Edmund Wilson, by Jeffrey Meyers
Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was a central figure in the literary life of his time. In his journalism of the 1920′s and his pioneering study Axel’s Castle (1932), he did more than anyone else to chart the achievements of modernism for ordinary readers. His later books ranged from psychologically based reassessments of established literary authors, as in The Wound and the Bow (1941), to a best-selling account of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to political history and polemics, to Fiction. As a member of the staff of the New Republic from 1921 to 1941, and subsequently during his long connection as a critic with the New Yorker, he published review-essays and reportage on an extraordinary variety of subjects.
A formidably productive career, then; and also one much gossiped-about. Wilson engaged in some celebrated controversies: with New York State censors over his sexually tinged collection of stories, Memoirs of Hecate County (1946); with the Modern Language Association over its publicly funded and (in his view) desperately pedantic editions of American literary classics; with the Internal Revenue Service over his unpaid taxes. He had a stormy marriage to Mary McCarthy (the third of his four wives). His close friends included F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Princeton classmate, and Vladimir Nabokov, whom he originally championed but with whom he subsequently had a spectacular falling-out over Nabokov’s translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
About the Author
John Gross is the editor most recently of The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. His “Mr. Virginia Woolf” appeared in the December 2006 COMMENTARY.