Wilder, Thornton: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
(researched by Ruth Collins)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Published by Albert & Charles Boni, New York, 1927. Copyright, 1927, by Albert & Charles Boni. Manufactured in the United States of America.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first preliminary edition was published in a meshed mauve cloth. Stamped in black on the cover is an ornamental design that is approximately 4 x 2.5 in.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
1 blank leaf, 1-14 , 15-235, 236 , 1 blank leaf. 119 leaves total. Chapters: 15-23, 27-86, 89-139, 143-207, 211-235.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
It is neither edited nor introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are ten 21 x 13 cm. pen and ink drawings by Amy Drevenstedt including the frontspiece. Also, on the inside of the front and back covers, there are brown anonymously illustrated end papers showing a map of Peru and Ecuador with MARE DEL SVR printed on them.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The typography is clear and easy to read. There are large margins of approximately 1 in. on the outer margin, 1/2 in. on inner margin, 2 in. on the bottom margin, and 1 in. on the top margin. The spine is printed in black and includes the title, the author, an emblem of a figure playing an instrument, and the publisher. Each chapter is divided by a leaf that has printed on it the number of the part and the title of the chapter (ex. PART ONE / PERHAPS AN ACCIDENT ). On pages 19, 68, and 229 there are dotted lines that divide the text within the chapters.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is a rough, woven, off-white paper of heavy quality. The pages are 5 x 8 in. and the tops of the pages are colored mauve. There are no rips or tears and there are no chain lines.
11 Description of binding(s)
The first edition binding has held up very well. It is bound in meshed mauve cloth stamped in black in an ornamental design of a house and trees on the front cover and downward along the spine in black as well. The back and front covers are approximately 8 and 1/4 in. x 5 and 1/8 in.
12 Transcription of title page
The BRIDGE of / SAN LUIS REY/ [rule] / By /THORNTON WILDER/ Illustrated by / AMY DREVENSTEDT / [device of world in black ] / 1927 / ALBERT & CHARLES BONI: NEW YORK [all enclosed by a thin black rule]
Note: The first ordinary issue of the first edition, published a couple days after the preliminary issue, has a title page enclosed by a thin green rule and the device is printed in green as well.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
There is a manuscript of bound page proofs held at Clifton Waller Barrett Library , deposited on April 4, 1990. (MSS 9773-j)
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
All this information pertains to the first edition, preliminary issue, which was published a few days before the first trade edition in an edition of 21 copies. The first ordinary issue was published on Novemeber 3, 1927, in an edition of between 7000 and 9000 copies. The pagination is the same but the title page is enclosed by a green rule instead of black along with the picture of the world on the front. Also, it has a green dust wrapper printed in black, purple and yellow.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
The original publisher, Albert & Charles Boni, issued two other editions besides the first preliminary issue listed above.
1)The First Ordinary Issue:
Published on November 3, 1927, in an edition of between 7000 and 9000 copies, according to the best recollection of Mr. Albert Boni.
The BRIDGE of/ SAN LUIS REY/ [rule] / By / THORNTON WILDER / Illustrated by / AMY DREVENSTEDT / [device in green] / 1927 /ALBERT & CHARLES BONI: NEW YORK [the whole enclosed by a thin green rule]
The cover is made of mauve meshed cloth stamped in black and green on the front and downward along the spine as well. Identical to the drawings of the first preliminary issue, there are ten 21 X 13 cm. pen and ink drawings, including the frontspiece. Ther
e are illustrated brown end papers showing a map of Peru and the top edges are stained green. The pagination is the same as the first preliminary issue. Furthermore, there is a green dust wrapper printed in black, purple and yellow.
2) Special Edition, signed:
Published on September 20, 1929 in an edition of 1100 copies.
The / BRIDGE / of / San Luis Rey / by / Thornton Wilder / Illustrated by Rockwell Kent / NEW YORK / ALBERT & CHARLES BONI / 1929 [all part of a lithograph of a bridge over a golf done in blue, yellow, and green]
1 blank leaf pasted down, 2 blank leaves, [1]-120 pp., 2 leaves, 2 blank leaves, 1 blank leaf pasted down. [1-17]^4 The cover is made of a specially designed cloth in blue, yellow, and purple hues with black, or red, leather label stamped in gold along the spine. The top edges are gilded and the deminsions of the cover are 27.5 x 18.5 cm. There is a glazed paper dust w
rapper in a blue-grey box.
