the book is not supposed to solve

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.

The first:

Thornton Wilder
Davis House
Lawrenceville, New Jersey

Dear John:

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