‘Edmund Wilson’: American Critic

From The New York Times:Wilson2_1

One of the many anecdotes about the fraught relationship between Edmund Wilson and his third wife, Mary McCarthy, dramatizes beautifully the problem of Wilson’s legacy. When Reuel, their son, was 9, he heard McCarthy, for once, praising her former husband. Reuel responded: ”Mommy, you mean my father is a great critic?” He smiled, clearly remembering her previous invectives against his father, and added: ”I always thought he was just a two-bit book reviewer.”

Edmund Wilson was part of a brilliant generation at Princeton. They were too brilliant in some cases to have as much as a first act in their careers; among the rest was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose final books, ”The Last Tycoon” and ”The Crack-Up,” would be assembled and edited by Wilson. An early essay on Fitzgerald gives some sense of his tone, the quality of his prose and the exacting nature of his judgment. Fitzgerald, he wrote, ”has been given imagination without intellectual control of it; he has been given a desire for beauty without an aesthetic ideal; and he has been given a gift for expression without very many ideas to express.” ” ‘This Side of Paradise,’ ” Wilson wrote, ”does not commit the unpardonable sin: It does not fail to live. The whole preposterous farrago is animated with life.”

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