A play in three acts, 'Our Town' was first produced and published in to wide acclaim, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. A drama of life in the small village of Grover's Corners - an allegorical representation of all life - it has become a classic, the most renowned and most frequently performed of Wilder's plays. The author of such classics as Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder was a born storyteller and dramatist--rare talents on glorious display in this volume of more than three hundred letters he penned to a vast array of famous friends and beloved relatives.
Through Wilder's correspondence, readers can eavesdrop on his conversations with Ernest Hemingway, F. Equally absorbing are Wilder's intimate letters to his family. In these pages, Thornton Wilder speaks for himself in his own unique, enduring voice--informing, encouraging, instructing, and entertaining with his characteristic wit, heart, and exuberance. The novel opens in the aftermath of an inexplicable tragedy—a tiny footbridge in Peru breaks, and five travelers hurtle to their deaths. Most townspeople think to themselves with secret joy, "Within 10 minutes myself Suddenly, Brother Juniper is committed to discover what manner of lives these five disparate people led—and whether it was divine intervention that took their lives, or a capricious fate.
Wilder maintained in his works that true meaning and beauty are found in ordinary experience. From the very beginning to the stunning conclusion, the listener is absorbed into the individual stories of the five victims, and how their destinies intertwine. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama Combining farce, burlesque, and satire among other styles , Wilder departs from his studied use of nostalgia and sentiment in 'Our Town' to have an Eternal Family narrowly escape one disaster after another, from ancient times to the present.
Meet George and Maggie Antrobus married only 5, years ; their two children, Gladys and Henry; and their maid, Sabine, as they overcome ice, flood,and war - by the skin of their teeth, and not much mlore. Afterword with black-and-white photographs. The last of Thornton Wilder's works published during his lifetime, Theophilus North is part autobiographical and part the imagined adventures of Wilder's twin brother who died at birth.
Good letters, he believed, resulted from friendship plus absence, with absence supplying the tension that raise[d] them above even good talk. His correspondence with the elegant and charming Sybil Cole-fax, the English interior designer, may serve as a case in point. Wilder was only rarely in London, and Colefax rarely left the continent, so they kept in touch through letters—four hundred of them, he estimated.
Here, encapsulated, are the contents of but one of them: his May 15, , letter from Washington, D. He began mundanely with an account of recent activities. The moving force behind the Goethe festival was his friend Robert Hutchins, the controversial educator.
The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder — Kalamazoo Public Library
Colefax had heard charges that Hutchins was an enemy of humanism, and Wilder defended him vigorously. His letters were all about people—usually celebrated people—and in this case one dog. Next he did a characteristically thoughtful thing: he told Colefax about a talented young artist—Robert Shaw, the wunderkind of choral directing —whom he was sending to see her.
He was afraid that Shaw might shrink from presenting the letter of introduction, for the lad was shy. He often thought, Wilder added, that the people we would most wish to see walk three times around the block and then decide not to call on us, fearing that they have nothing which could interest.
In a closing burst of rhetoric, Wilder addressed the issue of when he and Colefax might next meet. Could she come to Arizona in the fall? If not, he would cross to see her. He had , irremoveable marks in Germany, so they could go to Bad Homburg or Bad Nauheim or Baden-Baden and she could lie in the mud-filled copper baths where [her] sovreign, Edward VII, renewed his youth like an eagle.
He met Gertrude Stein— a great, sensible, gallant gal and a great treat —when she came to Chicago in and he was pressed into service as her secretary, errand boy-companion. He never doubted her genius, though, and other happy meetings ensued. When she died in , he wrote Toklas offering to serve as literary executor of her works. If he admired Stein, Wilder was quite swept away by Hemingway. The two men met in Paris in the autumn of , each at the beginning of their careers. Hemingway was living alone at the time, separated from his first wife, Hadley.
On November 9, Wilder wrote him from Munich, waxing enthusiastic about the city and deploring the dullness of the youth he was accompanying as chaperone-companion.
This letter constitutes at least a minor discovery in Hemingway studies. It has not been cited in the several biographies of Hemingway, nor has any mention appeared of a meeting of the two writers. Hemingway himself, he thought wonderful in his devotion to his work.
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He was the only writer of his generation he had met who inspired his respect as an artist. Ten days later Wilder wrote his mother that Hemingway remains the hot sketch of all time, bursting with self-confidence and a sort of little-boy impudence. Hemingway was at work on a play about Mussolini, he wrote—again, a revelation, if true. Stagestruck since boyhood, Thornton Wilder took immense pleasure in his contacts with prominent men and women of the theatre. Mary Pickford wants me to write a play with her!
