By Janet Groth
“The greatest literary critic of the twentieth century.”
New York magazine
In the course of a career that spanned five decades, Edmund Wilson’s literary output was impressive. His life’s work includes five volumes of poetry, two works of fiction, thirteen plays, and more than twenty volumes of social commentary on travel, politics, history, religion, anthropology, and economics. It is, however, his criticism for which Wilson is best known. To note a few of his accomplishments as a critic, Wilson furthered the understanding and appreciation of the poetry of W.B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, promoted the enigmatic prose of Marcel Proust and James Joyce, and pioneered the study of women writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Kate Chopin.
With the advent of contemporary concerns in literary criticism, the work of Edmund Wilson is frequently relegated to a lesser role. In this energetic and convincing study of one of America’s most distinguished literary critics, Janet Groth sets out to restore Wilson’s work to a place of prominence amongst current critical modes. She offers extended and rigorous treatments of Wilson’s most important critical works and traces his roots as a critic in the work of Matthew Arnold, Sainte-Beuve and Taine, demonstrating how Wilson used the work of Frued and Marx to update this tradition. Most importantly, however, Groth demonstrates that Wilson’s work has significance today and that lasting value in Wilson’s critical studies is his constant belief in the close relationship between life and literature.
Janet Groth is emeritus professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She is the author of Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time. More info →
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