Edmund Wilson (Hardcover)

A Life in Literature

By Lewis M. Dabney

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374113124, 656pp.

Publication Date: August 11, 2005

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (7/14/2014)
Hardcover (4/19/2016)

List Price: 35.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Description

From the Jazz Age through the McCarthy era, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) stood at the center of the American cultural scene. In his own youth a crucial champion of the young Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wilson went on to write three classics of literary and intellectual history (Axel's Castle, To the Finland Station, and Patriotic Gore), searching reportage, and criticism that has outlasted many of its subjects. Wilson documented his unruly private life--a formative love affair with Edna St. Vincent Millay, a tempestuous marriage to Mary McCarthy, and volatile friendships with Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov, among others--in openly erotic fiction and journals, but Lewis Dabney is the first writer to integrate the life and work.

Dabney traces the critic's intellectual development, from son of small-town New Jersey gentry to America's last great renaissance man, a deep commentator on everything from the Russian classics to Native American rituals to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the way, Dabney shows why Wilson was and has remained--in his cosmopolitanism and trenchant nonconformity--a model for young writers and intellectuals, as well as the favorite critic of the general reader. Edmund Wilson will be recognized as the lasting biography of this brilliant man whose life reflected so much of the cultural, social, and human experience of a turbulent century.
Lewis Dabney edited the Edmund Wilson Reader as well as Wilson's last journal, The Sixties. He is professor of English at the University of Wyoming. A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year From the Jazz Age through the McCarthy era, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) stood at the center of the American cultural scene. In his own youth a crucial champion of the young Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wilson went on to write three classics of literary and intellectual history (Axel's Castle, To the Finland Station, and Patriotic Gore), searching reportage, and criticism that has outlasted many of its subjects. Wilson documented his unruly private life—a formative love affair with Edna St. Vincent Millay, a tempestuous marriage to Mary McCarthy, and volatile friendships with Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov, among others—in openly erotic fiction and journals, but Lewis Dabney is the first writer to integrate the life and work.

