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Edmund Wilson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 187
Scope and Contents

The Edmund Wilson Papers consist of correspondence, literary manuscripts, subject files, financial records, photographs, family documents, and other personal papers and artifacts documenting Wilson's life and work. The papers span the years 1829-1986, encompassing early family documents through materials concerning posthumous publication of Wilson's last books and his journals. The bulk of the collection dates from the beginnings of Wilson's literary career, ca. 1920, through his death in 1972.

The collection is housed in 330 boxes and is organized into seven series: Correspondence, Writings, Subject Files, Financial Papers, Photographs and Drawings, Personal Papers, and Wilson and Kimball Family Papers. Oversize materials are stored in 60 boxes, 4 portfolios, and 3 broadside folders. Restricted Fragile Papers, stored in boxes 273-330, contain materials for which reference photocopies or photographic prints have been substituted in the main files.

Series I, Correspondence (boxes 1-81), consists of letters from literary colleagues, friends, family members, and business associates. Almost all letters are incoming, with a small amount of outgoing drafts and carbons interfiled. An exception is correspondence between Wilson and his parents, which includes original letters from Wilson, most dating from his service in World War I. Additional correspondence relating to Wilson is located in the Elena Wilson Papers (YCAL MSS 188), including Edmund's letters to Elena, letters to Elena from other correspondents dated after Edmund's death, and a file of photocopies of Edmund's outgoing letters collected by Elena for publication in Letters on Literature and Politics. Some correspondence is addressed or signed "Bunny," a nickname used by Wilson.

Much of Wilson's correspondence concerns his research and writing, publication of his works and response to them, works of other writers, and his views on literature. Many of Wilson's friendships were both literary and personal. He maintained long and detailed correspondence with fellow writers and friends including classmates from the Hill School and Princeton University, friends from his army service, current and former wives and lovers, and neighbors from his homes in Red Bank, New Jersey, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and upstate New York. In addition, he cultivated correspondence with people of literary and non-literary backgrounds who shared his interest in subjects such as American history, American Indian rights, Communism and labor, the Cold War, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Russian literature, and the Russian, Hebrew, and Hungarian languages.

Extensive files of correspondence are present for John Peale Bishop, John Dos Passos, Mary McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, Dawn Powell, Mario Praz, Allen Tate, and Morton Dauwen Zabel. Other correspondence reflecting Wilson's literary interests and personal relationships includes files for Leonie Adams, Peggy Bacon, Alfred Bellinger, Louise Bogan, Louise Connor, Malcolm Cowley, Floyd Dell, William Stanley Dell, Margaret DeSilver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Christian Frederick Gauss, Penelope Gilliatt, Celia Goodman, Roman Grynberg, Chauncey Hackett, David Osborne Hamilton, Henriette Holland, Elizabeth Huling, Mamaine Koestler, Charlotte Kretzoi, Mary Meigs, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Miller, Frances Minahan ("Anna" in Wilson's journals), Arthur Mizener, Helen Muchnic, Larry G. Noyes, Eugenie Ouroussow, Edward E. Paramore, Jr., Mary Pcolar, Phelps Putnam, Burton Rascoe, Paul Rosenfeld, Gilbert Seldes, Samuel M. Shoemaker, Norman Kemp Smith, Stephen Spender, Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, Gilbert McCoy Troxell, John Andersen Udmark, Elizabeth Waugh, and Thomas King Whipple.

Correspondence with family members concerns Wilson's relationships with the Wilson and Kimball families, his wives and children, and his wives' extended families. Letters from Wilson's mother, Helen M. K. Wilson, and his oldest daughter, Rosalind Baker Wilson, make up the bulk of family correspondence and reflect Wilson's complex relationships with both. Files are also present for each of Wilson's wives, Mary Blair, Margaret Canby, Mary McCarthy, and Elena Wilson; his children Reuel Wilson and Helen Miranda Wilson; cousins Helen Augur, Alexander Kimball, Carolyn Crosby Wilson Link, and Susan Colston Wilson; Margaret Rullman, a childhood friend; and Jennie Corbett, a maid and companion employed by Wilson's mother.

Most business letters are from publishers, editors, literary agents, translators, and others concerned with the publication of Wilson's works. These letters reveal Wilson's intensive revision and editing habits, and document his close involvement in the publication process. Major publishers include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Doubleday and Company, Oxford University Press, Secker & Warburg, and W. H. Allen. Also represented are The New Republic, The New Yorker, other periodicals for which Wilson edited or wrote, and institutions where he lectured and taught courses. Other business correspondence concerns obscenity charges relating to Memoirs of Hecate County and Wilson's struggles with the Internal Revenue Service, including a file of letters from lawyers Penberthy & DeIorio. Many of Wilson's publishers, editors, and teaching colleagues were both business and personal associates; these correspondents are cross referenced under corporate and personal names.