Colophon: Of this edition of the BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY there were completed in the month of August, nineteen hundred twenty-nine, eleven hundred copies all printed on Vidalon, of which numbers one through one hundred are accompanied by a special p
ortfolio containing a set of proofs of the lithographs in three colors signed by Rockwell Kent; designed and made by the Pynson Printers, under the direction of Elmer Adler, and hand-set from Baskerville type especially cast at the Village Foundrey of F.W
. Goudy at Marlborough; bound in specially designed fabric; printed in the city of New York, all books signed by the author and by the artist, This Being Number [ ]
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There were seven large printings of the First Edition within six weeks.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Reprinted: Grossett & Dunlap, 1927. Pocket Books, 1927. Harper and Row, 1927. Longmans, Green and CO., 1929 & 1931. Woodcuts by Clare Leighton. Penguin, 1941. Washington Square Press, 1955. Harper & Row, 1955. Folio Society, 1956. Criterion Books (A Thronton Wilder Trio), 1956. Limited Editions Club, 1962. (Introduced by Granville Hicks, illustrated with lithographs in color by Jean Charlot) Time Inc., 1963. Harper Collins, 1967. Harper & Row, 1967. Avon Books, 1976. Washington Square Press, 1985. Harper Collins Pub., 1986. Demco Media, 1986. Borgo Press, 1991. Buccaneer Books, 1991. Macmillan Library Reference, 1997. US Chivers Press, 1997.
Perennial Classics, 1998.
6 Last date in print?
In print as of 1999.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
The first edition sold 240,000 copies in its first year, becoming the #1 bestseller for fiction in 1928. It first appeared on the Publisher's Weekly fiction list on 4/21/28 at #1 and remained there for twelve weeks, spending a total of sixteen weeks on the list.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
By March 3, 1958, over two million copies had been sold. By 1981, Pocket Books sales alone of the Bridge of San Luis Rey had reached 1,189,764.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Most advertisement copies are found in either Publisher's Weekly or The New York Times Book Review.
1)Publisher's Weekly March 10, 1928
First 100,000 Copies in 90 Days/ The Country's Best-selling Book / THE BRIDGE OF / SAN LUIS REY / By / THORNTON WILDER / Author of The Cabala "THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK OF THE YEAR." -Wm. Lyon Phelps
Includes a list of the stores which had sold from 1,000 to 12,000 copies each and a list of new spring books published by Albert & Charles Boni
2)The New York Times Book Review January 8, 1928
THORTON WILDER / Author of / THE BRIDGE OF / SAN LUIS REY / A Philosophical Novel Which Has Become A Best Seller / $2.50 at all bookstores "A work of genius. I regard the author as already attained to the front rank of living novelists." -Wm. Lyon Phelps "There is no newcomer on the horizon, whose future i would bet on with so much enthusiasm. He is almost alone in his eminence. At the age of thirty he has achieved the astonishing feat of writing a classic." -Burton Rascoe "The writing has not been surpassed in the present epoch. It dazzled me by its accomplishment." -Arnold Bennett "I have read no book this fall which has given me more sheer pleasure in the reding. Its success am ong the discriminating should be great." -Henry S. Canby "A little masterpiece. Judged even by that exacting standard (of masterpieces) this is a contribution to literature." -Isabel Paterson "So many fascinating characters and so much wisdom that even a jaded reviewer is completely refreshed." -Harry Hansen
Includes a large picture of Thorton Wilder and a summary of the novel.
