Books: Never Apologize, Always Explain the Fifties

by Edmund Wilson; Edited by Leon Edel Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 663 pages; $25

The '50s were an important time for Edmund Wilson, a time of personal re- examination and rededication, a time of prodigious work despite illness, irritability and alcoholism. His mother died in 1951, and he inherited a 150- year-old stone house in upstate New York. There he began looking through a Hebrew Bible of his grandfather's and regretting that he could not read God's word as the Americans of an earlier generation did. So, although he was already at work on the Civil War studies that eventually became Patriotic Gore (1962), he now took up the study of Hebrew. In the course...

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