EDMUND WILSON, THE MAN IN LETTERS

David Castronovo, Editor, Janet Groth, Editor, Edmund Wilson, Author . Univ. of Ohio $49.95 (354p) ISBN 978-0-8214-1420-0

These wide-ranging letters, most appearing in print for the first time, reveal Edmund Wilson more sympathetically than his egocentric journals. Culling from 70,000 letters written between 1917 and 1971, Wilson scholars Castronovo and Groth have arranged this edition first by theme—such as his WWI experience, his literary friendships, his marriages, his publishing dealings with Charles Scribner, William Shawn and Roger Straus, and his upstate New York life—and then by his regular correspondents, including Allen Tate, John Dos Passos, Dawn Powell, Lionell Trilling and Morton Zabel. This structure makes Wilson's life seem even more compartmentalized than it was. Famous as he was for his insatiable intellect, he was also known for periodic enthusiasms: European and Russian literature, Civil War and Iroquois history, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and his own fiction. These enthusiasms spring up unexpectedly throughout; for example, Wilson describes reading to his young son from Uncle Tom's Cabin, which would later catalyze his study Patriotic Gore. Otherwise, there are diverting sprinklings of writing to Isaiah Berlin, Cyril Connolly, John Berryman and even, unexpectedly, Edward Gorey. Conspicuous in their absences, however, are the central figures of fellow Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald, his lover Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Vladimir Nabokov (although the complete correspondence between Wilson and the latter was collected in one volume); and in general there are relatively few letters from the 1920s and '30s. Nonetheless, Wilson is on display here not simply as the opinionated literary lion but more familiarly as son, friend, husband and parent, showing more charm and sympathy than he did in the bombastic Letters from Literature and Politics. (Jan.)

Forecast:Scholars and students of American literature will certainly want to round out their view of Wilson with these letters. This should sell steadily.

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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