Scores of readers, often students, wrote to Wilder over the years seeking his position on the questions posed in The Bridge. In this excerpt from a letter written march 6, 1928, four months after the appearance of the novel, Wilder responds to a query from John Townley, one of his former pupils at Lawrenceville.
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
The book is not supposed to solve. A vague comfort is supposed to hover above the unanswered questions, but it is not a theorem with its Q.E.D. The book is supposed to be as puzzling and distressing as the news that five of your friends died in an automobile accident. I dare not claim that all sudden deaths are, in the last counting, triumphant. As you say, a little over half the situations seem to prove something and the rest escape, or even contradict.
Chekhov said: “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly.“
I claim that human affection contains a strange unanalyzable consolation and that is all. People who are full of faith claim that the book is a vindication of this optimism; disillusioned people claim that it is a barely concealed “anatomy of despair. I am nearer the second group than the first; though some days I discover myself shouting confidentially in the first group.
Where will i be thirty years from now? – with Hardy or Cardinal Newman?
– Thornton Wilder
Afterward, The Bridge of San Louis Rey