The Journals of Thornton Wilder 1939-1961

This book is among the great American literary documents deserving a place beside the journals of Emerson and Thoreau.

– Malcolm Cowley

These vivid journals…provide intimate glimpses into the private writing life of one of the most public writers. Wilder’s agile mind and wry view of life are in them–and they are as illuminating as they are documentary.

– Leon Edel

This is a rare, unique, matchless document. A nonesuch.

– Garson Kanin

A bold and diverting record of intellectual foraging and play, and of tearless self-examination.

– Daniel Aaron, New Republic

A valuable addition to the writings of Thornton Wilder. For those who have enjoyed his work, it will provide new insights into the mind and art of a major American writer.

– Marvin J. LaHood, World Literature Today

There is no man in America. . . whose words will carry farther around the earth,” Archibald MacLeish once said of Thornton Wilder. Wilder was not only a Pulitzer Prize winning author but was also a renowned lecturer, a brilliant conversationalist, and writer of some of the best letters of his period. He also had a very private side, for he kept journals that no one—not even members of his family—was permitted to read. These journals were written strictly for the author’s own use, as a way of “harnessing his notions,” to help him decide what he thought and how best it might be stated. A selection of these important journals is now published for the first time along with part of an uncompleted play. Now, a decade after his death, Wilder’s voice can be heard anew.

 

In these journals we see Wilder developing the views he expressed in his famous Norton lectures on American writers Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Melville, Poe, and Whitman, with additional reflections on Emerson and Hawthorne. Here are his thoughts on Cervantes, Stendhal, Dickens, Tolstoi, Gide, Joyce, Faulkner, and Mauriac. Here is revealed the difficult process by which some of his plays, notably The Alcestiad, came into being, and others like “The Emporium”, stubbornly refused to be born. Other subjects—narration, the theatre, science fiction, sentimentality and obscenity, music, and many of the cultural and intellectual issues of his day—appear throughout.

 

These journals are a remarkable record of a writer at work, a brilliant mind playing over various possibilities and coming to grips with the basic problem of how best to give literary expression to passionately held convictions concerning the human experience.

 

The journals were selected and edited by Donald C. Gallup, for thirty-three years Curator of the Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University and contain a Foreword by Isabel Wilder, the author’s sister.