3) Saturday Review April 21, 1928
CLOSE YOUR EYES/ AND CHOOSE / (pictures of the covers of The Bridge of San Luis Rey and The Cabala) / READ ONE AND YOU / WILL WANT THE OTHER / $2.50 EACH AT ALL BOOKSTORES "One of those rare novels which reveal the movement along a predetermined orbit of a new luminary in the planetary system of literature." -New York Times

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
The Bridge of San Luis Rey won the Pulitizer Prize in 1928.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The Bridge of San Luis Ray was filmed two times in the US.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1929) Directed by Charles Brabin Production Company: MGM Original Music by Carli Elinor Cinematography by Merritt Gerstad Film Editing by Margaret Booth Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons Writing Credits to Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings, and Alice D.G. Miller
It won Cendric Gibbons the Oscar in 1929 for Best Art Direction.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944) Directed by Rowland V. Lee Produced by Benedict Bogeaus Production Company: United Artists Original Music by Dimitri Tiomkin Cinematography by John W. Boyle Film Editing by Harvy Manger Writing credits to Howard Estabrook and Herman Weissman Runtime: 89 minutes
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
[Sweden] Die Brucke von San Luis Rey. Zurich: Verlag der Arche, 1945. Translated by Herberth E. Herlitschka. Zurich: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1951. Translated by Herberth Egon herlitschka and illustrated by Charles Hug. Luzern: Schweizer Volks-Buchgemeinde, 1958. Translated by Herberth Egon Herlitschka. Zurich: Manesse, 1993. Translated by Herberth E.herilitschka and illustrated by Ins Buhofer. [French] Le point du roi Saint-Louis. Lausanne: La Guilde du livre, 1951. Translated by Maurice Remon and illustrated by Charles Hug. Paris: Albin Michel, editor, 1929. translated by Maurice Remon.
[Polish] Most San Luis Ray. Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1957.
[Portugeuse] A ponte de San Luis Rei. Sao Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1983. Translated by Monteiro Lobato.
[Italian] Il ponte di San Luis Rey. Milan: A. Mondadori, 1964. Translated by Lauro De Bosis.
[German] Die Brucke von San Luis Rey. Leipzig: E.P. Tal, 1929 & 1935. Translated by Herberth E. Herlitscha. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1952 & 1976. Translated by Herberth E. Herlitscha. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1955. Translated by Hans Daiber and original illustrations by Helmut Ackermann.
San Luis Reyn silta. Hameenlinna] Karisto, 1958. Translated by Valfrid Hedman.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Thornton Niven Wilder was the surviving member of a set of twins, born on April 17, 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin. His father, Amos P. Wilder, was a very religious Congregationalist and "full of civic pieties" w
hile his mother, Isabella, was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and strongly supported Thornton's artistic yearnings (Mallon, 45). Thornton had four siblings including his older brother, Amos N. Wilder, and three younger sisters, Charlotte, Isabe
lle, and Janet. In 1906, his father was appointed consul general to Hong Kong after working for the Wisconsin State Journal for twelve years. The entire family moved to Hong Kong for six months, and the children attended a German school. After six
months, Isabella and the children returned to the US and settled in Berkeley, California. During the following eight years, Thornton and his siblings were shunted back and forth from China and California and in 1915, Thornton graduated from Berkeley High School. From there, he attended Oberlin College until 1917 when he transferred to Yal
e and his family reunited in New Haven. Eager to enlist, Thornton interrupted his studies for eight months in 1918 to enroll with the Coast Artillery. Previously, he had appeared frequently in both the Oberlin Literary Magazine and the Yale Literary Magaz
ine, and in 1919 he returned to Yale and received his B.A. degree. In 1920-21, he began writing his first novel, The Cabala, while residing at the American Academy in Rome, and in 1922 an excerpt of it was first published in Double Dealer though Albert & Charles Boni did not publish it in entirety unti
l 1926. For the following seven years, Thornton taught French at Lawrence school in New Jersey, excluding the two years he took off to work towards his M.A. in French which he received from Princeton in 1926. In 1928, at the age of thirty-one, Wilder won
his first Pulitzer Prize for his best selling novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by which "Wilder received fame and fortune beyond his wildest dreams"(Burbank, 21). Throughout the 1930's, Wilder made numerous lecture tours and succeeded in publishing two more novels, The Woman of Andros in 1930 and Heaven's My Destination in 1935. He also became good friends with Gertrude Stein and gained literar
y standing through his compilation of playwrights such as Our Town (1937) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). No professional undertaking by Wilder over the next three decades, however, would quite match these preceding achievements (Lewis, 35
). He came out with three more novels and had several plays hit Broadway but none of them achieved the standing and popularity of his earlier works. He died of a heart attack at his home in Hamden, Connecticut on December 7, 1975 with a significant number
of awards under his belt including the Gold Medal for Fiction (1952), the German Peace Prize (1957), the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the National Medal of Literature (1965), and a total of three Pulitzer Prizes for Bridge of San Luis R
ey
(1927), Our Town(1938), and The Skin of Our Teeth(1942).
