Edmund Wilson Essays

Wilson’s work had imitators, none successful until the incomparable and unjustly neglected record of the period in James Agee’s also belong to this genre of writing.

There was a need for action, Wilson insisted, and any idea that delivers the goods or has cash value, any “myth” that can be believed and taken up by heroic men like Lenin and Trotsky could be of use to liberals who did not know which way to turn. Eliot and the Church of England” (1929) Eliot’s declaration of his political position as a classicist, royalist and Anglican and his proposed solutions to rising social problems.

Wilson recorded the cutting of school budgets in Detroit, of wages in Flint, Michigan, rising suicides in San Diego, and working people starving everywhere.

His was a stylistic documentation, as if Balzac and Zola had become reporters.

It would have been a typical stepping-stone to political power had he not come down with a debilitating depression that afflicted his son as well at various times in his life.

In 1925, carrying on the progressive family tradition, Wilson joined as editor and writer for the newly founded , the magazine an attempt to give voice to a more sophisticated and newly rich middle-class which elbowed out the patricians with a social conscience of an earlier age, like Wilson’s father.He dropped literary criticism as his main area of activity and instead employed his not inconsiderable skills as a writer to report political and historical events.Wilson joined the Solidarity Express to Harlan County during the great miners’ strike and attended the trial of the Scottsboro boys.To this image he cast in his later years as an eccentric man of letters is added, with no little help from his spicy diaries generous on details, the image of Wilson as a great fornicator, with an unusual taste for some of the most talented, powerful and difficult women of the twentieth century.Knowledge of Wilson’s sex life adds to, but in no ways deepens our understanding of what he actually stood for at the height of his influence, nor are we closer to learning the reason for that astonishing transformation from the reviewer who met each new exciting work or idea at the port as it arrived in America, to the one who paid scant heed to new writing and ideas.As all about us has risen, in journals like associated with the early Wilson, a complacent and ugly liberalism which sanctions war crimes, torture and a collapsing of ancient civilizations under the boots of American marines, it would be good to see how it all began, and find out whether it could have ended differently.Edmund Wilson’s father, a prominent lawyer and supporter of progressive Democratic Party forces under Woodrow Wilson as New Jersey’s Governor, gained fame cleaning up the rackets in Atlantic City.At the height of the Depression, in (1933), Wilson remembered a vow he had made: “I swore to myself that when the War was over I should stand outside of society altogether, I should do without the comforts and amenities of the conventional world entirely, and I should devote myself to the great human interests which transcend standard of living and conventions: Literature, History, the Creation of Beauty, the Discovery of Truth.” Society meant the upper-middle class of Great Neck, New York, where Wilson was raised, the son of a distinguished lawyer, and Princeton, where he was educated among America’s elite, insulated from real life until the carnage of a World War he witnessed as a medical orderly forever changed him.“Outside society” meant the open intellectual world of bohemia, joining avant-garde thought and writing from Paris, London to New York, or for that matter, Tokyo and Tashkent.Wilson sat down with James Joyce for a chat in a cafe and rushed into print to explain to an audience growing in sophistication and self-confidence.He saw writers participating in a worldly activity as part of a community, and believed that modernist literature, even in its most extreme innovations of Joyce and Gertrude Stein, is not so much difficult to read, as that we have not learned to read it with care as a social exchange within a marketplace of ideas.


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