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Edmund Wilson and a "Truly Human Culture" Edmund Wilson, Upstate: Records and Recollections of Northern New York. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1971; Toronto: Doubleday, 1971. Pp. 386. $8.95. Edmund Wilson, A Window on Russia: for the Use of Foreign Readers. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1972; Toronto: Doubleday, 1972. Pp. 280. $9.25. Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: a Study in the Writing and Acting of History. With a New Introduction. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1972; Toronto, Doubleday, 1972. Pp. xvii+ 590. $17.25. Leonard Kriegel, Edmund Wilson. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971; Don Mills: Burns and MacEachern, 1971. Pp. 145. $7.25. KERRY MCSWEENEY Edmund Wilson, who died last June at the age of seventy-seven at his ancestral home in Talcottville in upstate New York, was by almost universal consent the leading twentieth-century American man of letters. His energies were protean, and the range of subjects upon which he wrote - always interestingly., often authoritatively., and sometimes, especially in his later years, crankily- is astonishing. His subjects include the Dead Sea scrolls, the Iroquois, income tax, the literatures and cultures of - inter alia - Canada, Haiti, Israel, Hungary, and Russia. There are a virtually countless number of essays, articles and reviews on literary subjects, some of them of classic stature, first-rate political and social reportage on the United States during the depression years, and other fine first-hand reporting - particularly his account of the plight of Europe at the end of World War II in Europe Without Baedeker: Sketches among the Ruins of Italy, Greece and England. There are also poems and stories, a novel, and a number of plays, which, if they will never occupy in Wilson's canon as major a place as he thought they deserved, are by no means uninteresting. And each of his three most major works - Axel's Castle: a Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 (1931), To the Finland Station: a Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940), and Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962) - is both masterly in itself and quite different in subject matter from the others. Despite ill-health, Wilson's last years were spent (to use his own phrase) with the bit between his teeth. The range of his interests is amply demonstrated in his three most recently published works. (I say "most THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. IV, NO. 1, SPRING 1973 recently" and not "last" because the publication of Wilson's journals in five or six volumes edited by Leon Edel will begin early next year. And it is to be hoped that his publishers will gather together the literary and other pieces written after 1965.) The three new books are Upstate: Records and Recollections of Northern New York, A Window on Russia: for the Use of Foreign Readers, and a reissue - with a new Introduction of To the Finland Station. Upstate, one of Wilson's most successful books, should do much to qualify the wide-spread view that in his later years he became curmudgeonly , misanthropic and out of touch with contemporary America. Upstate begins with an historic sketch of Lewis county and the village of Talcottville, more particularly of the religions of its early settlers, and an account of Wilson's own ancestors and relatives. (Wilson's home in Talcottville, the last eighteenth-century "old stone house" he inherited from his mother, had been in the family's possession for over a hundred years.) But the bulk of Upstate is the year by year diary account of the summers Wilson spent in Talcottville between 1950, when he returned after an absence of seventeen years, and 1970. Since Wilson was so omnivorously curious, so perceptive and so articulate , his diary is full of interesting information, observations and anecdotes . There is an account of a visit to Lily Dale, the seedy spiritualistic community in Chautauqua County, and of a trip to Ithaca to visit Vladimir Nabokov. These two literary titans amused themselves by reading from the pornographic Histoire d'O which at one point reduced them to "giggling like schoolboys." We come to know the Pcolars, an Hungarian family whom Wilson...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 96-106
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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