Mallon, Thomas. "The Enthusiast: A Life of Thornton Wilder." National Review. 1 June 1984: 45-46. Burbank, Rex. Thornton Wilder. Boston: Twayne Pub., 1978. Lewis, R.W.B. "The enthusiast: a life of Thornton Wilder." The New Republic. 12 Dec 1983: 32-36.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Immediately following the publication of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wilder began receiving numerous positive reviews of his work. Even without the help of the Literary Guild or the Book-of-the-Month Club, who refused to help advertise the novel "for fear that it was too beautiful to sell," The Bridge made its way to the best sellers (Salpeter, 630). By April 1928, the novel had sold approximately 100,000 copies without being "forced down the throats of a subservient host of subscribers who read what they are told to read"(Salpeter, 630). In Harry Salpeter's review of the novel in Outlook, he explains this phenomena by simple stating that "The Bridge is a good book" (Salpeter, 630). He continues to explain the skyrocketing success of the novel by focusing on the aspects of The Bridge that set it apart from the other novels of the time. He says that the book was successful because "the title is euphonious and the jacket arresting and provocative," because "the book is all things to all men- prose for the dilettante, romantic character portraits for the majority," "because optimists may draw an optimistic view from it and the pessimist a pessimistic conclusion," and because "readers of the fiction were becoming tired of a realistic novels and were rotten ripe for a book like the Bridge, whether they knew it or not"(Salpeter, 630). Similarly, Burton Rascoe praises the novel in his review in Bookman in which he says, "There is no newcomer on the horizon, not even Ernest Hemingway, Julian Green or Elizabeth Madox Roberts, whose future I would bet on with so much enthusiasm and so much cold cash as Thornton Wilder's"(Rascoe, 559). While their were some negative reviews such as Edmund Wilson's review in The New Republic, in which he claims that "Wilder's real emotions and ideas have not yet fully identified themselves with his peculiar style and form to bring forth his peculiar kind of beauty," on the most part, the reviews were optimistic towards Wilder's writing and future (Wilson, 304). In 1928, Alexander Woollcott described The Bridge as a novel of "aloof and untruckling beauty" (Salpeter, 630). Other reviewers have praised it for its quality of imagination, "admirable craftsmanship," "freshness of theme, delicacy of treatment and fineness of literary form."(Hooke, 730). However, the most notable aspect of the novel that was mentioned in reviews was the point that "no detail is too trivial" in the novel (Hooke, 730). As Edward Shanks says in his review in the London Mercury, "He could not with advantage have told us any more about any one of these immortal souls, but he could not, without damage, have told us less. The construction and proportion of his book are as exact and accurate as if it were a legal memorandum written by a master lawyer"(Shanks, 324). Overall, the novel appeared to be received by reviewers and the general public with open arms and praise at the time of its publishing. The publication of the novel marked a turning point in Wilder's career. As Burton Rascoe says, "At the age of thirty he has achieved the astonishing feat of writing a classic"(Rascoe, 559).
