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This report is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

John Wheelwright 1897-1940 Brian Morton
On 24 August 1940 Leon Trotsky, bare-headed and bootless, rolled backwards into the crematorium oven and out of history. Not much stirred from the ashes but a tainted sublimation of 'permanent revolution'. Twenty-one days later, John Wheelwright, who had lived the last and happiest years of his life under Trotsky's antinomian star, was struck and killed by a drunken coach driver on Massachussetts Avenue in his native Boston. The funeral was lavish, the Socialist Workers Party sent a floral tribute, friends called him a saint and dedicated verses as he had dedicated verses to all his friends, and then the coffin lid was closed on John Wheelwright.

In the 50 years since his death, Wheelwright's reputation has remained marginal and his four books - Rock and Shell (1933), Mirrors of Venus (1938), Political Self-Portrait (1940), and the posthumous Dawn to Dust - largely unstudied. In 1971 John Ashbery listed the New Directions Collected as one of the hundred most important books since the war, placing Wheelwright on a level with Crane, Williams and Stevens. In 1983, Alan M. Wald, a superbly able critic of the American literary left, attempted to restore Wheelwright and (much less convincingly) Sherry Mangan to the front rank of American letters. Yet, despite the powerful advocacy of Wald's The Revolutionary Imagination (University of North Carolina Press), Wheelwright has again sunk from sight as anything more than a complicated exotic.

John Brooks Wheelwright was a direct descendant - and came to consider himself an ...


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