Wilder on Our Town: Thornton writes to Malcolm Cowley


From a letter to Malcolm Cowley (p. 501, Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder) (Stationary embossed The Princeton Inn/ Princeton, New Jersey ) Newberry

50 Deepwood Drive March 1952

Dear Malcolm:

Wish I could be there--not for the performance, but for the dress rehearsal. That would give me a chance to urge them not to make the last act lugubrious. (But I got to be in NY April 1--those tickets bought long in advance for Caesar and Cleopatra.*)

There's one word in Our Town that causes me endless distress. At the close of Act II the clergyman thinks aloud and ends up with "one marriage in a thousand times is interesting." How did I happen to give such a cynical impression? because I had incorporated into myself G. Stein's use of the word--and I had failed to realize that the rest of the world didn't use it in the same sense.

She'd say: human nature is occupying by it's not interesting; it's the human mind that's interesting.

Or: Science is not interesting; once you know that there can be an answer to a question it is not interesting...etc.

What she meant was: basically important...or of significance for all.

What I meant was : "a Mozart is born..."

It's awful the way one's "associations" can play one false; but I suppose its worse not to have a lively network of just such associations.

[One of the reasons I like to play that role is that I can attempt to "save" that moment; I do the first half of the speech dreamy and grave and then suddenly break out into a smile on that word!]

When you've got a clear spell from whatever other work you're doing I'll drive up and bring a packet of material.



*Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh played on alternate nights in George Bernard Shaw's Casar and Cleopatra and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in New York from December 1951 to April 1952.

About Malcolm Cowley In 1934 Malcolm Cowley published an autobiographical literary history, Exile's Return: A Narrative of Ideas, and established himself as an important writer. Three decades later in 1965 the editor of Literary Times would write, "Malcolm Cowley is, next to Edmund Wilson, the finest literary historian and critic . . . in America today." Visit The Poetry Foundation to read more.