Lewis M. Dabney, Scholar Who Made Edmund Wilson Focus of His Life’s Work, Dies at 83

Historians in the News
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Lewis M. Dabney, a literary scholar whose doctoral dissertation at Columbia steered his path to becoming perhaps the pre-eminent expert on the life and work of Edmund Wilson, died on Tuesday at his home in Easton, Md. He was 83.

The cause was a brain tumor, said his daughter, Elizabeth Dabney Hochman.

Professor Dabney, who taught for more than three decades at the University of Wyoming, completed his exhaustively researched biography, “Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature,” in 2005. By then he had been immersed in Wilsoniana for more than 40 years.

For half a century Wilson was, in the minds of many, the most serious and penetrating cultural commentator in America, and he was indisputably one of the 20th century’s most prolific and versatile men of letters.

In his 20s, Wilson was among the first critics to recognize the importance of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and what he called Hemingway’s “distinctively American development in prose.” At his death at 77 in 1972, his prodigious output included books of essays and reported pieces — many of which originally appeared in Vanity Fair, The Dial, The New Republic and The New Yorker — on literature, political philosophy, cultural history and travel, as well as fiction, poetry, plays and, perhaps most notably, voluminous letters and journals containing social observations, self-analyses, forceful literary judgments, descriptions of cultural movements and trends, and revealing biographical portraits. ...

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