Ah, a critic in love: what every book reviewer yearns to be. Edmund Wilson was no ordinary reviewer, of course. And as for those he loved, well, there was Edna Millay, and Elinor Wylie, and Mary McCarthy, and . . .
Wilson has been coming in for critical reappraisal lately, and Lewis M. Dabney’s Edmund Wilson (2005) has drawn new attention to the eminent journalist and author. Wilson biographer Castronovo and literary scholar Groth contribute marginally to that reawakening of interest with this small book, which revisits what every serious reader of Wilson knows: that Wilson chased just about every woman he saw. Though he was, as McCarthy said, “no Adonis,” portly and bald Wilson had quite good luck in luring women into his lair, the better to memorialize them in his journals. Thus he was ever wooing women of every description and class, even as an old man being alternately pitied and used (as by one flower child who “allowed a lot of kissing…accompanied by her doing some skinny dipping in his presence”). When Wilson was on top of his game—and a regular diet of booze didn’t seem to keep him from it—he was full of self-regard, when not he was full of self-pity. An obsessive self-chronicler, Wilson kept careful notes on every mood and aspect of his love life—so that, in the end, this book seems both a touch voyeuristic and more than a touch unnecessary, since its contents are to be found (absent a few expurgations filled in here) in other sources.
For the Wilson completist, though those who remember Hecate County as a dirty book may be interested, too.