Wilson, Edmund

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Wilson, Edmund

Edmund Wilson, 1895–1972, American critic and author, b. Red Bank, N.J. grad. Princeton, 1916. He is considered one of the most important American literary and social critics of the 20th cent. From 1920 to 1921 he was managing editor of Vanity Fair, and he was later on the staffs of the New Republic (1926–31) and New Yorker (1944–48). In the 1930s he was much interested in the theories of Freud and Marx, ideas that are treated in many of his works. Among his major writings are Axel's Castle (1931), a study of symbolism (see symbolists) and other imaginative modernist literatures; The Wound and the Bow (1941); The Shores of Light (1952); and Patriotic Gore (1962), on the American Civil War.

As a critic Wilson was concerned with the social, psychological, and political conditions that shape literary ideas. His social studies include To the Finland Station (1940), a history of the European revolutionary tradition that praises the Soviet Union (a position he soon reversed), and The American Earthquake (1958), a record of the Great Depression. His versatility is further revealed in his I Thought of Daisy (1929), a novel; Memoirs of Hecate County (1949), short stories; and Five Plays (1954). Wilson also edited F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished The Last Tycoon and posthumous The Crack-up (both: 1945). His later works include Israel and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1955), A Window on Russia (1973), and The Devils and Canon Barham: 10 Essays on Poets, Novelists, and Monsters (1973). Wilson's third wife was the author Mary McCarthy.

See his autobiographical Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty (1956) and Upstate: Records and Recollections of Northern New York (1971); his notebooks and diaries, ed. by L. Edel (4 vol., 1975–86); his letters, ed. by E. Wilson (1977); his letters with Vladimir Nabokov, ed. by S. Karlinsky (1979); other letters, ed. by D. Castronova and J. Groth (2002); memoirs of his daughter, R. Wilson (1989); biographies by C. P. Frank (1970), J. Groth (1989), J. Meyers (1995), and L. M. Dabney (2005); studies by G. Douglas (1983) and D. Castronovo (1984 and 1998); bibliography by R. D. Ramsey (1971).

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