So he announced excitedly in a letter of June to actress Ruth Gordon— best of all Ruthies —who with her husband, the writer and director Garson Kanin, became his lifelong friends.
Two months later he alerted Woollcott to look out for an eighteen-year-old actor coming to New York and armed with letters of recommendation from Wilder. He was a rather pudgy-faced youngster with a wing of brown hair … and a vague Oxford epigrammatic manner. The name, he added, was Orson Welles, and he was going far. An actress, he warned Rosemary Ames, must expect to be regarded socially as a freak.
She would be too busy to pay calls, and people would cast their curious and fascinated gaze upon her. Ames should beware of the temptation for praise and lively suppers that followed a performance. It was not easy to go soberly to bed at eleven after a superb climax. Best friends were likely to seem dull; the actress required bright new admirers instead. Eventually, though, if she were good enough, she would become something more than a lady: an artist. The best thing a young playwright could do was to immerse himself in the theater, Wilder believed. Climb walls, get thrown out by guards, hide behind back rows—do everything possible to see hundreds of hours or rehearsals, he wrote in Fifty hours backstage were worth a thousand in the audience.
The beginner might have to work at some other occupation to earn a living, but that would not hurt him. It was important, however, not to earn that living by writing rubbish. Writing down could do real damage. More than forty years later, he dispensed savvy advice about the writing process itself. Select a subject close to you—not autobiographically but inwardly.
Think about it. Take walks.
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Block out the main crises. Begin not at the beginning but at some scene that has already started to express itself in dialogue. Take your time. In other communications Wilder addressed specific issues of stagecraft. He liked opening a play in silence, as Shakespeare did in Hamlet. He heartily disliked ending with a message, as T. Eliot had in The Cocktail Party. He was grateful and absorbed by the play until the last fifteen minutes, Wilder wrote Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, but angry as a boil when the answers began to descend.
Play it straight, he counseled. Treat it not as a fantasy but as dead-pan sober-serious travel-experience. In , Wilder proposed a book of letters about the theater, written by and to himself, to his editor Cass Canfield. It would make for a lively book, and his sister Isabel could edit it. Wilder suggested the theater-letters book as a way of benefiting a friend and fellow artist. He was collaborating with composer Louise Talma on an opera based on The Alcestiad , he explained to Canfield, and Talma was living on very narrow means.
The question was how to get money to her—across the barrier of her pride and independence. Wilder thought that she might accept royalties from such a book, inasmuch as it would contain some of their letters back and forth about The Alcestiad and the funds could be considered as subsidizing their common project, the opera.
Wilder on Our Town: Thornton writes to Malcolm Cowley
Thornton Wilder wanted to do more with his life than to give pleasure to those who read his novels or saw his plays. The trouble with T. Wilder did, went out of his way to make them happy, and profited from doing so. Armed with that outlook, he bucketed along well into his seventies. If you welcomed each decade, Wilder said, you could keep the past ones green inside you.
And you could continue to do your work as well, for, as he observed in a letter, there was no age limit for creativity. Thornton Wilder had a sixty-year career as a successful author—from his first play, The Russian Princess , produced in , when he was sixteen to reported raves from schoolmates , to his seventh and last novel, Theophilus North , published two years before his death and a best-seller for twenty-six weeks. In the intervening decades, he had far more success than failure, playing such varied roles as translator, adapter, essayist, screenwriter, opera librettist, scholar, cultural emissary, lecturer, teacher, actor, and, of course, novelist and playwright.
He remains the only writer ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize in both drama and fiction. Throughout his life, Wilder played yet another role, one until now neither adequately acknowledged nor sufficiently documented: He was an avid connoisseur and practitioner of letter writing. In retrospect, it is no surprise that, in the spring of , in the midst of international acclaim for his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey , he accepted an invitation from Yale University to deliver the Daniel S. Lamont Memorial Lecture on the topic of English Letters and Letter Writers, the first of some two hundred public lectures he would give during his career.
He devoted a section of his talk to the virtues of the letters written by Mme. There is ample evidence as well that Wilder was himself a prolific practitioner of the art of letter writing. In a typical aside in a March letter to his mother and his sister Isabel, he reported, Last night I sat up til two and added 18 new letters to the 8 I had got off earlier in the day. It is estimated that the total number of letters Wilder wrote exceeds ten thousand.
