Memoirs of Hecate County

by Edmund Wilson

Hardcover, 1946




Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1946.


Hecate is the Greek goddess of sorcery, and Edmund Wilson's Hecate County is the bewitched center of the American Dream, a sleepy bedroom community where drinks flow endlessly and sexual fantasies fill the air. Memoirs of Hecate County, Wilson's favorite among his many books, is a set of interlinked stories combining the supernatural and the satirical, astute social observation and unusual personal detail. But the heart of the book, "The Princess with the Golden Hair," is a starkly realistic novella about New York City, its dance halls and speakeasies and slums. So sexually frank that for years Wilson's book was suppressed, this story is one of the great lost works of twentieth-century American literature: an astringent, comic, ultimately devastating exploration of lust and love, how they do and do not overlap.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member HarryMacDonald
I have a tremendous respect for Wilson the literary and social critic. I wish I couls say the same thing for Wilson the fiction-writer as represented in this book. There is a smug coarseness which troubles me throughout. It's one thing to create characters who are dyspathetic, but it is quite another for another to leave the impression, past the narrative itself, that a cold or even nasty mind has been at work. One a much lower level, it's an interesting comment on chganging values that HECATE COUNTY should have been highly controversial upon its initial publication. Compared to an hour of FOX-TV, this book is a Methodist sermon.… (more)
LibraryThing member yarb
A set of six tales with a common narrator and all situated in New England and New York. I liked the use of fantasy, restrained to the extent that it becomes realistic, mirrors those few moments of genuine oddness that we all seem to experience in our lives. There is magic here, but it's momentary, and leaves the characters guessing and second guessing long after we leave them. "Ellen Terhune" is I guess the most avowedly supernatural story, but its time-shifting spookery is handled so adroitly as to take the reader entirely unawares. I'd locate it between Henry and M.R. James's ghost stories - perhaps closer to Henry. The central piece, "The Princess with the Golden Hair", is quite objectionable in the chauvinism of its narrator and its predictability, but it's soaked in a weird sexual fever (it was banned for a while) that makes you keep reading. My favourite was "Mr. And Mrs. Blackburn at Home", but that's because I can't resist a good literary Satan, and here he speaks excellent French and much good sense. He is as good an Old Nick as I've read.

On the other hand, there is not much depth to these stories. If you don't care for the milieu, or Wilson's or the narrator's style, you will probably detest them. There's nothing groundbreaking about "Memoirs of Hecate County", but I found it surprisingly good. I must read some of his non-fiction.
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