Edmund Wilson by Lewis M. Dabney
A Life in Literature

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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.


About Lewis M. Dabney

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Lewis Dabney edited Wilson's last journal, The Sixties as well as Edmund Wilson: Centennial Reflections. He is professor of English at the University of Wyoming.
Published August 3, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 767 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Edmund Wilson

The New York Times

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Lewis M. Dabney's biography must grapple with Wilson's innocent appetites, his pure idealism, his belief in the word and his vast impracticality.

Sep 04 2005 | Read Full Review of Edmund Wilson: A Life in Lite...

Bookmarks Magazine

Bruce Allen Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars "A Life in Literature humanizes our greatest man of letters without ever trivializing him: The most American of the 20th century’s great scholars, Wilson spoke ‘with a pronounced British accent’ while bristling at British class snobbishness.

Oct 15 2007 | Read Full Review of Edmund Wilson: A Life in Lite...

New York Magazine

So from Meyers it would follow that Wilson used book reviews to get Nin into bed (life over literature), while from Dabney it follows that he was more interested in the existence of a Brontë complete works (literature over life).

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Arts Fuse

“Wilson was the only well-known literary alcoholic of his generation whose work was not compromised by his drinking,” claims Dabney, “but the alcohol undermined his marriages.” According to his last wife, the long-suffering Elena Thornton, marriage to Wilson was “hell with compensations.” Dabney...

Oct 20 2007 | Read Full Review of Edmund Wilson: A Life in Lite...

Arts Fuse

Dabney reports Isaiah Berlin’s admiring belief that his friend Wilson brought “his whole self to every word he wrote.” I think that the Wilsons of the future will find the blogsphere a natural home, though I agree with Charles McGrath’s contention in a New York Times review of the Wilson Library...

Oct 27 2007 | Read Full Review of Edmund Wilson: A Life in Lite...

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