A quintessential American man of letters, Thornton Niven Wilder (1897–1975) worked as a dramatist, novelist, critic, and scholar (no one in his day knew more about Lope de Vega or Finnegans Wake). Wilder was a polyglot and a cosmopolite of international renown—an American in Paris who was an exception to the Lost Generation—and a distinguished soldier. (He volunteered for service in World War II in his forties, went through basic training, and served admirably enough to be both promoted and decorated.) Yet much of his work is forgotten.

Sure, The Bridge of San LuisRey (Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1928) was made into a movie three times and may still be read in some high schools. And, sure, Our Town (Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1938) is a recurring hit on Broadway. And, yes, Wilder won a third Pulitzer in 1942 for his play The Skin of Our Teeth (no other writer has won Pulitzers for...

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