Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature

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From the Jazz Age through the McCarthy era, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) stood at the center of the American cultural scene. In his own youth a crucial champion of the young Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wilson went on to write three classics of literary and intellectual history (Axel's Castle,To the Finland Station, andPatriotic Gore), searching reportage, and criticism that has outlasted many of its subjects. Wilson documented his unruly private life--a formative love affair with Edna St. Vincent Millay, a tempestuous marriage to Mary McCarthy, and volatile friendships with Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov, among others--in openly erotic fiction and journals, but Lewis Dabney is the first writer to integrate the life and work.

Dabney traces the critic's intellectual development, from son of small-town New Jersey gentry to America's last great renaissance man, a deep commentator on everything from the Russian classics to Native American rituals to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the way, Dabney shows why Wilson was and has remained--in his cosmopolitanism and trenchant nonconformity--a model for young writers and intellectuals, as well as the favorite critic of the general reader.Edmund Wilsonwill be recognized as the lasting biography of this brilliant man whose life reflected so much of the cultural, social, and human experience of a turbulent century.
Lewis Dabneyedited the Edmund Wilson Reader as well as Wilson's last journal,The Sixties. He is professor of English at the University of Wyoming. ASan Francisco ChronicleBest Book of the Year From the Jazz Age through the McCarthy era, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) stood at the center of the American cultural scene. In his own youth a crucial champion of the young Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wilson went on to write three classics of literary and intellectual history (Axel's Castle,To the Finland Station, andPatriotic Gore), searching reportage, and criticism that has outlasted many of its subjects. Wilson documented his unruly private life—a formative love affair with Edna St. Vincent Millay, a tempestuous marriage to Mary McCarthy, and volatile friendships with Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov, among others—in openly erotic fiction and journals, but Lewis Dabney is the first writer to integrate the life and work.

Dabney traces the critic's intellectual development, from son of small-town New Jersey gentry to America's last great renaissance man, a deep commentator on everything from the Russian classics to Native American rituals to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the way, Dabney shows why Wilson was and has remained—in his cosmopolitanism and trenchant nonconformity—a model for young writers and intellectuals, as well as the favorite critic of the general reader.Edmund Wilsonwill be recognized as the lasting biography of this brilliant man whose life reflected so much of the cultural, social, and human experience of a turbulent century. "Dabney . . . is diligent . . . All the information one needs about Wilson is here."—Colm Toibin,The New York Times Book Review "Dabney . . . is diligent . . . All the information one needs about Wilson is here."—Colm Toibin,The New York Times Book Review "A thoroughgoing, authoritative and consistently engaging look at one of the giants of American letters by an acknowledged expert on his life and writings. Wilson's trenchant literary criticism, his long career, his uproarious domestic life and his manifold friendships are all set down in enthralling detail."—Los Angeles Times Book Review "Lewis Dabney'sEdmund Wilson: A Life in Literatureis by far the most comprehensive deep-dish study of both his life and work . . . [It] makes one nostalgic for such a time and such a man."—Allen Barra,TheStar-Ledger(Newark) "Dabney sums up Wilson's college experience deftly and with characteristic elegance . . . [and he] is admirably restrained in his treatment of [the] famous literary union, or disunion, [with novelist Mary McCarthy], out of which a lesser biographer would have plucked much dirty linen. He is careful and, so far as one can tell, fair in his account of the famous fight between the couple a few months into their marriage."—John Banville,The Irish Times "Dabney's [new book] is a wonderful, meaty biography of the greatest American critic of the 20th century."—John Banville,The Guardian "Edmund Wilson was the most distinguished and influential literary critic of the twentieth century; he was also a fascinating character and fascinated by life. Lewis Dabney does justice to all aspects of Wilson's career in this incisive, measured, and reflective biography."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Edmund Wilson survives as a critic because of his endless vitalism and fierce love of literature. These are the qualities admirably conveyed in Lewis Dabney's eloquent biography."—Harold Bloom "Briskly written and packed with revealing details about a very complicated man, Lewis Dabney’sEdmund Wilsonis the most satisfying account to date of this accomplished critic, literary journalist, and cultural historian. Lurid episodes in Wilson's personal life blend with Dabney's incisive commentary on the diverse books and articles Wilson steadily turned out for more than fifty years. This is a solid, serious, and entertaining book."—Daniel Aaron, author ofWriters on the Left "Dabney follows Wilson's brilliant trajectory from protected youth to Jazz Age high-liver and liver-damaged 'literary alcoholic,' from sexual naf to the chronicler of suburban sexual high-jinks inMemoirs of Hecate County, from somewhat snooty highbrow to much more worldly highbrow. For all the life changes—and all the adventures and misadventures in the company of Edna Millay, Mary McCarthy, the Algonquian Circle, Vladimir Nabokov, and such—Wilson remained consistent to at least a few principles and pleasures, confessing, for instance, 'that he was never happier than when telling people about a work they were unfamiliar with in a language they didn't know.' That he did so in the pages ofThe New Yorker,The New Republic, andVanity Fairought to make his admirers—and Wilson still has many, having, as Dabney observes, passed the ten-year test for longevity long ago—yearn for better, more lettered days. A solid, much-needed work of literary biography."—Kirkus Reviews "Dabney, who editedThe Sixties(1993), the final volume of Wilson's published journals, presents a meticulous biography that is lapidary and illuminating in its proficient explications of Wilson's volatile personal relationships and benchmark writings."Donna Seaman,Booklist(starred review) "This thorough biography gives the definitive treatment to the life and work of one of the early 20th century's most highly revered men of letters . . . A complex account . . . Comprehensive, well-researched."—Library Journal(starred review) "Dabney meticulously unfolds the circumstances behind the writing of his most significant books while tracing the evolution of Wilson's thought . . . Readers seeking an introduction to Wilson will find their perseverance through this hefty tome rewarded with a rich context for approaching his writings."—Publishers Weekly
 

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EDMUND WILSON: A Life in Literature

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A searching life of the eminent literary critic and journalist 1895-1972).It was Edmund Wilson's conceit, first voiced in the essay "The Wound and the Bow" and often repeated, that the artist bears an ... Read full review

Edmund Wilson: a life in literature

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

This thorough biography gives the definitive treatment to the life and work of one of the early 20th century's most highly revered men of letters. Wilson rose to prominence as a literary and cultural ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
3
PART ONE Edmund Wilson Jr
9
PART TWO The Twenties
69
PART THREE On the Left
161
PART FOUR E W and M McC
233
PART FIVE A Second Flowering
329
PART SIX My Books Live I Am Ceasing to Live
445
Epilogue 2005
517
Notes
523
Acknowledgments
599
lndex
603
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Lewis Dabneyedited Wilson's last journal,The Sixtiesas well asEdmund Wilson: Centennial Reflections. He is professor of English at the University of Wyoming.

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