Dabney traces the critic's intellectual development, from son of small-town New Jersey gentry to America's last great renaissance man, a deep commentator on everything from the Russian classics to Native American rituals to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the way, Dabney shows why Wilson was and has remained—in his cosmopolitanism and trenchant nonconformity—a model for young writers and intellectuals, as well as the favorite critic of the general reader. Edmund Wilson will be recognized as the lasting biography of this brilliant man whose life reflected so much of the cultural, social, and human experience of a turbulent century. "Dabney . . . is diligent . . . All the information one needs about Wilson is here."—Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review "Dabney . . . is diligent . . . All the information one needs about Wilson is here."—Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review "A thoroughgoing, authoritative and consistently engaging look at one of the giants of American letters by an acknowledged expert on his life and writings. Wilson's trenchant literary criticism, his long career, his uproarious domestic life and his manifold friendships are all set down in enthralling detail."—Los Angeles Times Book Review "Lewis Dabney's Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature is by far the most comprehensive deep-dish study of both his life and work . . . [It] makes one nostalgic for such a time and such a man."—Allen Barra, The Star-Ledger (Newark) "Dabney sums up Wilson's college experience deftly and with characteristic elegance . . . [and he] is admirably restrained in his treatment of [the] famous literary union, or disunion, [with novelist Mary McCarthy], out of which a lesser biographer would have plucked much dirty linen. He is careful and, so far as one can tell, fair in his account of the famous fight between the couple a few months into their marriage."—John Banville, The Irish Times "Dabney's [new book] is a wonderful, meaty biography of the greatest American critic of the 20th century."—John Banville, The Guardian "Edmund Wilson was the most distinguished and influential literary critic of the twentieth century; he was also a fascinating character and fascinated by life. Lewis Dabney does justice to all aspects of Wilson's career in this incisive, measured, and reflective biography."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Edmund Wilson survives as a critic because of his endless vitalism and fierce love of literature. These are the qualities admirably conveyed in Lewis Dabney's eloquent biography."—Harold Bloom "Briskly written and packed with revealing details about a very complicated man, Lewis Dabney’s Edmund Wilson is the most satisfying account to date of this accomplished critic, literary journalist, and cultural historian. Lurid episodes in Wilson's personal life blend with Dabney's incisive commentary on the diverse books and articles Wilson steadily turned out for more than fifty years. This is a solid, serious, and entertaining book."—Daniel Aaron, author of Writers on the Left "Dabney follows Wilson's brilliant trajectory from protected youth to Jazz Age high-liver and liver-damaged 'literary alcoholic,' from sexual naïf to the chronicler of suburban sexual high-jinks in Memoirs of Hecate County, from somewhat snooty highbrow to much more worldly highbrow. For all the life changes—and all the adventures and misadventures in the company of Edna Millay, Mary McCarthy, the Algonquian Circle, Vladimir Nabokov, and such—Wilson remained consistent to at least a few principles and pleasures, confessing, for instance, 'that he was never happier than when telling people about a work they were unfamiliar with in a language they didn't know.' That he did so in the pages of The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Vanity Fair ought to make his admirers—and Wilson still has many, having, as Dabney observes, passed the ten-year test for longevity long ago—yearn for better, more lettered days. A solid, much-needed work of literary biography."—Kirkus Reviews "Dabney, who edited The Sixties (1993), the final volume of Wilson's published journals, presents a meticulous biography that is lapidary and illuminating in its proficient explications of Wilson's volatile personal relationships and benchmark writings." Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review) "This thorough biography gives the definitive treatment to the life and work of one of the early 20th century's most highly revered men of letters . . . A complex account . . . Comprehensive, well-researched."—Library Journal (starred review) "Dabney meticulously unfolds the circumstances behind the writing of his most significant books while tracing the evolution of Wilson's thought . . . Readers seeking an introduction to Wilson will find their perseverance through this hefty tome rewarded with a rich context for approaching his writings."—Publishers Weekly



Praise For Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature

"Dabney, who edited The Sixties (1993), the final volume of Wilson’s published journals, presents a meticulous biography that is lapidary and illuminating in its proficient explications of Wilson’s volatile personal relationships and benchmark writings." Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

*Look for New York magazine's review, chock full of photographs, in the 8/15 issue, and tune in to NPR's "On Point" this afternoon (WNYC) to hear Lewis Dabney discussing Edmund Wilson.*

"A searching life of the eminent literary critic and journalist . . . A solid, much-needed work of literary biography." --Kirkus

"Dabney meticulously unfolds the circumstances behind the writing of his most significant books while tracing the evolution of Wilson’s thought…Readers seeking an introduction to Wilson will find their perseverance through this hefty tome rewarded with a rich context for approaching his writings." --Publishers Weekly

"This thorough biography gives the definitive treatment to the life and work of one of the early 20th century’s most highly revered men of letters…A complex account…Comprehensive, well-researched." --Library Journal (starred review)

"Edmund Wilson was the most distinguished and influential literary critic of the twentieth century; he was also a fascinating character and fascinated by life. Lewis Dabney does justice to all aspects of Wilson's career in this incisive, measured, and reflective biography." --Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Edmund Wilson survives as a critic because of his endless vitalism and fierce love of literature. These are the qualities admirably conveyed in Lewis Dabney's eloquent biography." --Harold Bloom

 

"Briskly written and packed with revealing details about a very complicated man, Lewis Dabney’s Edmund Wilson is the most satisfying account to date of this accomplished critic, literary journalist, and cultural historian. Lurid episodes in Wilson’s personal life blend with Dabney’s incisive commentary on the diverse books and articles Wilson steadily turned out for more than fifty years. This is a solid, serious, and entertaining book." --Daniel Aaron, author of Writers on the Left