Our choices from scores of fine letters represent the range of his friendships, public achievements, and private interests. We have included letters that do indeed encompass almost his full life: The earliest letter we found was written, we believe, when Wilder was about nine years old. The first we have selected finds him at age twelve in , while the last is dated December 3, , four days before he died.
Wilder became a letter writer at a young age because of his personal circumstances. When he was growing up, his family was together as a unit very infrequently. During the eleven-year period between , when nine-year-old Thornton left Madison, Wisconsin, for China, and , when he enrolled as a sophomore at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, where his parents had recently moved, all the Wilders were under one roof for a total of only twelve months.
Distances between one or more absent family members were more often than not measured by oceans. Given these circumstances, letters became the only way he could communicate with his friends and, especially, with his family. He expected and received frequent status reports from them. This early letter writing may have played a part in turning the younger Wilders into authors; each of the four children born between September and January became a published writer.
Thornton Wilder grew up in a family where reaching for a pen and a blank piece of paper all his life, he handwrote almost all of his letters and creative work was first, second, and third nature—and had to be. He maintained the house and, for the rest of their lives, supported the members of his family who lived there.
But Wilder himself, despite a handsome study on the second floor, treated the family home as a base to which he returned periodically, rather than as a primary place to live and work. Given this lifestyle, letters were crucial for keeping in touch; they knit his world together, just as they had when he was growing up. He reportedly disliked talking on the telephone, employing it chiefly for the exchange of necessary details, while using letters for more expansive conversations.
His travels had accelerated and widened in scope, his experiences had become more varied, and he had accumulated an extremely large group of friends and acquaintances, a small circle of whom he corresponded with over many years. Among those represented in this volume, his friendships with Gilbert Troxell, C. Toklas, and Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin were of especially long duration. Wertheimer met Wilder in the summer of and they corresponded until her death in And Wilder exchanged lengthy letters with Colefax between and , the year of her death.
Until poor health intervened toward the end of his life, Wilder personally answered a staggering number of the cards and letters he received, whether from producers or directors wanting to stage his plays, strangers seeking advice or praising one of his works, or students acting in one of his plays or writing papers about him. He explained this generosity by famously referring to himself in a January 12, , Time cover story as an obliging man. Although he meant this phrase somewhat ironically, he also intended that it be taken at face value, for Wilder saw his far-flung audience as a worthy and important part of his life.
Burns with Joshua A. Gaylord  , we have included only one from their extensive correspondence. Burns and Ulla E. Dydo, with William Rice ; therefore, we have cut back our selection of these to permit other inclusions. For that period, the great majority of the letters we found were those to his family; so while such letters undoubtedly did represent a high percentage of those he wrote during this time, our selection probably increases that ratio somewhat.
We also elected not to include any of the several letters he wrote entirely in a foreign language, because we felt that to present these in translation would not satisfactorily convey their tone and flavor. As to our criteria for selecting among the items we did locate, they simply echo those standards Wilder believed a letter should reflect: a sense of the historical—data relative to social implications of a period —and a natural gift for letter-writing, as he indicated in an August letter to scholar and critic Robert W.
Stallman, his former student at the University of Chicago. Often, we were able to find letters that we believe do both. Today, Thornton Wilder is best known as the author of Our Town , a play that is performed every night of each year; and of The Bridge of San Luis Rey , a novel widely taught in secondary schools. Altogether, he published seven novels, five full-length plays, and a score of one-act plays, translations, adaptations, and essays. He wrote letters prolifically, took the task seriously, and was keenly aware of the epistolary tradition of which he was a part. If this volume helps to familiarize readers with a vivacious, erudite, and multitalented man with a myriad of interests—a man of letters both literally and figuratively—and, above all, if it leads some of them to a broader reading of his work, it will have accomplished its intentions.
His twin brother died at birth, and, according to family lore, Wilder himself was so frail that he was carried around on a pillow for the first months of his life. By , when Thornton was four years old, his father had acquired a controlling interest in the paper and was well-known in Wisconsin political circles. Because his parents exerted an unusually strong influence on their children, a brief account of their backgrounds is necessary here. After graduating in , he taught for two years and then became a journalist, working first as a reporter in Philadelphia.
He wrote his dissertation on the difficulties and possible solutions of governing American cities, and received his Ph. When he lost his editorship at the Palladium for attacking political figures who had a financial interest in that newspaper, he left New Haven for a position as an editorial writer on a New York City paper.
