Edmund Wilson

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Edmund Wilson

Edmund Wilson (born May 8, 1895 in Red Bank , New Jersey , † June 12, 1972 ) was an American writer and literary critic .


Born to a lawyer in Red Bank, New Jersey, Edmund Wilson attended Princeton University from 1912 to 1916 after high school . He then worked as a reporter for the New York Sun and served in the Army during World War I. In 1920 and 1921 he was editor of Vanity Fair magazine , and later of The New Republic magazine . He wrote book reviews for The New Yorker .

His work was influenced by the novelists Upton Sinclair , John Dos Passos , Sinclair Lewis , Floyd Dell and Theodore Dreiser . He wrote poems, dramas and short stories, but his strengths were literary criticism .

Early works

His work Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870–1930 , published in 1931, offered a complete overview of symbolism in literature . He dealt with the works of Arthur Rimbaud , Auguste Villiers de L'Isle-Adam (the author of Axel ), William Butler Yeats , Paul Valéry , TS Eliot , Marcel Proust , James Joyce and Gertrude Stein .

In his most important work on the way to the Finland Station (To the Finland Station) , which appeared in 1940, Wilson described the history of European socialism of the first studies in 1824 by Jules Michelet about Giambattista Vico until the arrival of Lenin in 1917 at the Finnish train station in Saint Petersburg , which led to the Bolshevik revolution . His collection of short stories Memoire of Hecate County , published by Doubleday in 1946 and considered by Wilson to be his best book, was banned in the United States because of profanity. It was only allowed to go into print again when the discussions about Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita , which appeared in the United States in 1958, broadened the definition of what is allowed in literature.

Wilson was interested in modern culture as a whole, and many of his publications go beyond mere literary criticism. His first works were heavily influenced by the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx and reflect his keen interest in their works.

Personal relationships

Wilson's reviews raised public awareness of American writers Ernest Hemingway , John Dos Passos , William Faulkner , F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Vladimir Nabokov . He was instrumental in the current interpretation of the works of Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling .

Edmund Wilson studied at Princeton with Fitzgerald, who referred to Wilson as his "intellectual conscience". After Fitzgerald's early death from a heart attack in December 1940 at the age of only 44, Wilson posthumously published two books by Fitzgerald ( The Last Taikun and The Crack-Up ). He supported the Fitzgerald family and did not get paid for his work.

He was also friends with Nabokov, with whom he conducted a lively correspondence and whose works he made available to the Western public. However, their friendship was tarnished by Wilson's lack of enthusiasm for Nabokov's work Lolita and finally broke up after a dispute over Wilson's public criticism of Nabokov's idiosyncratic translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin .

Edmund Wilson was often indifferent to the injuries that his often harsh criticisms inflicted on others. This was of little consequence to his work as a literary critic, but it had a major impact on his personal relationships.

Wilson was married several times and probably also had other acquaintances. His first wife was Mary Blair, who appeared in Eugene O'Neill's theater company. His second wife, Margaret Canby, is described as a charming and cultured woman whom Wilson arguably considered more of a friend. After her death in an accident two years after the wedding, Wilson wrote a long lamentation for her and later said that he had taken on serious guilt for not respecting her person. From 1938 to 1946 he was married to the also well-known literary critic Mary McCarthy . She admired his literacy and his keen understanding; they worked together several times. In an article in The New Yorker , Louis Menand once wrote The marriage to McCarthy was a mistake that neither side wanted to be first to admit. When they fought, he would retreat into his study and lock the door; she would set piles of paper on fire and try to push them under it. (Eng .: The marriage to McCarthy was a mistake that neither of the two wanted to admit at first. If there was an argument, he closed the door and immersed himself in his work. She, on the other hand, would have set tons of paper on fire and tried to close the door under the door to get.).

Wilson was also in correspondence with Anaïs Nin and attacked her for her surrealist style as opposed to realism , which then ended in textual improvements by Wilson and later in his marriage proposal to her in which he said he wanted to teach her to write. She probably considered that an insult. He later married Elena Mumm Thornton, but continued to have other relationships, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay .

During the cold war

Wilson condemned American Cold War politics . He took part in a tax strike and paid no income tax from 1946 to 1955. This was later investigated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US federal tax agency. At the same time he did not pay any state income tax either, which, however, had little to do with the tax strike and the Cold War.

After a settlement, he was sentenced to a fine of $ 25,000.00 instead of the original $ 69,000.00, possibly due to his political contacts with the Kennedy administration . He was spared a prison sentence. In his 1963 book The Cold War and the Income Tax: A Protest , Wilson argued that, paradoxically , as a result of the arms race with the Soviet Union, under the guise of combating communism, American civil liberties had been violated. For these reasons Wilson was also against the participation of the United States in the Vietnam War .

Wilson's opinion of President Lyndon Johnson was very negative. Historian Eric Goldman writes in his memoir, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson , when he invited Edmund Wilson to a lecture of his own (Wilson's) works during the White House Festival of the Arts in 1965 on behalf of President Johnson : Wilson declined with a brusqueness that I never experienced before or after in the case of an invitation in the name of the President and First Lady. (Eng. Wilson declined an invitation on behalf of the President and his wife as brusquely as I have never seen before or after.)


  • Axel's Castle : A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 , New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931.
  • To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History , Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1940.
  • On the way to the Finnish train station: About history and historiography , Suhrkamp Taschenbuch 194, Frankfurt a. M. 1974.
  • The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature , Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1941.
  • (editor) The Shock of Recognition: The Development of Literature in the US Recorded by the Men Who Made It , New York, NY: Modern Library, 1943.
    • Volume I. The Nineteenth Century.
    • Volume II. The Twentieth Century.
  • Memoirs of Hecate County , Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1946.
  • The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subjects , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1948.
  • Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1950.
  • The Shores of Light: A Literary Chronicle of the Twenties and Thirties , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953.
  • The Scrolls from the Dead Sea , Fontana Books, 1955.
  • Red, Black, Blond and Olive: Studies in Four Civilizations: Zuni; Hainti; Soviet Russia; Israel , London: WH Allen, 1956.
  • A Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956.
  • The American Earthquake: A Documentary of the Twenties and Thirties (A Documentary of the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and the New Deal) , Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958.
  • Apologies to the Iroquois , New York, NY: Vintage, 1960.
  • Patriotic Gore : Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962.
  • The Cold War and the Income Tax: A protest , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1964.
  • The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 1950-1965 , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.
  • Europe without Baedeker: Sketches among the Ruins of Italy, Greece and England, with Notes from a European Diary: 1963-64: Paris, Rome, Budapest , London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1967.
  • The Twenties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period , ed. Leon Edel, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.
  • The Thirties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period , ed. Leon Edel, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
  • The Forties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period , ed. Leon Edel, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.
  • The Fifties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period , ed. Leon Edel, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.
  • The Sixties: The Last Journal 1960-1972 , ed. Lewis M. Dabney, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993.
  • Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 , ed. Simon Karlinsky, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979; "Revised and Expanded Edition," 2001.
  • Edmund Wilson: The Man in Letters , ed.Janet Groth and David Castronovo, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992.

Web links

Single receipts

  1. Dieter E. Zimmer : Cyclone Lolita. Information on an epoch-making novel . Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2008, p. 19.