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Tuesday, October 9, 2007 3:01 pm
He May Have Been a Man of Letters, but He Was Only Flesh and Blood
Posted by: Keir Graff

To mark the occasion of Edmund Wilson’s induction to the Library of America, “that clothbound hall of literary fame,” Charles McGrath offers a fascinating profile of “the most functional alcoholic in all of American letters.” From the New York Times (“A Shaper of the Canon Gets His Place in It“):

Some of his most thrilling stuff, though, is the literary journalism he did for Vanity Fair and The New Republic. Wilson was just a young man then, barely out of Princeton, with a couple of years’ seasoning as a medic in World War I, and he seemingly took every assignment that came his way. He wrote about burlesque shows, for example, judging that the Minsky Brothers Follies was superior to Ziegfeld’s because the girls had bigger breasts and shapelier legs, and he wrote more than once about Houdini, whom he admired as "an audacious and independent being, whose career showed a rare integrity."

I’ll never think of Wilson the same way again.

One Response to “He May Have Been a Man of Letters, but He Was Only Flesh and Blood”
  1. Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » And Then He Did the Old Soft Shoe Says:

    [...] Talk about surprised expectations, Hermione Lee’s (Edith Wharton) prologue to her conversation with Philip Roth (Exit Ghost) closes with a surprising paragraph (the interview is from the New Yorker [”Age Makes a Difference“] but the introduction is only in the Observer [”An audience with Philip Roth“]): On our last evening. Philip takes me to an Italian restaurant he likes in the far West Forties, way outside any fashionable or literary neighbourhoods. (’You won’t see Joan Didion here,’ he says.) It’s a family business, full of big, tough, snazzily dressed Italian couples, quiet family groups and the chef’s relations. Philip is greeted as an old friend. Work’s over, and he settles down to have fun: anecdotes, character-sketches, jokes, songs, impersonations, come pouring out. It’s not like being at Versailles with the Sun King any more. It’s like having supper with the Marx Brothers; it’s like tuning into your very own radio channel, the Roth Station. The volume goes up as the comedy gets more outrageous, and heads turn – not in recognition, here, but because people nearby are being distracted from their own conversations. One old man, out for a quiet evening with his wife, says wrily to Roth as they leave, passing our table: ‘Try and enjoy yourself.’ [...]


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