Castronovo, David 1945-
Castronovo, David 1945-
PERSONAL: Born October 30, 1945, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Anthony J. (an electrical engineer) and Doris L. (a social worker; maiden name, Oliver) Castronovo. Education: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, B.A. (cum laude), 1967; Columbia University, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1975. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Trout fishing, art history.
CAREER: Writer, educator. Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, adjunct assistant professor of English, 1972–76; Pace University, New York City, adjunct assistant professor, 1976–79, assistant professor, 1979–86, associate professor, 1986–88, professor of English, 1988–.
MEMBER: International PEN, Modern Language Association, Princeton Club of New York.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edmund Wilson was cited as a notable book, New York Times, 1985.
Edmund Wilson (literary criticism), Ungar (New York, NY), 1984, published with new introduction as Edmund Wilson Revisited, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1998.
Thornton Wilder (literary criticism), Ungar (New York, NY), 1986.
The English Gentleman: Images and Ideals in Literature and Society, Ungar (New York, NY), 1987.
The American Gentleman: Social Prestige and the Modern Literary Mind, Crossroad/Continuum (New York, NY), 1991.
(Editor, with Janet Groth) From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1995.
(With Steven Goldleaf) Richard Yates, Twayne/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor and author of introduction, with Janet Groth) Edmund Wilson: The Man in Letters, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2001.
Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit: Books from the 1950s That Made American Culture, Continuum (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Janet Groth) Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson, Shoemaker & Hoard (Emeryville, CA), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including Sixty Years of Wilder Criticism, edited by Martin Blank, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA); also contributor of essays to Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Collier's Encyclopedia, The Ungar Encyclopedia of American Literature, and The Ungar Encyclopedia of Literature in the Twentieth Century. Member of advisory board for Dickens' Universe, Peter Lang. Contributor of articles and reviews to America, Commonweal, Shofar, New England Review, and Forward.
SIDELIGHTS: David Castronovo is a professor of English with a focus on twentieth-century American literature. His research on the critic Edmund Wilson has led to several titles of biography, critical assessment, and collections of letters and heretofore uncollected writings. In his 1984 work, Edmund Wilson, Castronovo attempts to sort out Wilson's dominant themes and put his career in perspective, according to John Gross in the New York Times, who added that Castronovo "writes with intelligence and verve." In his New York Times Book Review article, James Atlas asserted that "the account of Wilson's career is concise, lucid and oddly for an academic book convivial." The wide range of Wilson's achievements and summaries of his greatest works are presented well, according to Times Literary Supplement contributor Neil Berry. "If you don't know the works he discusses," concluded Gross, "he will whet your appetite for them; if you do, he will help you to see them more clearly."
Working with fellow scholar Janet Groth, Castronovo has also examined other aspects of Wilson's career. Their 1995 title, From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, is an anthology of fifty pieces published in magazines beginning in 1911, when Wilson was still a teenager, and continuing to 1959, by which time he was already America's premier literary critic. The essays deal with such writers as T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, and James Joyce. New Republic reviewer Paul Berman noted that Castronovo and Groth "remind us in their introduction that Wilson tried all his life to impose an intellectual order on emotional chaos." The editors organize the essays chronologically, providing a "feast for Wilson devotees," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Similar praise came from Literary Review critic Burton Raffel, who concluded that From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson was "a book to be both studied and enjoyed; it is most certainly a book that will be quoted, and ought to be influential, for a very long time."
In their 2005 biography, Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson, Castronovo and Groth "concentrate on Wilson the ladies' man," according to Library Journal reviewer Morris Hounion. Castronovo and Groth focus on love interests in Wilson's life, including poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, novelist Mary McCarthy, and journalist Penelope Gilliat, among others. The biography relies heavily on Wilson's own letters, journals, and reviews. Hounion felt that this work "succeeds" in its goal of shedding more light on Wilson's romantic side and romantic asides, demonstrating the human qualities beneath the professional exterior of the critic. However, a critic for Kirkus Reviews was less impressed with Critic in Love, finding it "both a touch voyeuristic and more than a touch unnecessary." A more positive assessment came from Salon.com reviewer Allen Barra, who observed he was "happy to find that [Wilson] had a more human side than previous biographers … have revealed."
A different Wilson gives the title to Castronovo's 2004 study, Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit: Books from the 1950s That Made American Culture. Sloan Wilson is one of the authors featured in this overview, and his novel, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, provides the central metaphor for the buttoned-down conservatism and material orientation by which that decade is usually characterized. Other writers and works featured in Castronovo's study include both contemporary classics, such as John O'Hara's From the Terrace, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, as well as less well known works from the time, such as James Gould Cozzens's By Love Possessed, and William Whyte's The Organization Man. It is Castronovo's thesis that the literature from the late 1940s to the early 1960s is as important to the development of American literature as were those of, for example, the 1920s Jazz Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the Weekly Standard, reviewer Brian Murray felt that Castronovo "effectively demonstrates" his contention and thesis. Library Journal contributor Alison M. Lewis found the writing in the same work "scholarly yet accessible." Booklist critic Ray Olson had higher praise, calling Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit "topdrawer literary-cultural cogitation."
Castronovo told CA: "I got started as a writer by reviewing the Broadway production of Beyond the Fringe. I work as an intellectual historian and literary critic. My usual canvas is the book-length essay or the appreciation/argument of several pages. My pigments are social and political ideas, symbolic events in the past and present, fictional characters at moments of crisis, and authors struggling against outworn convention or trendiness. My heroes in the essay form (besides Wilson) are Lionel Trilling, Isaiah Berlin, and T.S. Eliot. I've been influenced by all the contemporary schools of criticism, and yet their doctrines and disciplines interest me less than the literary skills of their best writers. Although I like to write about art and politics, I have no settled beliefs about what causes writers should advance."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, spring, 2005, Jay Martin, review of Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit: Books from the 1950s That Made American Culture, p. 297.
Booklist, September 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit, p. 39.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2005, review of Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson, p. 1120.
Library Journal, November 15, 2001, Morris A. Hounion, review of Edmund Wilson: The Man Letters, p. 69; November 15, 2004, Alison M. Lewis, review of Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit, p. 60; October 1, 2005, Morris Hounion, review of Critic in Love, p. 73.
Literary Review, spring, 1996, Burton Raffel, review of From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, p. 428.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 19, 1987.
New Republic, June 3, 1996, Paul Berman, review of From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, p. 32..
New York Review of Books, June 8, 1995.
New York Times, July 19, 1985, John Gross, review of Edmund Wilson.
New York Times Book Review, July 28, 1985, James Atlas, review of Edmund Wilson.
Publishers Weekly, August 21, 1995, review of From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, p. 54; December 17, 2001, review of Edmund Wilson, the Man in Letters, p. 76.
Times Literary Supplement, February 14, 1986, Neil Berry, review of Edmund Wilson.
Weekly Standard, February 7, 2005, Brian Murray, "The Best Years of Our Lives," review of Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit, p. 33.
Pace University Web site, http://www.pace.edu/ (February 6, 2006), "David Castronovo."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (October 4, 2005), Allen Barra, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," review of Critic in Love.
Sunday Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ (February 27, 2005), review of Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit.