Wilson's jottings on the 1940s; The Forties, by Edmund Wilson. Edited with an Introduction by Leon Edel. Farrar Straus & Giroux. 369 pp. $17.95.
This third volume in the serial publication of Wilson's journals shows the celebrated literary critic in early middle age - sobered by the recent deaths of several ''literary and political fathers'' (including his close friend F. Scott Fitzgerald), and settling into the structured industriousness that distinguished him from virtually all of his contemporaries.
It records Wilson's observations and thoughts on an enormous variety of subjects (nature walks, America in World War II); persons (his new wife Elena Mumm, his old inamorata Edna St. Vincent Millay); and places (The New Yorker sent him on European trips which produced the random travel notes collected here , and also his appealing book ''Europe Without Baedeker'').
There are dull passages here, a fair amount of repetition, and some crushingly boring explicit descriptions of sexual experiences.
There are also some gems: a moving description of John Dos Passos hospitalized after the auto accident in which he was injured and his wife killed; an amusing profile of the supremely self-possessed Evelyn Waugh; and a long, almost impassioned anatomy of the country of Haiti and the condition of its people.
''The Forties'' isn't a major publication, but it has real value as an entertainingly vivid picture of a complex, fertile mind, ceaselessly in action.