Now That I Was Dead, What Was My Future?

I’ve been having great fun reading The Sixties, the last volume of Edmund Wilson’s journals. They’re more accessible (for me) than many of his other writings, and I’ve learned a lot about many notable literary figures, and even my own family.

In one entry, Wilson has a dream that he is in a kind of military unit of some kind, led by Sam Compton, who, he writes, was engaged to his cousin Esther (my grandmother) and died in World War I.

I never knew that. She never spoke of him that I know of.

In the dream, the squad is using ropes to lower themselves down out of a barn loft, and Wilson sees a round object on the ground which turns out to be a severed head — probably severed by the ropes.

Wilson believes the head is that of his cousin and close friend Sandy Kimball (my grandmother’s brother) and he writes, “I wondered whether it wasn’t better if Sandy had died in this way.”

In real life, Sandy was diagnosed with schizophrenia, after assaulting his mother and sister, and spent 50 years in a mental institution. So he literally “lost his head.”

In his dream, Wilson goes on to a mansion where he meets Grandmother Kimball (my great-great-grandmother) and his Aunt Carrie, my great-grandmother (Sandy’s mother) and wonders whether to tell them that Sandy has died.

Later Wilson has another dream:

“I dreamt I had committed suicide. It was at Wellfleet (on Cape Cod) and Rosalind (Wilson’s daughter) was there. I seemed to be the same as ever, was walking around the house.

“I asked Rosalind whether I still seemed solid, whether she could see through me. She answered that, even before, I had come to seem so faded that she couldn’t notice much difference.” (ouch!)

“She conveyed to me that the body was in on the ironing board, but I didn’t want to see it; it seemed to me I had cut my throat. I wondered why I had done it. I had thought about it several times, but what made me carry out the impulse?

“It was irrevocable, and now that I was dead, I didn’t know what to do with myself. What was my future? — I couldn’t go on functioning.

“I was soon involved with Rosalind in one of our shrill disputes. She sat down and began to read, and I decided that I might as well do the same. I picked up a handful of proofs that were lying beside my chair — I think somebody’s introduction to George Borrow. I might as well go on as before…”

Then he wakes up. George Borrow was a novelist and travel writer whom Wilson had read in college.