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Wescott, Glenway (1901-1987)  
 
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Literary critic Edmund Wilson, commenting on the novel in his Classics and Commercials (1950), observed that "the cramped physical and moral conditions, the readjustments in the relationships of the family, the whole distortion of the social organism by the unassimilated presence of the foreigner--all this is most successfully created."

It was another remarkable success for Wescott.

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Late Career

Although Wescott continued to work on novels and stories, he was unable to complete any of them and did not publish any new fiction during the remaining forty-two years of his life.

The reasons for Wescott's silence have long been the subject of critical and biographical speculation. Jerry Rosco, a friend and recent biographer of Wescott's, has commented that the writer simply "lost the feel for fiction" and developed "a curious aversion to being published."

In his essay, Bawer hypothesizes that one reason for the long silence may have been Wescott's homosexuality. As an autobiographical writer, Wescott had already successfully mined his childhood and coming of age. "But few readers, at that time anyway," Bawer notes, "would have regarded [a] sensitive and candid novel based upon Wescott's adult domestic life with anything other than horror."

As Jim Friel has observed, Wescott "could neither write candidly nor, like Thornton Wilder and Somerset Maugham, could he find other means to dissemble his subject. He could only resort to silence--as [British novelist E. M.] Forster had done, hugging Maurice to his chest until the world was fit to read it."

Like Forster, who experienced a similar inability to publish a novel in the final four decades of his life, Wescott did publish several works of nonfiction. Among these works are Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism (1962), a collection of essays on his friendship and admiration for the writers Katherine Anne Porter, Somerset Maugham, Colette, Isak Dinesen, Thomas Mann, and Thornton Wilder.

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

He also wrote some explicitly gay short fiction that he was unable to publish during his lifetime. One of these stories, "A Visit to Priapus," written in 1938, appears in The New Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories (2003), edited by David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell.

Additionally, Wescott began editing for publication the journals he had kept from 1937 until the mid-1950s. Although some of his published work hinted obliquely at his homosexuality, the journals focused on his private life and dealt explicitly with his relationships with Wheeler, Lynes, and others. They were published posthumously in 1990 as Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955.

Wescott also channeled his energies into other pursuits. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and later served as president, from 1959 to 1962, of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His work helped secure grants and awards for many new, as well as established, writers.

In the 1950s, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, founder of the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, became a close friend of Wescott's and drew him into the work he was conducting on human sexuality.

Their friendship led Kinsey to ask for assistance with research materials. "He asked me to help him with erotic reading matter," Wescott later explained. "He asked me to . . . look at their library and suggest what they might get rid of, what things to acquire, and to advise the young librarians what things to keep." Over the next several years, Wescott frequently visited the Institute or met with Kinsey in New York.

Wescott also became a central figure in New York's artistic and gay communities in the 1950s and 1960s. The writers W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Marianne Moore, and Somerset Maugham, and the artists Paul Cadmus and Jared French, were among his acquaintances.

On February 20, 1987, Wescott died of a stroke at his home in Rosemont, New Jersey. He was 85 years old.

Two days after Wescott's death, Wheeler suffered a massive stroke, which left him legally blind and paralyzed on the left side of his body. He died on August 14, 1988, eighteen months after the death of Wescott.

Although a well-regarded and best-selling writer in his lifetime, Wescott soon fell into near-obscurity, remembered more as a raconteur and as a partner to one of the longest gay marriages in history than as an author. Indeed, his reputation had severely declined long before his death. However, as Bruce Bawer has noted, this decline is "a measure less of his own failings than of the misbegotten values of the literary culture that has allowed him to fall."

Some of Wescott's works have recently been reprinted. The Pilgrim Hawk was reissued in 2001 with an introduction by Michael Cunningham; Apartment in Athens was reissued in 2004 with an introduction by David Leavitt; and The Grandmothers was reissued in 2006 with an introduction by Sargent Bush. Collections of Wescott's manuscripts are housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and the New York Public Library.

Craig Kaczorowski

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    Bibliography
   

Bawer, Bruce. Diminishing Fictions: Essays on the Modern American Novel and Its Critics. Saint Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1988.

Friel, Jim. "Review of Glenway Wescott Personally: a Biography by Jerry Rosco." Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde Anglophone (2007): http://www.cercles.com/review/r29/rosco.html#10

Johnson, Ira. Glenway Wescott: The Paradox of Voice. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971.

Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

Rueckert, William H. Glenway Wescott. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1965.

_____. "Glenway Wescott." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945. James J. Martine, ed. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981. 111-115.

Vargo, Marc E. Noble Lives: Biographical Portraits of Three Remarkable Gay Men --Glenway Wescott, Aaron Copland, and Dag Hammarskjöld. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2005.

Wescott, Glenway. Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955. Robert Phelps and Jerry Rosco, eds. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Wescott, Glenway  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated July 6, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/wescott_g.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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