Photocopies and carbons of third party letters are filed with the correspondent who forwarded them to Wilson. Original third party letters are listed under the name of the writer and foldered separately following letters from the same writer to Wilson. While most business correspondence is filed here, correspondents represented by fewer than three letters and concerning only one of Wilson's works, as well as fan mail and corrections offered by readers, are filed under individual titles in the Writings series.

Series II, Writings (boxes 82-173), is organized into nine subseries: Journals, Books, Essays and Book Reviews, Plays, Short Stories, Poetry, Teaching Materials, Other Writings, and Writings by Others.

The Journals subseries consists of holograph notebooks, dated 1908-1970, and accompanying materials and transcripts, which were the source of Wilson's published autobiographical works: A Prelude, The Twenties, The Thirties, The Forties, The Fifties, and The Sixties. Journals contain notes, drafts of writings, and detailed entries discussing his views on literature, history, and social issues; his research, travels, and writings; and his daily life, family relationships, friendships, and sexual affairs. Several volumes were kept during trips, including a family trip to Europe in 1908, travel in England in 1914, and research trips to the Soviet Union, 1935, Europe, 1945, and the American Southwest, 1947.

Journals and associated materials are identified by volume numbers written by Wilson on the cover or a preliminary page of each notebook. A single date has been transcribed from each notebook's title page or initial entry, as typically subsequent entries are not dated consistently. Dates have been supplied in brackets for undated volumes kept during trips for which dates can be verified from other sources. Items originally laid in notebooks have been removed and listed separately, with page numbers of original locations noted on enclosing sheets.

For journals dated 1908-1947, Wilson prepared transcripts, which were typed by assistants following his directions for transcribing notebooks and integrating additional text. For most transcripts, varying complete or fragmentary versions are present. Generally the earliest draft is represented by a typescript carbon, while the original typescript, or photocopies of it, are marked with revisions. Most of Wilson's transcripts are filed here; exceptions are transcripts of early journals constituting draft material for A Prelude and The Twenties, which are filed in the Books subseries. For later journals, additional transcripts prepared by editors are filed in the Books subseries.

The Books subseries encompasses all genres of Wilson's writings published in book form, including literary and social criticism, history, novels, autobiography and journals, and collections of essays, plays, and poetry. Also interfiled here are materials for books edited by Wilson: The Crack-up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Peasants and Other Stories, by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, and The Shock of Recognition. For many titles, drafts and setting copies, proofs, and reviews are present; other materials present for some titles include contracts, publicity, and business and reader correspondence. For books containing versions of previously published essays, draft materials may include revised clippings from periodicals. Similar revisions of single essays are present in the Essays and Book Reviews subseries. While varying versions of essays and book chapters are not cross referenced, complete contents of books may be found in Edmund Wilson: A Bibliography, by Richard David Ramsey.

While his detailed revisions and intensive involvement in the editorial process are documented in extant drafts and proofs, Wilson did not systematically retain his literary manuscripts, and some important early titles, such as Axel's Castle, I Thought of Daisy, and The Wound and the Bow, are represented by incomplete draft material. However, materials for many titles, including posthumously published journals, were retained by his editors and publishers and transferred to the Library according to Wilson's directions.

For the following works, complete drafts, setting copies, or proofs are present: American Earthquake, Apologies to the Iroquois, The Bit Between My Teeth, Classics and Commercials, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Duke of Palermo, Europe Without Baedeker, Galahad and I Thought of Daisy, Memoirs of Hecate County (including materials relating to obscenity trials), Night Thoughts, O Canada, Patriotic Gore, A Piece of My Mind, Red, Black, Blonde and Olive, Scrolls from the Dead Sea, The Shores of Light, To the Finland Station, The Triple Thinkers, Upstate, Window on Russia, and The Twenties, The Thirties, The Forties, The Fifties and The Sixties.

Drafts and proofs are listed in chronological order for each title, and in some cases encompass multiple editions. For two books, Europe Without Baedeker and To the Finland Station, editions have been listed separately under titles qualified by year of publication. Additional materials relating to books may be found as enclosures to publisher correspondence in the Correspondence series. Publisher accounting statements, usually listing multiple titles, are filed in the Financial Papers series. Some proofs or published copies of books with Wilson's corrections have been cataloged separately in the Library's online catalog. Materials for Letters on Literature and Politics, edited by Elena Wilson, are in the Elena Wilson Papers (YCAL MSS 188).