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Immediately following the publication of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wilder began receiving numerous positive reviews of his work. Even without the help of the Literary Guild or the Book-of-the-Month Club, who refused to help advertise the novel "for fear that it was too beautiful to sell," The Bridge made its way to the best sellers (Salpeter, 630). By April 1928, the novel had sold approximately 100,000 copies without being "forced down the throats of a subservient host of subscribers who read what they are told to read"(Salpeter, 630). In Harry Salpeter's review of the novel in Outlook, he explains this phenomena by simple stating that "The Bridge is a good book" (Salpeter, 630). He continues to explain the skyrocketing success of the novel by focusing on the aspects of The Bridge that set it apart from the other novels of the time. He says that the book was successful because "the title is euphonious and the jacket arresting and provocative," because "the book is all things to all men- prose for the dilettante, romantic character portraits for the majority," "because optimists may draw an optimistic view from it and the pessimist a pessimistic conclusion," and because "readers of the fiction were becoming tired of a realistic novels and were rotten ripe for a book like the Bridge, whether they knew it or not"(Salpeter, 630). Similarly, Burton Rascoe praises the novel in his review in Bookman in which he says, "There is no newcomer on the horizon, not even Ernest Hemingway, Julian Green or Elizabeth Madox Roberts, whose future I would bet on with so much enthusiasm and so much cold cash as Thornton Wilder's"(Rascoe, 559). While their were some negative reviews such as Edmund Wilson's review in The New Republic, in which he claims that "Wilder's real emotions and ideas have not yet fully identified themselves with his peculiar style and form to bring forth his peculiar kind of beauty," on the most part, the reviews were optimistic towards Wilder's writing and future (Wilson, 304). In 1928, Alexander Woollcott described The Bridge as a novel of "aloof and untruckling beauty" (Salpeter, 630). Other reviewers have praised it for its quality of imagination, "admirable craftsmanship," "freshness of theme, delicacy of treatment and fineness of literary form."(Hooke, 730). However, the most notable aspect of the novel that was mentioned in reviews was the point that "no detail is too trivial" in the novel (Hooke, 730). As Edward Shanks says in his review in the London Mercury, "He could not with advantage have told us any more about any one of these immortal souls, but he could not, without damage, have told us less. The construction and proportion of his book are as exact and accurate as if it were a legal memorandum written by a master lawyer"(Shanks, 324). Overall, the novel appeared to be received by reviewers and the general public with open arms and praise at the time of its publishing. The publication of the novel marked a turning point in Wilder's career. As Burton Rascoe says, "At the age of thirty he has achieved the astonishing feat of writing a classic"(Rascoe, 559).
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
While teaching classes at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, Thornton Wilder grew overnight success and fame with the publication of his novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He got the idea for the Pulit
zer Prize winning novel "on the winding walk from the golf club to the Graduate College" and began writing it in his room on the top floor of the Graduate College (Leitch). As Clark Andrews recalls in his tribute to Wilder, "To Us, He Was Always T.W.," "
One day, on a beautiful April morning, the news broke: the book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, had won the Pulitzer Prize, and overnight and unknown school teacher became a celebrity"(Andrews). By July of 1927, the novel had sold close to 200,000 cop
ies and in 1928, it became the number one best seller for fiction and it also appeared for twelve consecutive weeks at number one on the Publisher's Weekly fiction list. Yet, what might explain this sudden explosion of interest in a novel which explores
the lives of five travelers who fall to their death in a Peruvian gulf during the early eighteenth century and the unraveling of the destinies that brought them together at that moment? Wilder's first novel, The Cabala was published in 1926 but it
"gave no special promise of distinction"(Hooke, 730). However, it did introduce Wilder to the literary world and "arouse the most exciting hopes of its author"(Shanks, 323). Therefore, when The Bridge of San Luis Rey came along, people were alread
y slightly familiar with Wilder's; yet, the novel also provided readers with something refreshing and new.
One reason Thornton Wilder has gained so much acclaim from the novel is that its ideas and style of writing were very out of the ordinary for the time. In the 1920's, due to the effects of the First World War, there was a huge gulf between generations a
nd sons often rejected the standards by which their fathers lived. Most writers "belonged to a conspiracy of youth," in which there was a "moral rebellion against middle age"(Cowley). However, Wilder grew up in a rather stable family, worshipped in his fa
ther's church, and followed the career of teaching that his father picked out for him. Therefore, his writing revealed a certain amount of "continuity and tradition" that was extraordinary for the time (Cowley). While most writers at the time were "nove
lists of manners," Wilder was a "novelist of morals"(Cowley). As Wilder once stated, "I am not interested in the ephemeral- such subjects as the adulteries of dentists. I am interested in those things that repeat and repeat and repeat in the lives of mill
ions"(McIntyre). Readers of fiction were getting tired of the same old realistic novels and were extremely thirsty for a mystical, philosophical, and sentimental novel like The Bridge. Also, there were no good novels on the market at that time, so
The Bridge managed to fill that gap.
