THORNTON WILDER: An Intimate Portrait by Richard H. Goldstone

THORNTON WILDER: An Intimate Portrait

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The subtitle is a misnomer if there ever was one: Goldstone (he's a professor at C.U.N.Y.) has known Wilder since WW II but Wilder apparently never entertained intimate relationships with anyone--as he said in summary of a gloomy, often depressive, monastic life, ""I'm not one very much for passion."" The physical and later spiritual frailty was apparent early on--the first year of his life he was carried around on a pillow; but then he went through school, began to write (deprecated by his father as ""Carving olive pits""), taught at Lawrenceville later under Hutchins, and achieved instant success and acclaim with his first book in 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But full of inadequacies and perplexities and inexplicable voids, it was as if his celebrity was both inadvertent and undesired; hobbled by a writer's block for close to forty years, Wilder's books and plays appeared slowly. Of these Our Town (seen by more people than any other play in this century) is certainly the most enduring, reifying as it does the myth of American life. Goldstone spends a certain time interpreting the successes and failures of each work (originally he had planned to do a study of Wilder rather than the ""likeness"" which this is). All around him his friends--Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Woollcott, Edmund Wilson, and Gertrude Stein, particularly Gertrude Stein--move with greater vitality. But then Goldstone cannot be altogether faulted, for who could really bring ""this cracking ship to life"" (a remark Wilder made in his middle years before he withdrew still further from the world)? A great writer in some ways (Goldstone considers him the best stylist since Henry James) but one of the last Puritans.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1975
Publisher: Saturday Review/Dutton