And so it goes.
Last year an entry in "Notes" (203) reported on the comment of Vonnegut biographer Charles J. Shields that Vonnegut's 1954 trip from Cape Cod to Indiana, where he had a contentious visit with his father, led him to appreciate Wolfe's title You Can't Go Home Again. (The "Notes" entry
erroneously gives the date of the trip as 1955.) Now, thanks to Dan Wakefield, editor of Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Delacorte, 2012), we have the text of the letter cited by Shields. Written to Harry Brague, an editor at Scribner's, the 30 November 1954 letter begins, "I just got back from a visit with my father. Thomas Wolfe was dead right" (59). Wakefield has added italicized headnotes to several of the letters, and for this one he explains, " Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can't Go Home Again" (59).
Wakefield also provides a helpful note for Vonnegut's 22 April 1968 letter to literary critic and theorist Robert Scholes, who was at the University of Iowa at the time. Vonnegut tells Scholes, "I keep meeting guys who knew you at Virginia. Matt Bruccoli, for instance." He says that Bruccoli recently submitted his resignation at Ohio State because "the place so enrages him" and despite his being "obviously highly regarded" there. So now Bruccoli is "looking for work," and Vonnegut asks, "Could Iowa use him?" He also reveals that Bruccoli tried to buy "all my manuscripts," offering "mountains of money" for them. Vonnegut declined, telling Scholes that "I'll just leave the stuff to my kids" (142-43). Wakefield's headnote to this letter explains, "Matthew J. Bruccoli was a scholar who wrote or edited more than fifty books on writers of the 1920s and 1930s, including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, John OHara, and Thomas Wolfe" (142).
In an 11 November 1977 letter, Vonnegut describes a European trip during which his experiences lead him to recall Wolfe's brawl in Munich (although he mistakenly blames that fight for Wolfe's ultimate demise): "Sam [Lawrence] and I were a good deal more troubled by Munich than by Leningrad. We had the shit scared out of us at Oktober Fest, where, about forty years before, Thomas Wolfe was brained with a beer stein. He eventually died as a result" (255).
At least two of the other three entries for "Thomas Wolfe" in Wakefield's index actually refer to Tom Wolfe. It is difficult to determine which Wolfe is being referred to in the final entry. On 4 June 1989 Vonnegut, who was generally careful to distinguish between the names Thomas and Tom when discussing Wolfe, writes Sheldon Zalaznick (managing editor of Forbes magazine): "The personal tales anyone tells about good or bad manners in this country are sure to depend on what the teller looked like to others at the time, and what the others looked like to him or her ... tall or short or whatever. Ask Tom Wolfe" (332).
In Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut (University Press of Mississippi, 1988), editor William Rodney Allen records one of the author's oft-repeated comments about Wolfe's first novel--a statement that had appeared in the Paris Review (1977) and then in Vonnegut's own collection Palm Sunday (Delacorte, 1981), and which has been quoted by, among others, Patrick Chambers in the 2010 TWR: "Through dumb luck, I read Look Homeward, Angel exactly when I was supposed to.... At the age of eighteen" (177). Vonnegut also says, "A phase my generation went through was Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel. It's still a swell book" (313). And Allen reprints an interview by Robert Taylor of the Boston Globe (20 July 1969) in which Vonnegut put forth this theory about writers:
Women, I think, are usually more gifted than men because they grow up hearing their mothers gossip. Girls get a great deal of information about life--the breakup of marriages, neighborhood affairs--in this fashion; boys tend to treat it self-consciously. Thomas Wolfe was able to develop more rapidly than most male writers; he'd been listening, you see, to his mother's gossip about Asheville. (9)
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|Title Annotation:||Notes; Kurt Vonnegut on Thomas Wolfe|
|Publication:||Thomas Wolfe Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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