I have tried on numerous occasions to read the works of my grandmother’s cousin Edmund Wilson, but I usually read a chapter or two and I have to acknowledge that I don’t have the foggiest idea what he is talking about. Throughout my life, tho, I have always found that people who are a lot smarter than I am say he is a great writer, so I keep at it.
I finally found great enjoyment reading Patriotic Gore (dumb name for a book), so I decided to try Axel’s Castle. I found an old copy for the right price, heavily underlined by some guy named Jack Shadrian, so I’ve been taking it to the gym because I don’t have to worry about it being damaged in the sauna.
I still don’t get Cousin Bunny. He’s still over my head. But I have learned a lot about Williams Butler Yeats and Paul Valery and T.S. Eliot. And I intend to soldier on and learn more about Marcel Proust and James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. I can’t quite get what he’s saying but it’s a lot easier than reading these books for myself. Except for Yeats. He’s a wonderful easy read, whatever you pick up. I find that almost everyone I really care about has a snatch of his poetry that they keep in a special place like a locket over their heart.
I’ have also found a biography of Cousin Bunny by David Castronovo that I picked up to see if I could find a reference to my grandmother, Esther Kimball, later Esther Kimball Hartshorne Megargee, who taught me how to behave. I haven’t found one, but there is a reference to Wilson’s first literary work, which was a collaboration with her brother Sandy.
Uncle Sandy went to Princeton with Bunny and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but after he flunked out of medical school, he tried to rape his sister, my grandmother, and kill his mother, my great-grandmother, and was institutionalized for fifty years. My Uncle Nat visited him at the loony bin back in the fifties and reported that Sandy thought Calvin Coolidge was doing a darn good job.
What you can count on from Cousin Bunny is that he will read all these long boring works for you and give you the gist, and though he’s hard to understand, it still saves you a lot of time. If only I had my college roommate Mark Webber here to explain what Wilson is talking about, I’d be all set.