary literature. This interest led him to study the dramas of Eugene O'Neill. Winther went to New York,, asked for and received an interview with O'Neill, thus beginning a long friendship lasting until O'Neill's death. 

Winther was basically a novelist except for his interest in O'Neill. He wrote "Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study" (New York: Random House, 1934.). Winther sent the manuscript to O'Neill for his comments in 1933. O'Neill particularly like Winther's disposal of the "gloomy" and "pessimistic" descriptions which had been tagged to O'Neill's plays. Carlotta was drawn to Winther because of their shared Danish heritage.

It was at the invitation of the Winthers, that the O'Neills left New York City for Seattle in 1936. In Seattle, on November 12, O'Neill learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for literature. To avoid contact with the press, O'Neill had Sophus Winter act as his contact with the media, demonstrating an early and complete trust in him.

The Winthers and O'Neills visited each other in Seattle, at Tao House, and in New York City over the years. O'Neill even asked Winther to read Long Day's Journey into Night when the Winthers visited Tao House in 1943. Some of the last correspondence during O'Neill's final years is between Carlotta and the Winthers. These letters are highly revealing and poignant.

After O'Neill had moved to Marblehead, severely ill, he had Carlotta telephone a Christmas message to Sophus: "Tell Sophus . . . that he's the best friend I ever had" (D.A. Ware, "The Best Friend Eugene O'Neill Ever Had," p.8).

In addition to authoring the book on O'Neill, Winther authored fiction including The Realistic War Novel, Take All to Nebraska, Mortgage Your Heart, This Passion Never Dies, and Beyond the Garden Gate. 

Sophus Winther died on May 10, 1983. Terminally ill with cancer, he plunged out his bedroom window in Seattle.


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