To look again at The Shores of Light, Edmund Wilson's collection of his reviews in the Twenties and Thirties, is to marvel at his ability to discern, analyse and assess the American talents of the period as soon as they poked nose above ground. Hemingway was spotted with the first publication of In our time in 1924 (the edition 170 copies) as a writer of distinctive prose which had 'more artistic integrity' than anything else written about World War One by an American. Wilson's piece about The Waste Land, written on its appearance, remains one of the most perceptive articles about the poem, and in it he remarks that the earlier Prufrock volume can now be seen 'to stain the whole sea' of modern verse. His advocacy of Scott Fitzgerald began with, or endured through, the appalling This Side of Paradise to the triumph of Gatsby. Stevens, Cummings, Pound, Crane, Dos Passos: their merits and possibilities of development were noted at an early stage in their careers. For two decades or a little more, Wilson was almost infallibly discerning about recent American writers, about their British counterparts much less so. He observed at one point that Louis MacNeice sometimes sounded like 'a serious Ogden Nash'.
LRB 5 December 1991 | PDF Download