Thursday, May 31, 2012

Well, This is a Weird Twist

So, pursuant to crossing a few 'i's and dotting a few 't's, as it were, re. Edmund Wilson and Tolkien, today I found a strange one.

I was already aware of the passing reference in a 1966 letter [LETTERS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS, 1912-1972, p.660] where he notes his daughter's fondness for THE HOBBIT ("[she] read it or had it read to her innumerable times")* and concedes it must be a pretty good children's book, though noting he'd never read it himself (apparently he did not see reading aloud to the young daughter as one of his parenting duties).

Today I found a few new ones, all minor and all dating from the 1960s, but one came in such a strange context, and with odd connotations, that it floored me. Musing in old age (1967-68) on how much fuss sex has caused, good and bad, he suddenly veers (as Thorne Smith's Mr. Owen wd put it) into the following remarkable observation/assertion:

"Yet homosexuals don't seem to
have flowered and borne fruit,
don't seem to have fully matured:
Auden with his appetite for Tolkien."

(Edmund Wilson, THE SIXTIES, p. 642)
[posthumously published, 1993]

So, when in his famous Tolkien-bashing review back in 1956, when he concluded that "certain people, in England at least, have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash", was this code for homosexuals, conceived of like Waugh's Sebastian Flyte carrying his teddy bear around Oxford? I don't like to think it, but that seems to be the implication here.** By that interpretation, he approves of writers who by contrast include plenty of old-fashioned philandering, like JURGEN or (I'm told) many of the characters in MEMOIRS OF HECATE COUNTY, uncensored tales about traditionally male seducers of a long string of all-too-willing maidens, (other people's) wives, &c.

In any case, V. odd.

--John R.

*this wd be the same little girl who at age 7 loved THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

**in any case, he's quite wrong: LotR has never been a book adopted by and championed by the gay community, so far as I can tell. There have been one or two gay Tolkien scholars over the years, but that's far fewer than we might reasonably expect.


JL said...

While it is certainly true that there is far too little "romance" in LOTR and far too much of it in "Jurgen", this would be a very strange criterion for judging (fantasy) literature indeed. I wonder what he made of C.S. Lewis? Or maybe I don't ...

John D. Rateliff said...

". . . I wonder what he made of C. S. Lewis?"

Dear JL:
CSL we don't know about, but Ch. Wms we do: see my next post.