The/The Forties/The Fifties Thirties Critical Context - Essay

Edmund Wilson

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The journal form is one that relatively few writers have chosen, and the most famous of those who have (such as Andre Gide and the Goncourt brothers) have been French. Writers who choose to record their most intimate actions and thoughts ordinarily use diaries for the purpose, using journals, if at all, to note impressions and ideas they might use in more formal writings. Wilson’s journals combine the two functions to an unusual degree.

In his own career, Wilson’s journals fill a special role. He was a prolific, almost a compulsive, writer; thirty-one books of his writings have been published, testimony to the fact that he wrote about everything that interested him, and he found few things in the world that did not. Most of his other works, however, are relatively formal both in style and in content. They are also impersonal, in the sense that Wilson believed that the job of the literary and social critic was to act as an objective observer, commenting on what he saw in a detached fashion for the information and edification of his audience.

In the journals, Wilson was under no such constraints. He felt free to record gossip, to give vent to his dislikes, and to record his special passions. What is perhaps most impressive about these volumes is their confirmation of what the more formal studies imply: the amazing range of Wilson’s interests and of his knowledge. The indexes of all three volumes are highly impressive in the diversity of...

(The entire section is 527 words.)