The Essays and Book Reviews subseries documents Wilson's prodigious output in several overlapping genres: essay-length literary criticism and reviews, essays on non-literary topics, and short book reviews, dialogues, and other articles. The bulk of materials date from Wilson's work as an editor and contributor to Vanity Fair, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and other periodicals, ca. 1920-1970; also present are a few works dating from his years at Princeton and his service in World War I, ca. 1915-1919. Wilson wrote essays continuously throughout his career, typically began his treatment of a topic by writing in this genre, and produced essays addressing all major subject areas of his writings. Compilations of revised essays form the basis of many of his books. These essays typically exist in multiple versions, which may be represented here as well as in draft materials in the Books subseries.

While a significant amount of drafts and proofs are present, many essays and reviews are represented by tear sheets, often bearing holograph revisions or other annotations. Although varying page numbering indicates that some tear sheets may be page proofs, all tear sheets and other clippings are described as "clippings" in folder titles. For book reviews and essays addressing specific literary works, titles and authors are either stated in folder titles or listed in folder notes. Cross references have been made for drafts or clippings containing multiple articles. To facilitate keyword searching by date, full dates are stated for clippings, even if undated drafts are also present.

Although Wilson's best regarded works are in literary criticism, autobiography, history, and related areas, he also produced novels, plays, short stories, and poetry. Materials for his novels, I Thought of Daisy, Memoirs of Hecate County, and the unfinished The Story of Three Wishes, are in the Books subseries. The Plays subseries contains materials for individual titles, with cross references to collections of plays in the Books subseries. While all of Wilson's known plays are at least partially represented in these two subseries, the bulk of materials in the Plays subseries concerns The Little Blue Light, for which drafts, production contracts, scripts, programs, and reviews are present. Additional documentation of play productions may be found in the Correspondence series.

Materials in the Short Stories subseries include drafts and clippings from periodicals. Also present are drafts of juvenile stories written by Wilson and his cousin Alexander Kimball. Clippings and copyright documents are present for three stories later incorporated in Memoirs of Hecate County: "Ellen Terhune," Glimpses of Wilbur Flick," and "The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles". Additional materials pertaining to these and other parts of Memoirs of Hecate County are filed in the Books subseries.

Titles in the Poetry subseries are generally represented by holograph drafts. Most extensive are materials for "The White Sand" and "By Dark Cocytus's Shore," including drafts, proofs, and printed copies. Cross references are given for additional poems or versions of poems appearing in the Journals subseries. Some poems listed individually here also appear in collections found in the Books subseries: A Christmas Delirium, Holiday Greetings From Edmund Wilson, Night Thoughts, Wilson's Christmas Stocking, Note-Books of Night, and The Undertaker's Garland. Although individual poems are not cross referenced, complete contents of these and other poetry collections may be found in the Ramsey bibliography.

The Teaching Materials subseries contains notes and other materials for lectures and courses given by Wilson at the University of Chicago, Smith College, and Harvard University. As Wilson usually lectured on topics concerning his current work, some materials filed here incorporate research materials or drafts for his writings.

The Other Writings subseries consists of juvenile writings, notes, and unidentified fragments. Juvenile writings include schoolwork and a scrapbook of clippings, drawings, poems, and stories, incorporating items written by Wilson and his cousin, Alexander Kimball. Similar juvenile collaborations by Wilson and Kimball in the Short Stories and Poetry subseries are identified in folder notes. Notes include lecture notes taken by Wilson while a student at Princeton for a course on "Fundamental Problems of Philosophy," and a list of New Yorker book reviews, 1944-47.

The Writings of Others subseries is organized into two subgroups: Writings About Edmund Wilson and Writings About Other Subjects. Writings About Edmund Wilson, arranged by author, contains overview articles and interviews, including obituaries and other items collected by the Library after Wilson's death. Unsigned articles are filed as "Other Clippings." Reviews of Wilson's works are filed under work titles in each of the Writings subseries.

Writings About Other Subjects, arranged by author, contains poems, stories, essays, and other writings by colleagues and friends. These materials document Wilson's interest and involvement in the work of these writers, some of whom were subjects of Wilson's own works. Many of the materials collected by Wilson are typescripts, and may be either drafts or fair copies. Printed literary works or articles on literary subjects are also filed here, while printed materials concerning other subjects are located in the Subject Files series.

