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Wilson and the Academy

In response to:

Lessons of the Master from the November 25, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

The patronizing tone of Professor Crews’s review of Edmund Wilson seems to be based on his idea of the current estimate of Wilson’s value in the academic community. I say “seems” because the only works actually mentioned are an old essay by Delmore Schwartz and an old book by Stanley Edgar Hyman. Nevertheless we are led to believe, in this review, that nearly everyone in the know thinks of Wilson as “superficial” and “evasive” and “out of fashion.” It is suggested that he merely “describes” what his betters “analyze.”

Professor Crews has more knowledge of the academic world than I do, but if what he says about its judgment is actually true then I am content that his knowledge should remain greater. On the other hand, I would like to say, in the spirit of Professor Crews’s practice of anonymous attribution, that in the literary world the reputation of Edmund Wilson has never been “higher.” His “fussy” essays are awaited with eagerness and read with joy, and some of the best of them are in the present book. Wilson is a great American writer, one of the most important the century has produced, and I am depressed that a professor should link his name with that of Newton Arvin.

As for Wilson’s political ideas, it is most unfortunate that events have made them more relevant today than ever. The sea slugs are at war again. When our government sets out to destroy Vietnam for its own good, as it has, then I think it is not too much to say that human life has ceased to mean much for many people in the East and West. This morning I received a letter, signed by reputable thinkers, suggesting that one refuse to pay his income tax as a protest against the present war. Perhaps Professor Crews should talk more with his students at Berkeley and less with professors of American Literature. I think this would be valuable to him on literary as well as political matters.

Elizabeth Hardwick

New York City

Frederick C Crews replies:

Elizabeth Hardwick’s letter rests on such a crude misconstruction of my printed statements, to say nothing of my imagined political loyalties, that I see nothing to be gained from quarreling with her. Perhaps she might simply reread my essay—unhysterically.

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