Edmund wilson best essays

Edmund wilson best essays

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Edmund Wilson

Edmund Wilson, byname Bunny, (born May 8, 1895, Red Bank, New Jersey, U. S.—died June 12, 1972, Talcottville, New York), American critic and essayist recognized as one of the leading literary journalists of his time.

Educated at Princeton, Wilson moved from newspaper reporting in New York to become managing editor of Vanity Fair (1920–21), associate editor of The New Republic (1926–31), and principal book reviewer for The New Yorker (1944–48). Wilson’s first critical work, Axel’s Castle (1931), was an important international survey of the Symbolist tradition, in which he both criticized and praised the aestheticism of such writers as William Butler Yeats, Paul Valéry, T. S. Eliot, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. During this period, Wilson was married for a time to writer Mary McCarthy. His next major book, To the Finland Station (1940), was a historical study of the thinkers who laid the groundwork for socialism and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Much of these two books originally appeared in the pages of The New Republic. Until late in 1940 he was a contributor to that periodical, and much of his work for it was collected in Travels in Two Democracies (1936), dialogues, essays, and a short story about the Soviet Union and the United States; The Triple Thinkers (1938), which dealt with writers involved in multiple meanings; The Wound and the Bow (1941), about art and neurosis; and The Boys in the Back Room (1941), a discussion of such new American novelists as John Steinbeck and James M. Cain. In addition to reviewing books for The New Yorker in the 1940s, Wilson also contributed major articles to the magazine until the year of his death, including serialization of Upstate: Records and Recollections of Northern New York (1972), a collection from his journals.

After World War II Wilson wrote The Scrolls from the Dead Sea (1955), for which he learned to read Hebrew; Red, Black, Blond, and Olive: Studies in Four Civilizations: Zuni, Haiti, Soviet Russia, Israel (1956); Apologies to the Iroquois (1960); Patriotic Gore (1962), an analysis of American Civil War literature; and O Canada: An American’s Notes on Canadian Culture (1965). In this period five volumes of his magazine pieces were collected: Europe Without Baedeker (1947), Classics and Commercials (1950), The Shores of Light (1952), The American Earthquake (1958), and The Bit Between My Teeth (1965).

In other works Wilson gave evidence of his crotchety character: A Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty (1956), The Cold War and the Income Tax (1963), and The Fruits of the MLA (1968), a lengthy attack on the Modern Language Association’s editions of American authors, which he felt buried their subjects in pedantry. His plays are in part collected in Five Plays (1954) and in The Duke of Palermo and Other Plays with an Open Letter to Mike Nichols (1969). His poems appear in Notebooks of Night (1942) and in Night Thoughts (1961); an early collection, Poets, Farewell, appeared in 1929. Memoirs of Hecate County (1946) is a collection of short stories that encountered censorship problems when it first appeared. Wilson edited the posthumous papers and notebooks of his college friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up (1945), and also edited the novel The Last Tycoon (1941), which Fitzgerald had left uncompleted at his death. Wilson wrote one novel himself, I Thought of Daisy (1929). The Twenties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period, edited by Leon Edel, was published posthumously in 1975. His widow, Elena, edited Letters on Literature and Politics 1912–1972 (1977), and his correspondence with the novelist Vladimir Nabokov appeared in 1979 (revised and expanded edition Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940–1971, 2001).

Wilson concerned himself with both literary and social themes and wrote as historian, poet, novelist, editor, and short-story writer. Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as the New Critics, Wilson thought that a text or topic could be best examined by placing it at the centre of intersecting ideas and contexts, whether biographical, political, social, linguistic, or philosophical. He covered a multitude of subjects, probing each with an expansiveness that was firmly rooted in scholarship and common sense, and he expressed his views in a prose style noted for its clarity and precision. His critical writings on the American novelists Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner attracted public interest to their early work and guided opinion toward their acceptance.

Edmund Wilson: Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s & 30s (LOA #176)

The Shores of Light / Axel’s Castle / Uncollected Reviews

By Edmund Wilson
Edited by Lewis M. Dabney

By Edmund Wilson
Edited by Lewis M. Dabney

Part of Library of America Edmund Wilson Edition

Category: Literary Collections | Literary Criticism

Oct 04, 2007 | 1025 Pages Buy

Oct 04, 2007 | 1025 Pages

Buy the Hardcover:

About Edmund Wilson: Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s & 30s (LOA #176)

With this inaugural volume of what will be a series devoted to Edmund Wilson’s work, The Library of America pays tribute to the writer who first conceived the idea of a publishing series dedicated to “bringing out in a complete and compact form the principal American classics.” Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 30s presents Wilson in the extraordinary first phase of his career, participating in a cultural renaissance and grappling with the crucial issues of his era.

The Shores of Light (1952) is Wilson’s magisterial assemblage of early reviews, sketches, stories, memoirs, and other writings into a teeming panorama of America’s literary life in a period of exuberant expansion and in the years of political and economic strife that followed. Wilson traces the emergence of a new American writing as he reviews the work of Ernest Hemingway, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, and many others, including his close friends F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Little escapes his notice: burlesque shows and Henry James, Soviet theater and the magic of Harry Houdini, the first novels of Malraux and the rediscovery of Edgar Allan Poe.

Axel’s Castle (1931), his pioneering overview of literary modernism, includes penetrating studies of Yeats, Eliot, Proust, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and others. For several generations this book has stood as an indispensable companion to some of the crucial turning points in modern literature. Both these classic works display abundantly Wilson’s extraordinary erudition and unquenchable curiosity, his visionary grasp of larger historical meanings, his gift for acute psychological portraiture, and the matchless suppleness and lucidity of his prose. For Wilson, there are no minor subjects; every literary occasion sparks writing that is witty, energetic, and alive to the undercurrents of his time.

In addition this volume includes a number of uncollected reviews from the same period, including discussions of H. L. Mencken, Edith Wharton, and Bernard Shaw.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.