Thornton Wilder (Thornton Niven Wilder) Biography
(1897–1975), (Thornton Niven Wilder), The Cabala, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Woman of Andros
American playwright and novelist, born in Madison, Wisconsin, educated at Yale and Princeton, before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago. He made a considerable impact with his first three novels: The Cabala (1926), set in twentieth-century Rome and essentially a fantasy about the death of the pagan gods; The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927; Pulitzer Prize); and The Woman of Andros (1930), based partly on a play by Terence. In the 1930s he became the focus of a major critical debate on the left about what constituted ‘realist’ writing and the politics of such an aesthetics. Heaven's My Destination (1934), is a picaresque novel about the adventures in the Midwest of a travelling seller of textbooks whose evangelical mission is to spread the teachings of Ghandi. The Ides of March (1948) is a historical novel about the last days of Julius Caesar. With Our Town (1938; Pulitzer Prize) he turned to drama in a study of small town New England which remains among the most widely performed plays in America. Other plays include The Skin of Our Teeth (1942; Pulitzer Prize), partly based on Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and combining farce, allegory, and deliberate anachronisms in an attempt to suggest that human experience is transhistorical, A Life in the Sun (1955), based on Euripides' Alcestis, and the comedy The Merchant of Yonkers (1939, performed in New York 1938), which was rewritten as Matchmaker (1954), then adapted into the immensely successful musical Hello Dolly! (1964). He returned to fiction with The Eighth Day (1967) and Theophilus North (1973). A posthumous selection of his essays appeared as American Characteristics and Other Essays (1979). All of his work, he once wrote, was devoted to the search for ‘not verisimilitude but reality’, an indication that his work pursued what he perceived as truth rather than attempting to abide by some formal prescription.