even became a member of an organization formed to foster and promote study and appreciation of Wolfe, the Thomas Wolfe Society, and he attended two or three of the group's annual meetings--especially those held in Wolfe's birthplace, Asheville, NC., "one of the most beautiful spots on God's good earth," Thomas had written to Rebecca. The Wolfe Society was made up primarily of academicians who, Thomas felt, were by and large more interested in what they felt and wrote about Wolfe in their overblown and stuffy critiques than they were in what the great and talented Wolfe had written. Many of them suffered from a tendency to over analyze and suffered, in their daily life with "regular" people (non-academicians), an inability to interact with the hoi polloi through their self-imposed "paralysis through analysis" and, Thomas thought, their obviously ersatz scholarly intellectualism. There were a couple of exceptions in the Society, particularly in Thomas's early years as a dues-paying member of the group, renowned and brilliant scholars who had the touch of the common man that too many of the group's latter-day stuffed shirts--too taken with their self-inflated academic credentials and their (ill-deserved) superiority complexes--did not have. One individual in particular was "Aldo," from Sandusky a longtime member of the Society, not an academician but a working man with a genuine love and appreciation of Wolfe's magnificent talent. (81-82)
The narrator's tirade against the Thomas Wolfe Society goes on for paragraphs before concluding:
But by and large, as a non-academic, Thomas felt like an outsider, a "mongrel," as he referred to himself as a member of the group. Among members of the Wolfe Society, he felt, too, that they treated him as one, a mongrel and an outsider. Thomas eventually discontinued his membership in the Society, even though he continued a great admirer of the prodigious talent of Wolfe and he continued to reread a Wolfe novel annually--and continued an epistolary relationship with his best friend in the society, Aldo from Sandusky. (83)
Thomas also mentions Aldo and praises and quotes from Wolfe elsewhere in the book (84, 215, 222-224). Gillan's characterization of Thomas's (and obviously his own) experience with a friendly society that seems to be peopled rather thinly with academics is lamentable.
David Strange writes:
The dignified restraint with which your "Notes" report is written is commendable. But as I often display a lack of dignity, I will not be so restrained. In Just before the Dawn, Joseph Gillan refers to the Thomas Wolfe Society as a "bunch of fucking phonies" (82). He could say that this calumny is nothing more than the exaggerated rantings of a fictional character, but anyone who would believe that, would probably also believe the amusingly ridiculous statement on the copyright page that "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, ... is entirely coincidental." The TWS, in fact, is not a frequent topic of discussion in this amateurishly designed ego-trip of a novel. The protagonist's four favorite subjects seem to be writers, religion, baseball, and cunnilingus--a combination that, to this reader at least, sounds like an excellent base on which to build a fascinating story. The obvious inferiority "Thomas" feels toward scholars, however, compels him to stamp his foot like a petulant child who has suffered a playground insult. As a member of the TWS since 1987, I can--to provide a baseball reference that "Thomas" would appreciate--count on the mangled fingers of Mordecai Brown's pitching hand the number of pompous gasbags I've encountered. Like Gillan, they are all former members of the Society.
Also lamentable is the latest treatment of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville by the Oxford American. In the December 1995 issue, Thomas Easterling reported on his trip to Asheville and the Memorial with an unkind and rather cruel lampooning of Ted Mitchell and his dedication to Wolfe. Issue 66 (fall 2009) was devoted to southern literature, with Anne Trubek's "Fading from View: Was Thomas Wolfe a Genius? And Should We Care?" appearing as a travel article (106-113). Trubek slants comments from Operations/Interpretations manager Chris Morton to make it appear that Morton denigrates Wolfe and his enthusiasts--identified as "gushers." In his introduction for the issue, editor Marc Smirnoff claims that Trubek's article inspired him to read Look Homeward, Angel, stating "Now I'm hooked. Look Homeward, Angel is a ruthlessly penetrating and language-besotted debut novel about a young man's strain to fit in, to be normal" (10). It is difficult to see how Trubek's essay could inspire anyone to read Thomas Wolfe, but Smirnoff has defended the article against vociferous criticism.
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|Publication:||Thomas Wolfe Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|