cover image Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson

Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson

David Castronovo, Janet Groth, . . Shoemaker & Hoard, $25 (222pp) ISBN 978-1-59376-050-2

The coauthors' deep familiarity with their subject (they've written biographies of Wilson and edited his letters) serves them well in this spirited, chatty look at his relationships with the opposite sex. Wilson himself reported on his experiences in thorough and unflinching detail in his journals, and this book is similarly not for the prudish—at times it even takes sly delight in the portly critic's unlikely success as a sexual athlete, claiming that he satisfied all his lovers, even into his late 70s. But the biographers also call attention to intellectual relationships based on "affinity... rather than sex" with such fellow writers as Dorothy Parker and Elinor Wylie. All the couplings, sexual and otherwise, are traced through Wilson's writings and, when available, those of the women. An account of his turbulent marriage to Mary McCarthy, for example, includes detailed criticism of the thinly disguised vindictive portraits of Wilson throughout her fiction. Castronovo and Groth's effort is just one-third the size of Lewis Dabney's new, comprehensive biography, but brevity and topic give it a much livelier feel, further enhanced by the authors' casual critical asides to the reader. (Dec.)