EDMUND WILSON AND THE SOCIOLOGY OF LITERATURE

JOSEPH R FARGNOLI, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

Edmund Wilson's literary essays and reviews, which stem from a popular critical journalism characterized by an emphasis on certain psychological and social aspects of the lives of writers, can be understood as constituting a sociology of literature. These essays and reviews are generally concerned with contexts of the social and literary milieus of authors, the mimetic features of written texts, and the role and requirements of the reading public and the production of books. Historical developments tend to compose part of the background, while social and literary contexts are consistently foregrounded. In their regular lack of rigorous historical analysis and modicum of textual explication, Wilson's literary studies can be considered historical criticism only in an incidental way.^ Three important traditions of the sociology of literature converge in Wilson's writings on literary subjects. These are the English tradition of social criticism and critical journalism of De Quincey, Arnold, Stephen, and Shaw; the tradition of the nineteenth-century French historian-critics; and the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. As dominant influences upon Wilson's critical style, these traditions suggest similarities that his studies of literary subjects have to modern English, French, and Marxist sociologies of literature.^ An introduction discusses Wilson's position in relation to the English school of social criticism, the French sociological tradition of Taine, and the Marxist sociological tradition. Approaches from modern schools of the sociology of literature that derive from these traditions are applied to Wilson's literary essays and reviews. The first three chapters concentrate on Wilson's major essays and make in-depth analyses of the literary studies of Axel's Castle, The Triple Thinkers, and The Wound and the Bow. Chapter four, in somewhat of a synoptic fashion, presents similar approaches to, and analyses of, many of the reviews of Classics and Commercials, The Shores of Light, and The Bit Between My Teeth. Chapter five offers a synoptic investigation of the studies of Patriotic Gore and argues, by way of conclusion, that the peculiar critical strengths of Wilson's writings on the literature of the Civil War are best explained in terms of their qualities as aesthetically informed sociological criticism. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

JOSEPH R FARGNOLI, "EDMUND WILSON AND THE SOCIOLOGY OF LITERATURE" (1985). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI8600683.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI8600683

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