EDMUND WILSON by Lewis M. Dabney


Centennial Reflections
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 This solid but too disparate collection of essays and panel discussions (drawn from a series of 1995 symposia celebrating the centenary of his birth) revisits Wilson's life, work, and legacy. Though he longed to be a novelist, Wilson found his greatest success with such classic critical and historical works as Axel's Castle, Patriotic Gore, and To the Finland Station. He had a true gift for elucidation and was keenly enough attuned to the subtleties of his culture to become an active shaping force. In the words of Random House editor Jason Epstein: ``He will eventually prove to be one of the greatest of our writers. Not so much for his individual works . . . but as perhaps the greatest teacher our literature has ever produced.'' Despite the similar accolades that lard this collection, one has to at least ask the question: Why? To critique the critic, to embed the historian in history, is to risk the law of diminishing returns, never mind academic navel-gazing. However, Dabney, a professor of English at the University of Wyoming and editor of several books by and about Wilson, has chosen most of his material well, and the list of contributors, from Arthur Schlesinger to Alfred Kazin and Louis Menand, is certainly impressive. But it is the nature of essays to be narrowly focused, and this leads here to a wallowing in minutiae. Essays on Wilson's philo-Semitism, romanticism, and lack of attention to minority writers, while well realized, are only fractionally revealing. More enlightening are the essays that broadly consider Wilson and his abiding cultural importance, particularly Louis Menand's ``Edmund Wilson and His Times'' and Paul Berman's ``Wilson and Our Non-Wilsonian Age.'' While the general reader will probably be lost throughout a good portion of this collection, it is a neat treat for die-hard Wilsonians.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-691-01672-0
Page count: 285pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997