Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s & 30s

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly:

Book_2 In a beautifully turned reminiscence of Alexander Woollcott published in 1943, and originally intended as a defense of that great critic against an ungenerous obituarist, Edmund Wilson managed to spin what he admitted was a slight acquaintance into a charming portrait of a man and of a moment — the moment being the time when both men’s parents were connected with a Fourierist socialist community in Red Bank, New Jersey. Recollections of Woollcott the man of the theater, intercut with reflections on the arcana of the American left, combine to make a fine profile and a nice period piece: journalism at its best. What caught and held me, though, was an episode in the 1930s, when Wilson, fresh from reporting on the labor front for the New Republic, was invited to call on Woollcott at Sutton Place:

As soon as I entered the room, he cried out, without any other greeting: “You’ve gotten very fat!” It was his way of disarming, I thought, any horror I might have felt at his own pudding-like rotundity, which had trebled since I had seen him last.

This, and other aspects of the evening, make clear that Wilson understood why Woollcott’s personality didn’t appeal to everybody. But the preemptive strike on the question of girth also made me realize that there must have been a time when Edmund Wilson was thin. This absolutely negated the picture that my mind’s eye had been conditioned to summon. Wilson’s prose, if not precisely rotund, was astonishingly solid.

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