Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Picturing Edmund Wilson, only more raffish and disreputable

Does it mark me as irredeemably weird that when I see the above photo of a young Edmund Wilson, all I can think is that he needs a slim Douglas Fairbanks mustache?

Especially given that Wilson's social set would have balked at facial hair at that time, wouldn't such a carefully groomed appendage replace his somewhat off-putting air of sheltered uprightness--even preciousness--with a satisfying hint of raffish disdain?

I suppose I could be wrong--I am not, after all, one to argue in favor of mustaches on most faces. A mustache on Edmund Wilson could easily end up more like this description of some middle-aged, mendicant orphans from Anthony Powell's From a View to a Death (1933):
Hair grew on their faces but not successfully. It was sporadic, and in the case of one of the Orphans only was it of sufficient density to form a moustache. Nor was this entirely satisfactory as a feature on account of its colour and unpleasant texture.

Then I imagine Wilson delivering himself of a passage like this one--
I cannot accept the opinion of Mr. Maurice Hewlett and others who have asserted that the new collection of Byron letters, Lord Byron's Correspondence . . . only supply more conclusive evidence that Byron was a "blackguard" and a "cad." This is to simplify the matter too much. It is to assume that when Byron writes "Maid of Athens, ere we part, Give oh give me back my heart!" in one breath and in the next tells Hobhouse that "the old woman, Theresa's mother, was mad enough to imagine that I was going to marry the girl, but I have better amusement," and when he sneers at his wife in his private correspondence, not long after having written, "even though unforgiving, never 'Gainst thee shall my heart rebel, he is sincere in his cynicism but not in his warmth of emotion. It is to assume that one cannot take a personal relation with cynicism and seriousness at the same time--that Childe Harold and Manfred do not represent realities of Byron's experience as well as Don Juan.
--the bristles of a slender mustache trembling all the while, and I begin to think that such an addition might well push him all the way over into priggishness, which would be too bad, since his position on Byron in that passage does, after all, seem eminently reasonable.

Alas, just as with my desire to hear how Frank Sinatra would have sounded had he, rather than Ray Charles, recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, we'll never know. Such are the minor tragedies of history.

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