A plop on the doormat and Volume 177 in the Library of America is in the house: Edmund Wilson's writings from the 1930s and 1940s, including Classics and Commercials, The Triple Thinkers and The Wound and the Bow. There is something appropriate and even - without wanting to be corny about it - moving about seeing Wilson take his place in the Library of America. The Library was his idea: he lobbied hard for non-academic, reader-friendly editions of American classic writers, in 'complete and compact' form. 'It is absurd that our most read and studied writers should not be available in their entirety in any convenient form,' he argued. The project was modelled on the French Pléiade, and it shows, in the conception, the look and feel of the books and in the beautiful quality of the binding and printing. The Library has filled its mission admirably and most of America's acknowledged great writers are represented. (The omissions smack of rows over royalties and copyright: no Ernest Hemingway, no Emily Dickinson, no Marianne Moore.) Some have even argued that the brief has been stretched too far. Wilson's canonisation came after those of Charles Brockden Brown, H.P. Lovecraft, James Weldon Johnson, George Kaufman, William Bartram and Theodore Roosevelt. He might not have been too chuffed about that.
LRB 19 June 2008 | PDF Download