I’ve always had trouble understanding the works of my grandmother’s cousin, Edmund Wilson, but I have continued to labor away, largely as a point of family pride. Axel’s Castle and To the Finland Station receive high praise from people smarter than I, but I have always had trouble understanding them.
But I’ve found Wilson’s journals are very accessible, and fascinating. Here is a guy who counts as close friends people like W.H. Auden, Arthur Schlesssinger, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Anita Loos, and so many others. He’s most famous for ‘discovering’ people like F. Scott Fitsgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Wilson’s journals are published by decade: The Twenties, The Thirties, The Forties, etc. and I’ve started with The Sixties, when he is an old man and can’t get into as much trouble as he used to.
He suffers from gout and angina and other woes, but still travels around the world meeting with all kinds of literary notables. He dines at the White House, where he pointedly refuses to dicuss his latest work with President Kennedy, probably because in the introduction to Patriotic Gore, his book on the literature of the Civil War era, he includes a scathing criticism of American foreign policy.
He divides his time between his old stone house in Talcottville, N.Y. and his home in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, with frequent trips to New York City and Europe.
Despite his advanced age and his many literary and romantic exploits in his younger days, he refuses to live in the past and is always interested in the latest thing. In the early sixties, he’s close to the famous comedy team Nichols and May, and notes that they can’t be married to each other, or to anyone else, either.
He’s also an amateur magician and a puppet fancier, and to keep his mind active, he’s learning Hungarian!
He records numerous visits with my grandmother, visits Uncle Sandy in the mental hospital, and later attends Sandy’s funeral, where he meets with my father and his two brothers.
And in one entry, he’s visiting his daughter Rosalind in Cambridge and, he reports, Bob Hartshorne arrives with his wife and three children, one of whom is me!
I’m having such fun with The Sixties, and can’t wait to read the other four volumes.