The Sixties

Edmund Wilson, the doyen of American literary critics throughout much of the twentieth century, was an obsessive recorder of his times, and his private journals, posthumously published, provide some of the most candid and penetrating observations of our national life from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. Wilson’s journals, begun in the heyday of America’s jazz age and F. Scott Fitzgerald and ending in the chilling years of Vietnam and Richard M. Nixon, are an intensely realized canvas of literary, cultural, political, sexual, and social life. The scope of Wilson’s interests, personal and intellectual, was immense, and his record of those interests in his journals ranges from the erudite to the erotic.

In this final volume, outstandingly edited by Lewis Dabney, wilson confronts the decline of his own physical nature with a stoic objectivity of observation combined with a defiance of limitations—at seventy-five, he was still seducing young, attractive women with some success, and having enough honesty to wonder what made it possible. “It’s your brain,” one of them told him, and then Wilson’s journal notes the woman “couldn’t help giggling, as I did.” The words, and Wilson’s notation of them, have a combination of veracity and mortality that’s characteristic of this volume, which is honest and unsparing of everyone, including Wilson himself.

Possessing a formidable intellect, Wilson reveals himself as unafraid to...

(The entire section is 528 words.)