The American Loneliness
The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder discussed by Christopher Benfey in The New Republic:
Wilder argued that there was something in the nature of the American experiment that fomented unrequited love, and that this cultural situation, with all its disappointments, created compensating conditions for fresh seeing. In studies of Thoreau and Dickinson, he explored what he called “the American Loneliness.” He noted that Thoreau’s disappointed love was directed at a woman he insisted on calling his sister. He noticed that Dickinson managed to “enjoy stoically nourishing an unrequited passion” for older men based on her unresolved relationship with her father. (There is more than a hint that another doomed Emily, in Our Town, has a similarly unresolved relationship with her father.) “In America,” Wilder concluded in his Norton Lectures, “the family is the nexus of an unusually powerful ambivalence.” One might add that Wilder’s own family ties were unusually close: a lifelong bachelor with no documented romantic attachments beyond a fleeting homosexual affair with a friend of Gertrude Stein, recorded in 1983 in Gilbert Harrison’s biography, he lived with his mother until her death in 1946, and an unmarried sister.