The Prometheus of American Criticism

Edmund Wilson has been an object of saintly veneration and nostalgia to those old
enough to remember when literary critics were arbiters of how people spent their
time between meals and work. Who now, in the age of the hatchet job and the
shrinking Books section, speaks of ‘permanent criticism,’ the criticism that endures
because it ranks as literature itself ? The Library of America has just published
Wilson’s collected works in an elegant two-volume set spanning the critic’s most
productive decades – the 20s, 30s and 40s. Coming a year after Lewis Dabney’s
definitive biography, the resurrection of such sorely missed volumes as The Shores
of Light, Axel’s Castle and The Wound and the Bow surely qualifies an ‘event’
publication. Now there’s a term the owlish sage of Red Bank would have loathed
to no end.

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