The critic, Burton Rascoe, states, "At the age of thirty Wilder has achieved the astonishing feet of writing a classic"(Rascoe, 559). However, what does Rascoe mean exactly by a classic? Rascoe continues by comparing The Bridge to such works as Gol
dsmith's "The Vicar of Wakefield" and Madame de Lafayette's "La Princesse de Cleves" because they both are "brief, compact, beautiful, perfect in their several ways" yet they even lack the wonderful intricacy of The Bridge of San Luis Rey(Rascoe
, 559). Many critics have claimed that it is his dependence upon classical materials such as The Bible as well as Greek and Roman classics that make the novel a classic. In The Bridge, Wilder "dresses up a very complicated period just prior
to imperial Rome in order to illuminate the enduring ambiguities associated with love and politics, art and power"(McIntyre). In The Bridge, there is great emphasis on form and intelligibility, much like the classics, as Wilder clearly draws out a
plan and design for the reader such as in the line that motivates the whole novel: "Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan"(Wilder, 6). Furthermore, Wilder was always a reader of literature from around the world
such as literatures of Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. John McIntyre compares him to Henry James, Mark Twain, and Hawthorne for his willingness to "explore the American daimon by assaying the New World in terms of the Old"(McIntyre).
It is also true that "according to classical theory, we fall in love with the beautiful"(McIntyre). Much of The Bridge of San Luis Rey's popularity has come from Wilder's ability to create such beauty, even within rather vile landscapes. Wilder d
oes this through his strong compassion and sentimentality throughout the novel. As Matthew Parris says, "His Bridge of San Luis Rey is one of the best short novels written but I expect it is because he offers no 'searing critique' of his age, nei
ther is he 'angry,' 'bitter,' 'hilarious,' or 'hugely entertaining.' He is just tender, and honest"(Parris). Throughout his writing career, Wilder turned time and time again to the theme of selfless love as shown in the final line of The Bridge
: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning"(Wilder, 148). In The Bridge, this selfless love is explored through the character analysis of five people, which results in "fi
ve aspects of love that is really love and not mere concupiscence"(Rascoe, 560).
Furthermore, much of The Bridge's success lies in Wilder's ability to reach out to the universal man and become "Everyman." Wilder had always had an interest in all kinds of people: "the rich, the poor, the old, the young, in those who, so to sp
eak, had won the battle of life and those who had lost it"(McIntyre). In The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wilder stands for the "tradition of civility" as he portrays a "universal event". As Burton Rascoe says in 'Present Thee At Felicity Awhile," Wild
er "has qualities that are bound to be acclaimed by members of the extreme left as well as members of the extreme right"(Rascoe, 559). Also, Wilder manages to reach every reader as the "optimist may draw an optimistic conclusion form it and the pessimist
a pessimistic conclusion"(Salpeter, 634). Furthermore, because Wilder is dealing with moral issues here as he deals with the relationships of individuals with individuals as well as the relations of man with "himself, his destiny, and his God" as means to
explain problems of "faith, hope, love, charity, art, duty, submission, and one's fate," the novel is able to appeal to the universal reader and "can be illustrated from the lives of any individuals, in any place, at any time since the beginning of time
"(Cowley).
While some of The Bridge's success may have been enhanced by its media adaptations and advertising, the novels popularity definitely did not depend upon them. The Bridge was twice made into a movie, first in 1929 and then later in 1944; how
ever, both productions were not very big hits. Some critics say that it is inevitable that "Wilder's moody, unusual story of five people meeting doom on a rickety bridge makes a slow-moving movie"(Maltin). The 1944 production was directed by Rowland Lee
who also directed such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Son of Frankenstein. Unfortunately though, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was one of the less memorable productions of his career. As The Apollo Guide Review of the mov
ie states, "This version of The Bridge of San Luis Rey is disappointingly static and talky. Too much time is spent with talking heads describing the story, and not enough is devoted to actually showing it. It's as if the story not only got halfway
off the print page and the filmmakers decided to handle the rest by reciting it." As for the advertising aspect of The Bridge's success, little is to be said of its significance. As Harry Saltpeter says in "Why Is a Best-Seller?," "It was not for
ced down the throats of a subservient host of subscribers who read what they are told to read. One hundred thousand individuals have been paying $2.50 apiece for an unusually brief novel, to which weight and bulk were lent by such devices as generous marg
ins and chapter divisions, large, well-spaced type, heavy paper and binding"(Salpeter, 634).
