Authors: Glenway Wescott

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and critic

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Apple of the Eye, 1924

The Grandmothers: A Family Portrait, 1927

The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, 1940

Apartment in Athens, 1945

Short Fiction:

... Like a Lover, 1926

Good-bye, Wisconsin, 1928

The Babe’s Bed, 1930

Twelve Fables of Aesop, 1954

Poetry:

The Bitterns: A Book of Twelve Poems, 1920

Natives of Rock: XX Poems, 1921-1922, 1925

Nonfiction:

Elizabeth Madox Roberts: A Personal Note, 1930

Fear and Trembling, 1932

A Calendar of Saints for Unbelievers, 1932

Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism, 1962

The Best of All Possible Worlds: Journals, Letters, and Remembrances, 1914-1937, 1975

Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955, 1990

Edited Texts:

The Maugham Reader, 1950

Short Novels of Colette, 1951

Biography

Glenway Wescott, born in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, on April 11, 1901, was a midwesterner by birth and education. He attended public schools in various Wisconsin towns and spent two years (1917-1919) at the University of Chicago. His family had hoped he would enter the ministry, while he entertained some hope of becoming a professional musician. After World War I he spent a year in Germany, then returned to live for a short time in New Mexico. His first book was a volume of poetry, The Bitterns, published in 1920; this was followed by a second book of verse, Natives of Rock, in 1925. His first novel, The Apple of the Eye, was completed during a period of several months that Wescott spent in New York City. Set in rural Wisconsin, the novel relates the conflicts and forces involved in a boy’s search for an understanding of the world and sex, a series of problems similar to those probed by many contemporary novelists, who seemed to be fascinated by the problems of the adolescent in the modern world. After the publication of his novel Wescott went again to Europe, and during the next eight years he was one of a large colony of American writers who lived abroad in the 1920’s.{$I[AN]9810000056}{$I[A]Wescott, Glenway}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Wescott, Glenway}{$I[tim]1901;Wescott, Glenway}

Glenway Wescott

(Library of Congress)

While in Europe he wrote The Grandmothers, which has received more acclaim from readers and critics than any of his other novels. It earned for Wescott the Harper Prize Novel Award for the year of publication. The novel, a saga of pioneer life in early Wisconsin, unfolds as it appears to Alwyn Tower, a young man who is very much like the author and who comes across an old family photograph album. His curiosity, awakened by the album, leads him to piece together the story of his family and relate the story as he finds it. This novel, like most of Wescott’s fiction, interprets humanity through the desires and motives of typical human beings. The novel is illustrative, too, of the flowing, cadenced prose which is one of Wescott’s strong points as a writer. The prose approaches the cadences of folk literature, and it was particularly well chosen for a novel about American pioneer life. Other works which appeared during the author’s years of expatriation were Good-bye Wisconsin, a volume of short stories; The Babe’s Bed, a long short story; Fear and Trembling, a volume of essays; and A Calendar of Saints for Unbelievers. The most interesting of these works is The Babe’s Bed, a meditation in which a young man dreams about the possible future of a baby nephew.

Returning to the United States in 1934, Wescott settled on a farm in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The Pilgrim Hawk, published in 1940, is a novel which indicated that the author had managed to weather successfully a period of inactivity such as is sometimes fatal to a writer’s reputation. Ineligible for military service during World War II, Wescott sought to aid his country in other ways. An attempt to write a novel which would help Americans understand what had produced Nazism proved unsuccessful, however. An encounter with a Greek underground leader led Wescott to write another novel, Apartment in Athens, which describes the effect of the German occupation on one family in Athens, Greece, during World War II. The book was chosen by a national book club for its list and achieved a wide body of readers.

Early in the 1950’s Wescott turned to critical writing. He edited The Maugham Reader and Short Novels of Colette. From this point in his career Wescott became more of a public man of letters than an active writer. He wrote and delivered speeches, was active in the arts community, serving on boards and committees, gave talks and readings, appeared on television and radio, and participated in symposia and conferences. In 1962 he published a collection of literary essays, Images of Truth, which established him as an influential critic. He died in 1987 on his family’s farm in rural New Jersey, where he had lived for many years.

BibliographyBaker, Jennifer Jordan. “‘In a Thicket’: Glenway Wescott’s Pastoral Vision.” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 95-187. Explores the paradox of the Midwest as isolating and repressive as well as simple and idyllic in one of Wescott’s best-known stories, “In a Thicket.” Shows how Wescott treats this tension with narrative conventions and the narrative perspective of traditional pastoral.Benfey, Christopher. “Bright Young Things.” The New York Times, March 21, 1999, sec. 7, p. 9. A review of When We Were There: The Travel Albums of George Platt Lynes, Monroe Wheeler, and Glenway Wescott; comments on Wescott’s fussy style but claims that his novella The Pilgrim Hawk is a brilliant work that can stand comparison with William Faulkner or D. H. Lawrence; asserts the central image of the novella comes from Wescott’s relationship with George Platt Lynes.Calisher, Hortense. “A Heart Laid Bare.” The Washington Post, January 13, 1991, p. X5. In this review of Wescott’s journals, Continual Lessons, Calisher provides a brief biographical sketch of Wescott; claims that he was not a true original as a novelist, but rather he was a reporter of a nonfictive kind; contends the image we have from the journals is a writer not quite in the closet and not quite out of it.Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return. New York: Viking Press, 1951. A notable book on the expatriate movement of the 1930’s, which explores writers who were once called the “lost generation.” Helpful in placing Wescott in this movement and defining his relation to the times.Johnson, Ira. Glenway Wescott: The Paradox of Voice. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971. Johnson has written what is by far the most incisive look into Wescott’s career. The book explicates and criticizes each of Wescott’s works in detail. He also demonstrates how each work reflects Wescott’s development as a writer. The book does not, however, provide sufficient insight into Wescott’s early life to qualify as a biographical study.Kahn, Sy Myron. Glenway Wescott: A Critical and Biographical Study. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1957. Much of the biographical information that is included in Kahn’s dissertation cannot be found anywhere else. By showing how Wescott’s experiences influenced each of his major works, Kahn has made an indispensable contribution to Wescott scholarship.Rosco, Jerry. “An American Treasure: Glenway Wescott’s The Pilgrim Hawk.The Literary Review 15 (Winter, 1988): 133-142. Rosco’s analysis of Wescott’s famous novella is taken from information provided by Wescott himself during his last interview. Wescott’s personal reflections regarding how he wrote the story and how he was influenced by W. Sommerset Maugham are particularly revealing.Rueckert, William H. Glenway Wescott. New York: Twayne: 1965. In this work, which is the first book-length appraisal of Wescott, Rueckert attempts to revise Wescott’s reputation as a man of letters who produced only one minor masterpiece. Although Rueckert’s analysis is perceptive, he does not examine each work in enough depth to support his premise that Wescott is a major artist who deserves more attention.Wescott, Glenway. Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955. Edited by Robert Phelps and Jerry Rosco. New York: Farrar, and Straus Giroux, 1990. Wescott’s diaries provide a glimpse of his life.
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