Wolfgang Karrer

Thornton Wilder and Rome


Wilder, Thornton


Hypothesis: The Ides of March is an elegy on Mussolini as a tragic Caesar; as a doubting atheist.

Support: Wilder worked as an intelligence officer in Italy during World War II;

- He dedicated the novel to Lauro de Bosis, anti-fascist writer, thus implying a parallel to Catullus in the novel.Poets vs. power.

- He was under influence of Sartre's existentialism, while writing the novel.Sartre an atheist like Mussolini

SEE also  Malaparte parallel in La pelle, implying a parallel between Vesuvius an Mussolini at the end.


The Ides of March. New York: Harper (1948)



Is the four-parts overlap significant?

three themes: love, poetry, religion, personified in Cleopatra, Catullus, Caesar?

Caesar a doubting agnostic, no leap into faith; a Kierkegaard doubter, a thinker

Multi-perspective allows to remain neutral, show C. from inside and outside; but C dominates all parts -

a liberal view of fascism?

How does Wilder's portrait of Caesar differ from Brecht's fragment of a novel?

Why do critics deny any resemblance of Caesar to 20c dictators?








order / chaos 13, (key words of modernism that divide the right from the left)

freedom (add) the US objection to fascism

God 13, 15, 21,

ritual 12-15, 26,

law 14, 16, 22,

poetry (add)

“life” a buzz word for C.

love (add)



empire 14

poetry 18, 24,

destiny viii, 15, 20,



Dillon 1974

student paper? Bryn Mawr, " portrayal of good and evil action"


Fichtner 1985

Diss.  Kierkegaard Einfluss auf Ides 50-156, im Interview bestätigt; durch Sartre vermittelt; zähe Rezeption auf Diktaturen und 2. Weltkrieg zurückzuführen 89 "Katastrophe"


Goldstein 1965

life 1-28 Yale, influence of humanism (More, Princeton; Babbitt, Harvard) Charles Wager (Yale) 7, Wilder embraced humanism; a year in Rome, captain of Army Air Corps Intelligence during WW II (19), first in Africa, then in Italy until 1945 (20), returned to civilian life in Sept 1945 (20), Ides shows influence of Sartre whom W. met on a Sartre lecture-tour through American universities.

"The atheistic implications of Sartre's philosophy were repugnant to Wilder, but the commitment to life ... was in accord with his own pattern of thought and action."  22 W. wished to affirm the presence of God 22

6. Postwar Writings 131- 57 recent deaths of European dictators may have prompted him to write about Caesar (Brooks Atkinson. "Introduction" to 1950 Harper Ed., not included in 1st ed.; xii) but Caesar bears no resemblance to any other dictator 131; technique 132; Wescott has a sketch of Italian poet's de Bossis life (280-82) 138; "the portrait of Caesar is sympathetic" 141 "we must not read into the novel a comparison of Caesar with the dictators of twentieth-century Europe, despite the allusion to the attempt of de Bossis to shake Mussolini from his unmerited position." 142 deepened tragedy 141, Sartre influence, but no atheist Caesar, but doubt 142, closer to Kierkegaard 142, reviewers not enthusiastic 144


Nimax 1983

Diss. Ides 114-37, German reviews enthusiastic 115-6 (R. Haas, Wilpert, Kosock ; Struktur 118-22, Gattung 122-4-4)

timelessness of character = religious crisis and Kierkegaard quest 125-31


Papajewski 1961

Dankschrift an Schirmer; Ides 60-83 hist R. Religionspsychologie + Problem der Freiheit 70 das 44/45 sehr eingeschränkt war 71 Catull 82; Antike als background einer sehr modernen Lebensauffassung Existenzphil. 83



Simon 1976

biography; sent to Rome by his father, 1920-21; met Adolfo de Bosis and his son Lauro, 19 years old. 34; worked in administration in Algiers and Tunis; after a year was sent to Rome  under US occupation 179; Rome inspired Ides, reading, and death of Sheldon and of Lauro de Bosis who had flown over Iztaly to throw off leaflets against fascism and Mussolini (Oct 3, 1931 flew from Marseille) 179-81, brief sketch of poems Icaro and his anti fascism; Ides a "study in identity" 183 "to revitalize a man who had been buries beneath ages of histories" 184; finished in July 1947; poor reception, tepid, but portrait of Caesar praised 191-92; Wilder wanted his works to be "relevant to the contemporary world" 191 (no mention of Sartre); Wescott was a personal friend 65-67


Walsh 1993

reviewers 1948: anon. spots paralel to Mussolini "but nothing seems to coome out of it." 142; Stilman interviewed TW and quotes him "Julius Caesar is rthe archetype of the genius ruler ... He made so many good laws that he bored the Romans. But he was so free himself he forgot to allow the exercise of freedom to others." 144; R. Watts "seems a sympathetic portrait of dictatorship" 146; Atkinson intro 1950 vii-xv 150;

Works cited:


Dillon, Michael. " Poet and Stazesman. Thornton Wilder's Political vision in The Ides of March." Intercollegiate Review 9 (Summer 1974), 149-58.

Fichtner, Ruth. Elemente ausseramerikanischer Kulturkreise in Wilders Werk. Birkach, München, Berlin: Ladewig, 1985.

Goldstein, Malcolm. The Art of Thornton Wilder. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965.

Nimax, Manfred. "Jederzeit und allerorts". Universalität im Werk von Thornton Wilder. Frankfurt: Haag + Herchen, 1983.

Papajewski, Helmut. Thornton Wilder. Frakfurt, Bonn: Athenäum, 1961.

Simon, Linda. Thornton Wilder. His World. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1979.

Wescott, Glenway. Images of Truth. New York: Harper,  1962.

Wilder, Thornton. The  Ides of March. New York: Harper (1948)