LETTERS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS, 1912-1972 by Edmund Wilson
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LETTERS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS, 1912-1972

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Was he, finally, too various? "I am inundated," Wilson wrote in the Sixties, "with books and papers on psychoanalysis, the Bible, the Dead Sea scrolls, socialism, the American Indians, the Civil War, Canada, Jewish history, the Symbolist movement in literature, the Soviet Union, and Hungary." To which one might add correspondence: he is now the squire of Talcottville, in upstate New York (another fevered interest, cf. Upstate), eminent and honored and even solvent; but he is still taking issue, as he has for thirty-plus years, with "Dos" Passes' politics, sending his love and opinions on poetry to re-hospitalized Louise Began, "discovering" new writers (1934, Nathanael West; 1968, Wilfrid Sheed), and welcoming fresh intelligence on any one of his subjects. The lifeline from prep school and Princeton to the literary-binge Twenties (New Republic reviews, Axel's Castle), the radical, anti-Stalinist Thirties (end result: To the Finland Station), the far-reaching Forties (Europe Without Baedeker; Zuni, N.M.; Haiti), the reprint Fifties ("I feel a little, for the first time . . . as if I were a real success"), is traced in these letters, an assemblage as tight and mutually supportive as a dry stone wall. College friends Scott Fitzgerald and John Peale Bishop marry and publish, take their raps (to "Fitz" 1919: "tighten up your artistic conscience and pay a little more attention to form"), meet success, compromise or stray, fall off, and die. "Men who start out writing together write for one another more than they realize until someone dies," he writes Bishop on the death of Fitzgerald. Wilson himself branches and re-roots. Consuming Civil War literature (Patriotic Gore-to-be) takes him to the Old Testament tradition in America, the study of Hebrew, and the implicative Dead Sea scrolls: new correspondents are Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and scholarly New Jersey tavernkeeper Jacob Landau (who, disarmingly, sends good whisky as well as Hebrew translations). One minority leads to another--the Iroquois (Apologies to . . . ), French Canadians (O Canada)--and to a watch over minority rights. What's happening in the Scottish Outer Isles "that you dramatize in Rockets Galore", he asks Compton Mackenzie (first met, in 1919, as one of Fitzgerald's "bad masters"). The letter concludes with regret that Mackenzie's work, recently re-examined, isn't better received in Britain: "I realize that I'll have to write something myself." Let his curiosity, range, and responsiveness be contagious.
Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1977
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1977




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