Edmund Wilson: A Biography

Jeffrey Meyers, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $35 (554p) ISBN 978-0-395-68993-6
A remarkable feat of biographical sleuthing, this refreshingly down-to-earth life of critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) peers beneath the crusty persona of a grandee of the literary establishment to portray a tormented, restless, sexually hyperactive man, a difficult, heavy-drinking husband to four wives, a domineering, lecturing father to his three children. Biographer of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Meyers considers Wilson the most intelligent and cosmopolitan figure in American letters, a foe of mindless authority and ideological conformity; yet that assessment is undercut by Wilson's flirtation with communism, his isolationism in WWII and his insistence as late as 1957 that U.S. war crimes were even more horrible than Nazi Germany's. We learn that Wilson's second wife, California socialite Margaret Canby, died not by slipping on pavement, as newspapers reported; instead, ``almost certainly drunk,'' she fell down a flight of stairs and fractured her skull. Meyers rejects third wife Mary McCarthy's vitriolic-pen portraits of Wilson, arguing that their marriage, though stormy, was highly productive for both of them. He also illuminates Wilson's friendships with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Malraux, Auden et al. and his sexual affairs with Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anais Nin and Louise Bogan. This is the fullest portrait to date of a writer who, in Meyers's judgment, became increasingly alienated from the modern world. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
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