Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography
In 1925 Glenway Wescott sailed for France to write his second novel, to join the other American expatriates living in Paris, and to become a literary figure within the modernist movement that Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein termed the Lost Generation. His second novel, The Grandmothers (1927), went through twenty-six printings within six months and won the Harper Prize Novel Award—its publication had been likened to the appearance of Winesburg, Ohio and Spoon River Anthology. Wescott met Hemingway, Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Djuna Barnes, Jean Cocteau, Robert McAlmon, and other luminaries of that period. In fact, Hemingway parodies Wescott, who had been an openly gay man and a literary rival, as Robert Prentiss in The Sun Also Rises. For all intents and purposes, Hemingway first introduces Brett Ashley, in today's terminology, as a "fag hag" along with Prentiss/Wescott and other gay men.
Glenway Wescott (1901-1987), however, has been marginalized in American literary history. Fortunately, with Jerry Rosco's engrossing and well-written biography, a rediscovery of this important and long-neglected American writer is underway. Wescott wrote the novella The Pilgrim Hawk (1940), which is about two American expatriates in France and their encounter with an Irish couple and their pet pilgrim hawk. Many critics consider this work to be one of the most distinguished novellas of twentieth-century American literature—this important book, long out of print, has been recently republished with an introduction by Michael Cunningham. Wescott also wrote a best-selling novel called Apartment in Athens (1945), the story of a Nazi officer's occupation of a Greek family's home during W.W.II—this novel, too, has been long out of print but will soon be republished. He was elected to and served as president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As the self-proclaimed Dean of Homosexuals, he did extensive work for Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey and the Institute of Sex Research. He published an exquisite collection of critical essays and reminiscences called Images of Truth (1962) about his friendship and admiration for six important writers: Katherine Anne Porter, Somerset Maugham, Colette, Isak Dinesen, Thomas Mann, and Thornton Wilder.
Rosco, however, did not write a literary biography in that analysis and explication of his novels, short stories, and essays are kept to a minimum. His strategy was to concentrate on the life, the historical times, the friendships, and the lovers of this writer, especially his lifelong partnership with museum administrator Monroe Wheeler. Wescott met, knew, or formed intimate friendships with most of the literary and artistic figures of the twentieth century—Rosco's index is a virtual Who's Who of literature and art. Rosco has done extensive and meticulous research to illuminate not only the life of this extraordinary man of letters but also the gay subculture of Paris and New York City. To read through this biography is to read through the making of American literary history.