Thornton Wilder Additional Biography


Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17, 1897, in Madison, Wisconsin, into a family with a strong New England Protestant background: Congregationalist on his father Amos’s side, Presbyterian on his mother Isabella’s. An older brother, Amos, became a professor of theology and commentator on religious poetry, and among Wilder’s three younger sisters was Isabel, with whom he would later make his home and share the closest emotional attachment of his life. When their father was appointed consul general to Hong Kong and later to Shanghai in the first decade of the new century, the family lived with him for brief periods in each city, though the young Wilder was educated mostly in California. After he was graduated from Berkeley High School in 1915, Wilder went to Oberlin College in Ohio, later transferring to Yale, from which he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1920. While in college, he wrote numerous “three-minute plays,” some of which would be included among the sixteen somewhat precious and pretentious closet dramas that reached print as The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays, as well as his first full-length effort, The Trumpet Shall Sound. Somewhat similar to Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (pr. 1610) in its incidents and thematic emphasis on justice, this early play was finally produced by the American Laboratory Theatre in New York in 1927.

While studying archaeology at the American Academy in Rome after college, Wilder began writing fiction. After returning to the United States, he taught French at the Lawrenceville School for Boys in New Jersey for much of the 1920’s, staying there—with time out to attend Princeton for a master of arts degree and for a stint...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201294-Wilder.jpg Thornton Wilder. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, Thornton Niven Wilder was one of twentieth century America’s leading playwrights and novelists. Born on April 17, 1897, in Madison, Wisconsin, he was the son of Amos Parker Wilder, editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, and Isabella Thornton Niven Wilder. Though his father disapproved of writers, all five Wilder children—Amos, Charlotte, Isabel, Janet Frances, and Thornton—became authors. His father’s peripatetic career, ranging from Madison to Hong Kong to New Haven, Connecticut, guaranteed Wilder a sophisticated upbringing. After attending high school in Chefoo, China, and Ojai and Berkeley, California, Wilder went to Oberlin College for two years, and then received his bachelor’s degree in 1920 from Yale University. During World War I, Wilder was a corporal in the Coast Artillery Corps. His education continued with a year in Rome at the American Academy, where he collected material for his first published novel, The Cabala, originally entitled “Memoirs of a Roman Student,” a description of aristocratic life in contemporary Italy. The receipt of a master’s degree in French from Princeton University in 1926 completed Wilder’s education.

From 1921 to 1928, Wilder was housemaster and French teacher at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Torn between teaching and writing, Wilder submitted a play, The Trumpet Shall Sound, to the American Laboratory Theatre in 1926. Most critics were less than enthusiastic, The New York Times reviewer calling it “a rather murky evening.” Resigned to being an educator, Wilder nevertheless was working on the novel that would change his life, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Set in colonial Peru, it pioneered a new type of fiction, one in which diverse characters are arbitrarily brought together by an accident, in this case, the collapse of an ancient bridge. Exploring the philosophical themes of fate and freedom, this novel not only caught the popular imagination but also won for Wilder his first Pulitzer Prize.

Resigning his post at Lawrenceville in 1928, Wilder turned his attention to full-time writing. His novel The Woman of Andros, set in pre-Christian Greece, explores the questions, “How does one live?” and “What does one do first?” Wilder was fond of taking philosophical themes from the Bible or the classics (both ancient and modern) and then developing them with a new twist. Having become a celebrity. Wilder made “walking tours of Europe” with prizefighter Gene Tunney and lecture tours of America to garner material for future works. The Long Christmas Dinner was Wilder’s experiment with a play that would have a minimum of props, no curtain, and maximum attention to plot and personality. Travels in the heartland...

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Thornton Niven Wilder was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 17, 1897, the only survivor of twin brothers. His mother, the daughter of a...

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The surviving member of a pair of twin boys, Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17, 1897, in Madison, Wisconsin, where his father owned...

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Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17,1897, in Madison, Wisconsin, the survivor of twin sons born to Isabella Thornton and Amos Parker...

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Thornton Niven Wilder was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 17, 1897, along with a twin brother who did not survive childbirth. His father...

(The entire section is 343 words.)