A 1916 graduate from Princeton, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was
voted worst poet and most likely bachelor. But by 1938, Wilson had
married for the third time and had been romantically linked with
several other women. He was also well on his way to becoming
America's preeminent man of letters.
Wilson's success came with a sordid underside. The two were
inextricably linked, according to Lewis Dabney's sympathetic
biography, Edmund Wilson, A Life in Literature.
Writing articles for "The Dial," "Vanity Fair," "The New
Republic," and "The New Yorker," as well as some 50 books, including
"Axel's Castle," "The Wound and The Bow," and "The Triple Thinkers,"
Wilson was a public critic.
Art, theater, music, film, culture, literature, history,
politics, travel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Zuni and Iroquois,
communism, Marxism, and Canadian culture: The topics came alive in
Wilson's clear and engaging style. Unlike the Modern Language
Association, which he disdained, Wilson was the "great popularizer,"
explaining abstruse literary theories to the reading public. He was
also adept at writing autobiographical essays probing even his most
He counted F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Ernest
Hemingway, W. H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Vladimir Nabokov (with whom
he had a falling out), H.L. Mencken, and Roger Straus, of Farrar,
Straus, Giroux among his friends.
Women and Wilson were mutually attracted. The problem was Wilson
felt compelled to write graphically about that attraction in his
many journals and memoirs. His two novels - "I Thought of Daisy" and
"Memoirs of Hecate County," (which was banned as obscene) were
thinly disguised paeans to his two enduring passions. The first was
the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the
second, the nightclub dancer and barmaid, Frances Minihan whose
sexuality inspired some of Wilson's most salacious writing.
There were others: Leonie Adams, Anais Nin, Louise Bogan, Djuna
Barnes, and Elizabeth Waugh - to say nothing of his four wives.
Wilson's promiscuity would have shocked his distant ancestor, Cotton
Billed as the authorized biography, this doorstop book comes 33
years after Wilson's death but adds little new information. It
follows numerous book-length studies, as well as several
biographies, including "Near the Magician" published in 1989 by
Wilson's oldest daughter, Rosalind; a memoir by Wilson's third wife,
Mary McCarthy, which painted Wilson as a brute and a philanderer;
and "Edmund Wilson, A Biography" published in 1995 (Wilson's
centennial year) by Jeffrey Meyers - well known biographer of such
literary notables as F. …