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To the Life of the Silver Harbor

Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy on Cape Cod

Reuel K. Wilson

Publication Year: 2008

The Cape as evoked and experienced by a legendary literary couple Edmund Wilson (1895–1972) and Mary McCarthy (1912–1989), famed authors, literary critics, libertines, and leftists, were married for seven years and had one child together, Reuel K. Wilson. While bringing forward new biographical revelations, as well as texts that have never been published before, Reuel K. Wilson chronicles his parents’ lives on Cape Cod, together and apart, while examining their relationships with the landscape around them, both human and physical. The book combines biography, cultural history, and literary analysis in an effort to, as the author writes, “impart a sense of the two protagonists’ flesh, blood, nerves, and determination to make an artistic synthesis from observation and experience. If they recreate the place, my role has been to recreate them in it.”

Published by: University Press of New England

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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p. ix

First and foremost, Bowden Broadwater and Michael Macdonald were indispensable sources of in-depth information on my parent’s lives and times. The following people, some now unfortunately deceased, have given me substantial help: Richard Bailey, Bing Bingam,...

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pp. xi-xiii

Both of my parents, Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy, present a formidable challenge to biographers and critics. The oeuvre of each encompasses literary criticism, fiction, autobiography, political journalism, the travelogue— and, in...


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p. xv

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1 | The Background

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pp. 1-16

With its crystal-clear light and water, its heady salt air, and striking palette of primary colors, Cape Cod has a special mystique that has intrigued many generations of visitors, some of whom became permanent residents. Surrounded by water, and looking toward Europe, the Cape (as it is commonly known) seems remote and exotic, despite its relative proximity to the East Coast urban centers of Boston and New York. During the...

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2 | Edmund Wilson's Provincetown in the Twenties and Thirties

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pp. 17-51

Wilson’s first documented visit to Cape Cod took place in the summer of 1920, when he visited Edna St. Vincent Millay and her family in Truro. He had met the poet earlier that year in New York. Already a devoted admirer of her work, he was instantly smitten by her persona. They became friends and soon lovers. The friendship way outlasted...

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3 | Edmund Wilson's Wellfleet, 1941-1972

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pp. 52-95

By 1939 Wilson had decided to buy a house on Cape Cod, and he enlisted his old friends Charles ( Charley) and Adelaide Walker to help him find one. Charley and Wilson had known each other since college, when the former worked on the Yale Literary Magazine and the latter wrote for the Nassau Literary Magazine at Princeton. They both joined the army...

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4 | Edmund Wilson's Cape Cod Poetry

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pp. 96-114

My father enjoyed writing poetry, and he practiced the art with great technical expertise. He can best be described as a gifted amateur who wrote poetry, mostly occasional, over the span of his lifetime. Much of his serious...

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5 | Mary McCarthy on Cape Cod: The Post-Wilson Years, from the Unfinished "Lost Week" to A Charmed Life

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pp. 115-138

In January 194 Mary McCarthy definitively left Wilson and the house he was renting at Henderson Place, off East Eighty-seventh Street, by the East River in Manhattan. She took me with her, and we led something of a gypsy life over the next few months in the city. The divorce would be finalized in October of the same year....

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6 | Remembering My Parents and Cape Cod

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pp. 139-170

Mearliest memories revolve around a handsome white house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Built around 1840 by Richard (“Rich”) Freeman, it fronts on to Route 6, the main north-south artery of Cape Cod. Resting midway down a low-lying rise called Money Hill, it once boasted...

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pp. 171-173

When Helen Wilson, my half sister and neighbor in the big house next door, and I, and those who still remember Edmund Wilson are gone, I wonder how much of him will remain here. Not much, I suspect. The only literary tourists who come to Wellfleet these days are writers who...


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pp. 175-183


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pp. 185-187


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pp. 189-200

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658092
E-ISBN-10: 1584658096
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657132
Print-ISBN-10: 1584657138

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 30 illus.
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 667077196
MUSE Marc Record: Download for To the Life of the Silver Harbor

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Subject Headings

  • Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972 -- Homes and haunts -- Massachusetts -- Cape Cod.
  • McCarthy, Mary, 1912-1989 -- Homes and haunts -- Massachusetts -- Cape Cod.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Critics -- United States -- Biography.
  • Cape Cod (Mass.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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