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10 February 1994
Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... It’s for this sort of reason that Brightman decides not to take sides when the next marriage, to Edmund Wilson, erupts into such violence: she’s pretty sure that McCarthy harboured a hysterical, vengeful monster which got out and raved long before Wilson co-operated with her darker self by drunkenly attacking her ...
6 December 1979
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different. ‘Literature’ was, as an idea, venerated by both parties, but ...


John Lanchester

6 October 1994
The Magician’s Doubts 
by Michael Wood.
Chatto, 252 pp., £18, August 1994, 0 7011 6197 3
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... process that turned Hemingway into the ‘arrogant, belligerent and boastful’ caricature whom Edmund Wilson believed to be ‘certainly the worst-invented character to be found in the author’s work’; it is the process that turned Evelyn Waugh into Gilbert Pinfold. Though of course, the transformation is never complete, and never succeeds in fully ...

He had it all

Alex Harvey: Fitzgerald’s Decade

5 July 2018
Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald 
by David S. Brown.
Harvard, 424 pp., £21.95, May 2017, 978 0 674 50482 0
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‘I’d Die for You’ and Other Lost Stories 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Scribner, 384 pp., £9.99, April 2018, 978 1 4711 6473 6
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... showers of money, public adulation and staggering self-belief. ‘I really believe,’ he wrote to Edmund Wilson, whom he had met at Princeton, that ‘no one else could have written so searchingly the story of the youth of our generation.’ But he was already anticipating his later failure. ‘I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall ...

Someone Else

Peter Campbell

17 April 1986
In the American West 
by Richard Avedon.
Thames and Hudson, 172 pp., £40, October 1985, 0 500 54110 8
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by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Thames and Hudson, 283 pp., £35, October 1985, 0 500 54109 4
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... is that many of Cartier-Bresson’s sitters are famous: Sartre, Bonnard, Carson McCullers, Edmund Wilson. The pictures seem to reinforce what we know of the sitters, and also to be direct evidence of the truth of what we know. But the evidence is really little more direct than the evidence David’s portraits give us of revolutionary ...


David Gilmour

1 June 1989
Prepared for the worst: Selected Essays and Minority Reports 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Chatto, 357 pp., £15.95, April 1989, 0 7011 3459 3
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... degenerated into neo-conservatism while the New Republic, once the paper of Walter Lippmann and Edmund Wilson, has become ‘a vulgar echo chamber for the Contras and corporate raiders’. The failure of all but a handful of journalists and writers to challenge Reagan’s madder foreign policies prompts a neat comment from Hitchens: ‘This barely ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Hemingway the Spy

16 February 2017
... Uncle Joe? Certainly, the Civil War had given Hemingway a soft spot for communist saboteurs – Edmund Wilson had swatted him as ‘the Hotel Florida Stalinist’ – but it also reconciled him to a few anti-fascist power brokers at home, such as the treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr, for whom Hemingway agreed to ‘look into’ the Chinese during ...

Royal Americans

D.A.N. Jones

4 October 1984
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 657 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 434 83077 1
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Stars and Bars 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 255 pp., £8.50, September 1984, 0 241 11343 1
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... Lincoln’s contribution to the purification of the language has been persuasively discussed by Edmund Wilson: he inspired in others a similar ‘lucidity, precision and terseness’, a better rhetoric, a ‘language of responsibility’. Wilson’s discussion occurs in his study of the literature of the American ...


John Sturrock

24 May 1990
Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew Bruccoli.
Weidenfeld, 582 pp., £29.95, February 1990, 0 297 81034 0
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... then sharp, then finally embittered exchanges which he had over almost twenty years with Edmund Wilson: an epistolary novel in which a friendship shrank and died in the space separating two bad-tempered writers who could not agree politically about the Soviet Union nor find common ground over the rules of Russian and English metrics. There is an ...
12 May 1994
John Steinbeck: A Biography 
by Jay Parini.
Heinemann, 605 pp., £20, March 1994, 0 434 57492 9
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... elicited accusations of downright plagiarism from Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote indignantly to Edmund Wilson: I’d like to put you on to something about Steinbeck. He is a rather cagey cribber. Most of us begin as imitators but it is something else for a man of his years and reputation to steal a whole scene as he did in Mice and Men. I’m sending ...

Nothing for Ever and Ever

Frank Kermode: Housman’s Pleasures

5 July 2007
The Letters of A.E. Housman 
edited by Archie Burnett.
Oxford, 1228 pp., £180, March 2007, 978 0 19 818496 6
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... do; he would now (at 71) ‘do nothing for ever and ever’. In his well-known essay on Housman, Edmund Wilson made a special point of the author’s giving up work on a poet as interesting as Propertius in order to spend his life with Manilius. Wilson regarded the switch from love poems to obsolete science as ...

His Generation

Keith Gessen: A Sad Old Literary Man

19 June 2008
Alfred Kazin: A Biography 
by Richard Cook.
Yale, 452 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 300 11505 5
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... ask again. Kazin eventually became the most prominent and influential working reviewer in America (Edmund Wilson gave up this role sometime during the 1930s). More than that, he was reviewing books at a time when Americans believed very much in the necessity of doing so – they were taking over the world, after all, and should know some things about ...

Carnival Time

Peter Craven

18 February 1988
The Remake 
by Clive James.
Cape, 223 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 224 02515 5
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In the Land of Oz 
by Howard Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 380 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 241 12110 8
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... crack that Kenneth Tynan, with his endless name-dropping glitter, was much brighter than Edmund Wilson. Sometimes, though, he achieves that level tone which is unshowy (and, yes, metropolitan). Not unlike Edmund Wilson himself. My preamble has been so long because I want to indicate that James is a figure ...
21 July 1983
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays 
by J.R.R. Tolkien, editor Christopher Tolkien .
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £9.95, March 1983, 0 04 809019 0
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TheRoad to Middle-Earth 
by T.A. Shippey.
Allen and Unwin, 252 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 0 04 809018 2
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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode 
 by J.R.R. Tolkien, editor Alan Bliss.
Allen and Unwin, 180 pp., £9.95, January 1983, 0 04 829003 3
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... reception of The Lord of the Rings. The critical judgments of reviewers such as Philip Toynbee and Edmund Wilson are explained by the animosity generated by the Oxford English School’s old and false distinction between Language and Literature. Tolkien had little time for literary critics, although literary criticism was an activity for which he himself ...


Janet Todd

21 December 1989
Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up 
by Hermione Lee.
Virago, 409 pp., £12.99, October 1989, 0 86068 661 2
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... the absurd history of the idealised inarticulate farmer: Cather ‘turns him Swede’, he wrote. Edmund Wilson accused her of failing at characterisation and storytelling: she may be a ‘good craftsman’ but she has ‘an anemia of the imagination’ and is given ‘to terrible lapses into feminine melodrama’. Discussing ‘the subtle failure of her ...

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