Even though The Bridge has received incredible fame, sold 100,000 copies within its first year without the help of the Literary Guild or the Book-of-the Month Club, and won numerous honors, the novel has actually received less critical attention th
an the work of any other major American writer. This unusual phenomena may be explained by the fact that many critics in the 1920's and even today, believe that a piece of literature "could be a best-seller or a work of art, but not both" and that really
fine books do not become best-sellers (Cowley). In fact, the Literary Guild and the Book-of-the-Month Club turned down The Bridge of San Luis Rey because they believed the book was "to beautiful to sell"(Salpeter, 634). Another theory to explain t
he disregard of The Bridge from critical recognition was and is ironically due to the main reason it gained such popular acclaim: its strong optimism. However, some critics admire Wilder for these courageous attempts to set himself apart from "the
abyss-leaning tendency of the modern temper"(Lewis). For example, a critical review in the New Republic, states, "He really was a buoyant being, and for me he rings least true when he is talking modernistically about boundless human misery, and mos
t true when, for example, he tried hard late in life to work up a mood of resentment about a recent biography of him, but had to confess that 'cheerfulness is always breaking in'"(Lewis). Also, some of the neglect may derive from the fact that Wilder ne
ver really had a specialty because he was not only distinguished as a novelist but also as a dramatist and essayist. Therefore, critics have been confused how exactly label Wilder as a writer.
Furthermore, much of the neglect of the novel derives from the fact that Wilder is not "essentially American"(McIntyre). He has actually been attacked for "ignoring American subject matter in favor of dimly imagined classical worlds full of 'little laven
der tragedies'"(Mallon).Wilder once wrote, "it is not easy to be an American because the rules aren't made yet; the exemplars are not clear. It is like leaving the Known and Comforting and crossing an ocean and a trackless wilderness in which one must g
radually set up a form of government and one must decide what should be taught in the schools and one must build a church. and one can't rely very much on those one knew before - over there, because, for us, those weren't quite right"(McIntyre). Most wr
iter's of his time had a home place to focus their writing on such as Faulkner's county in Mississippi or Hemingway's Michigan woods; however, Wilder had no "geographical starting point" upon which to center his work since he was constantly moving back
and forth from China to the U.S. and also from one side of the U.S. to the other (Cowley).
Overall, besides the neglect of critics, it is evident that Wilder had no problems in reaching out to the "trackless wilderness" of America in The Bridge of San Luis Rey which not only gave him a single success but led to popular appeal in his late
r novels and playwrights such as the Pulitzer-Prize winning plays, Our Town(1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). says, "There is no newcomer on the horizon, not even Ernest Hemingway, Julian Green or Elizabeth Madox Roberts, whose future
I would bet on with so much enthusiasm and so much cold cash as Thornton Wilder"(Rascoe, 559). Most likely, she has gained a great deal of "cold cash" from this bet because Wilder's success and fame remains permanently fixed. The Bridge of San Luis Re
y
is still in print and even by 1981, Pocket Books sales alone of the novel had reached 1,189,764. Therefore, it is slightly an understatement when Harry Salpeter states, "The Bridge is a good book" (Salpeter, 634).
**(Retrieved form Internet or Lexis-Nexis)***
Andrews, Clark. "To Us, He Was Always T.W." Yankee. Sep 1978. www.thornton-wilder.com/trib/tributes_andrews.html Apollo Guide Review. http://apolloguide.com Cowley, Malcolm. "The man Who Abolished Time." Saturday Review. 6 Oct 1956. www.thorton-wilder.com/trib/tributes_abolish.html Leitch, Alexander. mondrian.princeton.edu/CampusWWW/Companion/wilder_thornton.html Lewis, R.W.B. "The enthusiast: a life of Thornton Wilder." The New Republic. 12 Dec 1983 Mallon, Thomas. "The Enthusiast: A Life of Thornton Wilder." National Review. 1 June 1984. Maltin, Leonard. Leonard maltin's Movie & Video Guide. http://us.imdb.com/Maltin?0036672 McIntyre, John. "Homage for Thornton Wilder." www.thornton-wilder.com/trib/tributes_mcintyre.html
Parris, Matthew. "Matthew Parris Column." Times Newspapers Limited. 6 Sep. 1993. Salpeter, Harry. "Why Is a Best-Seller?" Outlook. CXLVIII. April 18., 634, 640. Hooke, S.H.. "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." The Canadian Forum. v8, 730 Rascoe, Burton. "Present Thee At Felicity Awhile." Bookman. LXVI, 559-62. Shanks, Edward. "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." London Mercury. Jan., XVII, 323-4.
You are not logged in. (Sign in)