In , he traveled to the Midwest, intent on finding a newspaper to invest in and work on. He realized his ambition in the university town of Madison, Wisconsin, where, with his savings augmented by loans from friends, he bought a one-quarter interest in the Wisconsin State Journal. Before the year was out, another important change occurred in his life: twenty-one-year-old Isabella Thornton Niven of Dobbs Ferry, New York, accepted his proposal of marriage, and on December 3, , they married and returned to Madison to live.
Isabella was the daughter of the minister of the Presbyterian church in Dobbs Ferry. Her maternal grandfather was Arthur Tappan, cofounder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, who, with his brother Lewis, did much to support the antislavery movement. Both men were also prominent in backing the Oberlin Collegiate Institution and probably ensured its survival as Oberlin College. Isabella was a graduate of the Misses Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, where she published poems in the school paper and studied languages, piano, art, and literature. Before her marriage, she attended concerts, the theater, and lectures in New York City and was attuned to the cultural offerings of the day.
The literary interests of Amos Parker Wilder and Isabella Niven Wilder were reflected in their habit of regularly reading aloud classics and Scripture during the childhood of the four children who were born during the next five years: Amos Niven September 18, , Thornton Niven April 17, , Charlotte Elizabeth August 28, , and Isabel January 13, During the first years of their marriage, because of the loans on the newspaper that Amos Wilder had to repay, money was scarce.
Nonetheless, in , they managed to build a cottage on the shores of Lake Mendota in Maple Bluff, just outside the city of Madison, where the family lived each year from early spring until late fall, and Isabella Wilder was able to take a European trip with Madison friends. Amos Parker Wilder almost certainly supplemented his income with lectures on municipal government at the University of Wisconsin, and, as he was becoming a well-known speaker, with engagements on similar subjects around the state.
His eloquence was often grounded in his moral certainties, which sometimes strained relationships with political allies. Around this time, he began to explore professional opportunities outside the newspaper business. In , he sought a position in the consular service, and with the support of Yale friends within the Republican party, he received an appointment as U.
After twelve years of residence in Madison, the Wilder family sailed for Hong Kong from San Francisco only days before the earthquake there. Life in Hong Kong offered a complete change from the neighborliness of Madison and the activities associated with its homes, shops, and public schools. Just five months after their arrival in China, the new consul general and his wife decided that Hong Kong was not a good place to rear and educate their children.
On October 30, , Isabella Niven Wilder and the four children left Hong Kong, returned to San Francisco, and settled in Berkeley, California, another university town, where the children were enrolled in the local public schools. Their father sent money to support them, supervised their upbringing long-distance through detailed instructions in letters, and saw them on home leaves. Their mother supervised their daily lives and kept Papa informed of their progress; his children wrote to him regularly about their activities and thoughts.
Before taking up his new post on June 1, , he paid a short visit to his family in Berkeley. In the fall, he made another trip from Shanghai to California, with a plan for reuniting his family in Shanghai, because he believed it would be a better situation for them than Hong Kong had been.
The family reunion did not take place until more than a year later, for Janet Frances, the fifth and final Wilder sibling, was born on June 3, In December , Mrs. Wilder embarked on the S. Mongolia for Shanghai with her four youngest children. The eldest child, fifteen year-old Amos, was sent to the Thacher School, a boarding school in Ojai, California, established in by a Yale acquaintance of the senior Wilder.
Wilder was physically unwell in Shanghai and distressed by the unsettled political situation in China. Her doctor suggested a change in climate, and in mid-August , she sailed for Europe through the Suez Canal with her two youngest daughters, Isabel, now eleven, and Janet, just over a year old. They landed in Genoa and proceeded to Florence, Italy, where they joined Mrs. They enrolled in the spring term of and remained there until August Amos Parker Wilder took home leave after his wife sailed for Europe.
He visited his elder son at Thacher, conducted business, and saw friends in Madison. He consulted with doctors, because he had developed Asian sprue, a digestive disease that had left him in a weakened state. While still in the United States, he made arrangements for Thornton and Charlotte to leave Chefoo before the fall term and to take passage on the S.
Nile for San Francisco. They arrived in San Francisco in early September While Charlotte boarded with family friends in Claremont, California, and attended the local public school there, Thornton joined his brother, Amos, at the Thacher School. During Christmas vacation, Thornton and Amos visited Charlotte and stayed with her and the family with whom she boarded. For the three older Wilder children, the important news was that their mother and two youngest sisters, whom they had not seen in over a year, were planning to return to Berkeley in the spring of A few months later, the family was reunited, although again without their father.