On Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day


John Updike says this about The Eighth Day:

The Eighth Day–his one real novel, he said, and much his longest–opens itself to the digression, the sermonette, the stray inspiration that might capture the simultaneous largeness and smallness of the human adventure. Untidy, self-delightingly, it brims with wonder and wisdom, and aspires to prophecy. We marvel at a novel of such spiritual ambition and benign flamboyance.

Wilder says that this novel deals with

how great love causes havoc…how gifts descend in the family lines making for good, making for ill, and demanding victims…

The reviewer at The Christian Science Monitor called Wilder’s novel

a major work of the imagination [in which] he has raised the ultimate questions and sent them whirling their deep spirals with a wit and intelligence no other American novelist of the moment can match.

Wllder wrote his sister, Isabel, after nine months of writing this novel in Douglas, Arizona. He had finished ninety pages so far, saying it was a long family saga, an adventure story

as though Little Women were being mulled over by Dostoevsky

Tappan Wilder, the author’s nephew, says this:

Will The Eighth Day someday join Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey as a classic, “a story for all times?” Worthy of note is that over the years students in this country and abroad, in a symposium here and an essay there, have kept the light on for a novel they celebrate as a work of epic proportions. In fact, Wilder poured everything he knew about human nature and himself and his society into his American epic.

What The Eighth Day meant for Thornton Wilder, author, is no secret. He went to Douglas, Arizona as a playwrite and came home a novelist. He tried his hand at drama once again, but returned quickly to fiction, the form that now satisfied his drive to tell stories.

Other reviews:

  • A work that Dickens or Dostoevsky would have been proud to have written. (Denver Rocky Mountain News)
  • It ends with the most amazing final paragraph of modern literature. (Asheville Citizen Times)
  • He has taken a calculated risk with few parallels in literary history and he has won. (Chicago Tribune)
  • No resemblance to any other novel in the past 100 years. (Washington Post)
  • A well told story is not of an age–but for all times. (Dallas Times Herald)

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