Thornton Wilder, three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, remains to many people an enigma. Malcolm Cowley indicated that "in point of intelligent criticism, Wilder is the most neglected author of a brilliant generation," and the Times Literary Supplement once observed that "Thornton Wilder has successfully resisted any kind of classification as a novelist or playwright."
In this revealing, incisive study, Amos Wilder, Thornton's older brother, seeks to situate his brother's vision and art. Much criticism, dominated my modernist canons, has not known what to do with Thornton Wilder and finds suspect his wide popularity and what is seen as his traditionalist or "mid-brow" outlook informed by "Puritan" antecedents and rearing. The present essay, however, documents Wilder's full initiation into the "modern" experience, only insisting that he absorbed its iconoclasms into a deeper and more universal humanism.
Critical circles, in their view of the American Writer in our day, commonly neglect and disparage those legacies, cultural and religious, which shaped Wilder's outlook. Therefore, the central section of this essay is devoted to biographical detail, illustrating those creative factors and faiths that undergird American society and its promise. Many readers will be aided in their understanding of Wilder by this book's description of the special circumstances of his education, formative influences, and family life.
Thornton Wilder and His Public offers rare, intimately informed, and helpful illumination on the life and art of one of America's greatest literary figures.