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Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative…

Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 (1931)

by Edmund Wilson

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I am, virtually without qualification, a huge fan of Edmund Wilson’s essays, if less so of his fiction. While perhaps not at the level of a Macaulay, a Montaigne, a Johnson, a Benjamin, an Emerson, or even an H. L. Mencken, Wilson has written both eloquently and persuasively on a variety of topics. The Triple Thinkers and To the Finland Station come immediately and memorably to mind, even though I read both some thirty years ago.

I can’t express anything like the same kudos for Axel’s Castle. Wilson covers the gamut of interesting personalities and writers (Yeats; Valéry; Eliot; Proust; Joyce; Stein; and Rimbaud – not to mention the Symbolist Movement in general) – but either I lack the necessary enthusiasm for this Movement and these writers or Wilson has simply failed to convince me they’re worth reading.

God knows, Proust and Joyce both have their share of devotees. I’m just not among them. I’ve never read Proust. Joyce certainly proved his writer’s credentials with both Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners.v But I struggled to complete seventy pages of Ulysses before giving up in utter frustration. I’ve never even attempted Finnegans Wake.

And yes, I’ve read much of the poetry of Yeats and T. S. Eliot and found some of it inspiring. But would I feel the same degree of enthusiasm either for Gertrude Stein or for Paul Valéry? I doubt it. Rimbaud, of course, is in a category unto himself.

For the student of the Symbolist Movement, I suspect Axel’s Castle is a worthwhile undertaking. For the dilettante — which I admittedly am — I would suggest it’s not.

Brooklyn, NY, USA
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 is a 1931 book of literary criticism by Edmund Wilson on the Symbolist movement in literature. It includes a brief overview of the movement's origins and chapters on W. B. Yeats, Paul Valéry, T. S. Eliot, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. The book's title refers to Axël, a prose poem by Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam which is discussed along with the works of Arthur Rimbaud in the concluding chapter. Axel's Castle, truly should be considered one of the formative critical texts of American literary criticism. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jul 12, 2013 |
Sharp analytical discussion of Symbolists and imaginative prose 1870-1930--opinionated and perceptive ( )
1 vote tzelman | Feb 17, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmund Wilsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wilson, Edmundmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordon, MaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenner, HughIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374529272, Paperback)

If great writers are hard to find, then it's safe to say great literary critics are as rare as wild white tigers who can juggle plates. Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was one of America's most important critics, and Axel's Castle was the book that put him on the map. Few people outside graduate school read serious literary criticism, but a look into Wilson's intense thought and clear prose makes you wonder why the genre has been neglected. If you're a lover of the Modernist writers--Wilson looks specifically at Joyce, Proust, Yeats, Valery, Eliot, Stein, and Rimbaud here--then you'll enjoy Axel's Castle.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:33 -0400)

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