Authors include Edna St. Vincent Millay: poems and a play, "Two Slatterns and a King"; Vladimir Nabokov: poems and stories, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, proof with annotations by Wilson, and translations of "Mozart and Salieri," other Pushkin works, and works of other Russian writers; and Philippe Thoby-Marcelin: poems, stories, and part of a novel, Tous les hommes sont fous. Other authors include W. H. Auden, Irving Berlin (song lyric), John Peale Bishop, Marie Clarie Blais, E. E. Cummings (drawings), John Dos Passos, Boris Pasternak, Dawn Powell (drawings), and Elinor Wylie. Cross references are given for writings of well-known authors enclosed with letters in the Correspondence series.

Series III, Subject Files (boxes 174-190), is organized into two subseries: People and Other Subjects. The bulk of materials in both subseries consists of clippings, other printed materials, and notes documenting Wilson's research in subject areas relating to his writings and personal interests. In some cases, date spans reflect ongoing collecting beyond completion of major writings in a particular area. Folder titles used in a preliminary listing, which may have included titles originally assigned by Wilson, have been retained or cross referenced. Some materials moved to subject files during preliminary processing have been identified as enclosures to correspondence and returned to the Correspondence series.

Files for People contain biographical information, articles, clippings, ephemera, and notes, relating to colleagues, other literary and historical figures, and friends and family members. Many subjects of Wilson's writings are represented, including John Peale Bishop, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harold Frederic, Christian Frederick Gauss, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak, and Phelps Putnam.

Files for Other Subjects pertain to non-literary topics, including many which Wilson addressed over a period of years. While the bulk of materials date from ca. 1920-1970, files for Communism, Princeton University, and World War I include clippings and ephemera from 1915-1919. Subjects represented by a single type of item are described as such in folder titles. Extensive files of publications and ephemera of organizations, published writings by others, clippings, and notes are present for: Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship; income tax protest and Cold War spending; Iroquois land rights in the 1960s; and labor organizations during the Depression.

Series IV, Financial Papers (boxes 191-197), is organized into two subseries: Publisher Accounts and Income Tax. Publisher Accounts consist of statements from publishers showing sales, royalties, author advances, author alterations, and other transactions. As Wilson published continuously throughout his career and his books remained in print for extended periods, most accounts list multiple titles for current and earlier works. Additional financial statements are present as enclosures to letters from publishers in the Correspondence series.

Income Tax materials are organized by tax year, documenting Wilson's income and expenses, and his response to tax evasion charges made by the Internal Revenue Service. Files for 1953-1957 contain tax documents completed retrospectively following initial charges of tax delinquency in 1958. Detailed records for 1958-1972 document Wilson's efforts to maintain records and satisfy legal requirements during the years his case was active. A small amount of earlier material dated prior to 1953 is also present.

Tax documents include federal and state returns, lists of income and expenses for attachment to returns, state and local tax collector's receipts, statements of tax due, and documents relating to audits. Additional tax documents may be found in the Correspondence series as enclosures to letters from lawyers and government agencies. Tax years are also represented by financial statements, including bank statements, bank deposit receipts, and payroll stubs; receipts, including receipts for purchases, bill stubs, and cancelled checks; and additional notes about income and expenses.

Series V, Photographs and Drawings (boxes 198-203), is organized into three subseries: People, Places, and Other Photographs. The bulk of materials are early family photographs showing Wilson as a child, his parents, and his mother's siblings and their families. A small amount of images are present for each later stage of Wilson's life. While most materials in this series are photographs, a few drawings and reproductions of paintings, identified in folder titles, are also present. Caricatures drawn by Wilson are filed with his other drawings in the Personal Papers series. Cross references have been made for additional photographs enclosed with letters in the Correspondence series.

Photographs and Drawings of People are organized into the following subgroups: Edmund Wilson alone and with others, arranged chronologically; Wilson and Kimball Families, arranged by name; and Other People, arranged by name. Photographs of Edmund Wilson include infant and child portraits, group portraits made at the Hill School, snapshots taken during World War I, and portraits and snapshots through adulthood and old age. Wilson and Kimball family photographs include Wilson's parents, Edmund Wilson, Sr., and Helen M. K. Wilson; Kimball aunts, uncles, and cousins; and Wilson's children and fourth wife, Elena Wilson. Photographs of Other People include Wilson's Hill School classmates, his first three wives, literary colleagues, and friends. Unidentified daguerreotypes, tintypes, and other photographs probably include additional family members.

