Wednesday, August 10, 2022

oo, Edmund Wilson

So I'm adding the bibliographic references to the part of my paper in which I attempt to explain how Edmund Wilson could get so many basic facts wrong in reviewing The Lord of the Rings when he claims to have just read the entire work aloud to his child.

That required getting out of the library a copy of the collection where he reprinted his infamous review, to check quotations and page numbers. Not too many local libraries still have this book.

But I also want his previous essay collection, the one where he's equally dismissive of mystery fiction and H.P. Lovecraft, because I cite those as further instances of Wilson being abruptly and willfully dismissive of literature not to his taste.

That book is in even fewer libraries, and I'd never gotten a chance to look through it thoroughly before, so I do this time, and I find an article on John Steinbeck from 1940. It's an interesting piece, bringing out aspects of Steinbeck's work I'd never seen discussed elsewhere, even though anybody could have cited Wilson.

But even though it's mostly favorable, it's still sloppy. See the astonishment of Wilson saying that Lenny from Of Mice and Men "has murderous animal instincts." Murderous? Has Wilson read the book? Lenny isn't murderous; that means intentional. He's a gentle giant who doesn't know his own strength. That's the whole thing that makes it a tragedy; if you don't get that, you've missed the whole story.

Then there's this at the beginning of the piece. Wilson is briefly summarizing a series of Steinbeck's books, and he gets to: "In Dubious Battle was a strike novel, centering around Communist organizers and ..."

Wait a minute. "Centering around"? Did the reputedly finest American critic of the 20th century just write centering around?

Who elected this guy to a position of prestige? Could we recount the votes?

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