Wilder’s Skeletons

Reviews of Penelope Niven’s new biography of Thornton Wilder have highlighted how little we know of the author’s love life, if he had one at all. Natalie Shapero believes Wilder’s play, Our Town, might reveal something about this “lonesomeness or closeted-ness or asexuality or whatever it was”:

From Emily’s place in the graveyard (an encampment of folding chairs set off to the side of the town), she decides, over the cautionings of the other dead people, to return to the world of the living for one day. She scarcely makes it through breakfast, though, before being unable to press on. It’s too hard for people to “realize life while they live it–every, every minute.” Before she returns to the little dead village of chairs, Emily says goodbye to an enumerated list of what she loves about life. In this monologue, she barely mentions other people. For the most part, she names sensory experiences of the world that we really have alone, interactions between our bodies and the physics around us. She says goodbye to the ticking of clocks, to hot baths, to sunflowers. She says goodbye to sleeping! As distinct from death. As part of what makes us alive. …

It is not someone summing up her life by locating her place in a grand social fabric. It is simply an affirmation of the experience of being a creature, to say that each small sensory moment has a deep meaning unto itself, that our wholly interior responses to the built world are what makes life worth it, even in this fantasy of return.