Photographs and Drawings of Places include images of Wilson's homes in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and Talcottville, New York; scenes in Red Bank, New Jersey; a series of photographs possibly taken during a trip to England in 1914; and photographs of Eugene O'Neill's house in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The Other Photographs subseries consists of an album made by Wilson's mother, with photographs of Wilson as a child, his parents, members of the Kimball family, and family friends, ca. 1898-1907.

Series VI, Personal Papers (boxes 204-205), is organized into six subseries: Awards, Drawings, Marriage and Divorce Records, Punch and Judy Puppets, School Records, and Other Papers. Awards include medals and other artifacts received by Wilson: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honorary doctorate diploma from Princeton University, and medals received from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Edward MacDowell Association, Festival international du livre de la ville de Nice, the National Book Committee, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Also present is a campaign medal for his service as a journalist in World War II. In addition to artifacts and certificates, some awards are represented by transcripts of speeches.

Wilson's Drawings include informal caricatures of his friends, drawings made with his daughter, Helen Miranda Wilson, during her childhood, and other drawings similar to the doodles found in his journals and literary drafts. Marriage and Divorce Records contain legal documents pertaining to Wilson's divorces from Mary Blair and Mary McCarthy, the death of Margaret Canby, and his marriage to Elena Wilson. Punch and Judy Puppets consist of twenty-two puppets made of papier-mache, cloth, and wood, many representing standard characters. These puppets and accompanying stage props are evidence of Wilson's long interest in puppets, magic, and illusion, and were used by him in presenting Punch and Judy shows for family and friends. School Records contain a small amount of material from the Hill School and Princeton University, including grade reports, printed programs for school events, and a sign advertising Princeton's Nassau Literary Magazine, dating from Wilson's tenure as an editor. Other Papers include address books and appointments calendars; documents relating to insurance, property rental, and military service; passports; locks of hair from Wilson's childhood; and other artifacts.

Series VII, Wilson and Kimball Family Papers (boxes 206-212), is organized into three subseries: Correspondence, Genealogy Research, and Other Papers. Together with materials in the Photographs and Drawings series, Wilson's family papers reflect his interest in his ancestors and their history in New Jersey and upstate New York. Family Correspondence consists of letters to and from family members other than Edmund Wilson; letters between family members and Edmund Wilson are filed in the Correspondence series. The bulk of correspondence in this series are letters between Wilson's grandparents, Thaddeus Wilson and Charlotte A. Miller. Also present is one letter from his great-grandfather, Andrew Wilson, to his great-grandmother Melinda Ann Wilson. Other correspondence includes letters written by Edmund Wilson, Sr., Helen M. K. Wilson, and members of the Kimball family.

Genealogy Research materials consist of charts and notes compiled by Helen M. K. Wilson, and a small amount of notes made by Edmund Wilson. Other Papers contain personal papers and biographical information pertaining to family members. Papers of Edmund Wilson, Sr., include speeches for New Jersey civic and political organizations, and materials pertaining to Princeton University alumni and membership in other organizations. Papers of Helen M. K. Wilson include an autograph book inscribed by school classmates, a passport, and a document pertaining to her estate. Papers of Helen Miranda Wilson, Reuel K. Wilson, and Rosalind Baker Wilson include school records and juvenile writings and artwork. Other family members are represented by writings, biographical information and memorials, and legal documents concerning professional certification, wills, and estates.

Oversize (boxes 213-272, 4 portfolios, and 3 broadside folders) contains oversize materials from all series.

Restricted Fragile (boxes 273-316) and Restricted Fragile Oversize (boxes 317-330) contain fragile originals for which preservation photocopies or photographic prints have been substituted in the main files.

Language of Materials

Chiefly in English; some materials are in French, Russian, Hebrew, or Hungarian.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 273-330: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Edmund Wilson Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Edmund Wilson Papers were acquired by the Library through gift and purchase over a period of years. The bulk of the collection was acquired through purchases and gifts from Edmund Wilson, 1944-1968, and Elena Wilson, 1972-1979; purchases from Helen Miranda Wilson on the Eugene G. O'Neill Memorial Fund and the Ezra Pound Archive Fund, 1995-1997; and a gift of Helen Miranda Wilson, 2000. Additional materials were acquired through gifts of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967-1988, and Lewis M. Dabney, 2003 and 2007. For more detailed provenance information, consult the curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature.

1829 - 1986
Majority of material found within 1920 - 1972
162.84 Linear Feet ((331 boxes) + 4 portfolios and 3 broadside folders)
Related Names
Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972
Millay, Edna St. Vincent, 1892-1950
Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977
Thoby-Marcelin, Philippe, 1904-1975
Wilson, Edmund, Sr., 1863-1923
Language of Materials
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