Robert Siqveland uses three passages from Of Time and the River in his 2003 novel, The Immaculate Erection (Shawondasee Press). First, he writes:
If only the young could be blessed with the gift of prescience, they would change the course of mankind by avoiding what the great Thomas Wolfe so poignantly cried out in Of Time and the River : "the fume of painted smoke. In the end, man is destroyed by his own strength, devoured by his own hunger, impoverished by his own wealth, and defeated in the end by his own greed." And, he continues, the ultimate tragedy is this: "when youth is gone, every man will look back upon that period of his life with infinite sorrow and regret. It is the bitter sorrow and regret of a man who knows that once he had a great talent and wasted it, of a man who knows that once he had a great treasure and got nothing from it, of a man who knows that he had strength enough for everything and never used it." (140-41)
The passage is from chapter 51 of Wolfe's novel (page 455). The second portion is accurately transcribed by Siqveland, but the first part has been severely--and silently--edited. Later, noting that almost every man will, at some point, look back upon his youth, Siqveland writes:
But, until that moment of pause, there is in young men a wild, dark, jubilation "from the fury swelling in their hearts, the mad fury pounding in their veins, the savage, exultant and unutterable fury working like a madness in the adyts of their soul." And it is the metronome of their kaleidoscopic days that gives a "rhyme to madness, a tongue to hunger and desire, a certitude to all the savage, drunken, and exultant fury that keeps mounting, rising, swelling in them all the time." (172-73)
Wolfe's words are from chapter 4 (page 69) and have been accurately quoted. Siqveland cites Wolfe and Of Time and the River as the source on his credits page (220). This citation presumably includes the lead-in to the passage ("wild, dark, jubilation"), which is a close paraphrase of Wolfe.
Finally, on page 182, Siqveland uses a loosely transcribed passage from chapter 39--beginning with "[his father's] great voice ringing in the street" (327). Several words from various parts of the original text have been silently omitted, and another word has been silently changed. The credits page erroneously states that this passage is from Look Homeward, Angel.
Smoke and fumes also figure in Jim Harrison's latest novel, The English Major (Grove Press, 2008), in which Wolfe is mentioned by the narrator, a sixtyish former English teacher (and later Michigan farmer) who, after losing his farm in a divorce, sets off on a trip across the country to find himself. "I consoled myself with the idea that there was freedom in having this large portion of your past vaporize. Fuimus fumus, or something like, said Thomas Wolfe, my hero when I was a senior in high school. I think it meant that our life goes up in smoke" (187).
The reference is to chapter 22 of Look Homeward, Angel where Eugene Gant, after Eliza complains that he is not doing enough work around the boardinghouse, thinks: "I carry coal and split up wood for fires to warm them. Smoke. Fuimus fumus. All of our life goes up in smoke. There is no structure, no creation in it, not even the smoky structure of dreams" (295). Also see page 49 of the Autobiographical Outline.
Jackie Collins selected "Five Best" books as "her favorite literary guilty pleasures" for the Wall Street Journal on 21 July 2008. In the description of her fifth choice, Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight, she writes:
The novel opens with a bravura description of the first 20 years in the life of Catherine, one of the heroines. As a teenager, Sheldon writes, "Catherine had discovered Thomas Wolfe, and his books were like a mirror image of the bitter-sweet nostalgia that filled her, but it was nostalgia for a future that had not yet happened, as though somewhere, sometime, she had lived a wonderful life and was restless to live it again."
Favorable quotations in the front of a paperback copy of Middlesex, the 2002 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), include one from Men's Journal: "but MIDDLESEX is about a hermaphrodite in the way that Thomas Wolfe's LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL is about a teenage boy, and though the writing isn't so densely purple as Wolfe's it displays that same bighearted, of-thee-I-sing bravura...." The blurb writer echoes Jackie Collins's affinity for "bravura."
Blackman's Coffin is the first in a new series by mystery writer Mark De Castrique (Poisoned Pen Press, 2008). The story is set in contemporary Asheville where a disaffected veteran becomes involved in the search to solve two murders. The murders appear linked to a mysterious journal that turns out to have a surprising connection to Thomas Wolfe. The story features frequent references to western North Carolina sites, especially the Biltmore House and places associated with Wolfe. There is even a scene at the Wolfe Memorial in which the late Ted Mitchell appears as himself, leading the two main characters on a tour of the Old Kentucky Home. Mitchell's expertise is also called upon to help with the mystery.
The quickly read story is entertaining, but its events, and numerous references to Wolfe, are cut from whole cloth. About the only authentic Wolfean touch is the plot-thickening use of the word "phthisic" in the journal, likely one of the few appearances of that word in a novel since Look Homeward, Angel.
In The Taos Truth Game (University of New Mexico Press, 2006), Earl Ganz re-creates the world of Mabel Dodge Luhan, including her infamous non-meeting with Thomas Wolfe. For source material, Ganz used the memoirs of Myron Brinig (1896-1991), author of Singermann (1929) and many other novels. The Taos Truth Game revolves around Brinig, and in 1935 his writing isn't going well. He blames this on his interactions with Gertrude Stein at a recent party in California, but he knows that in such situations, reading sometimes helps. The narrator tells us:
If you read something really good that had been well received by the world, it was encouraging. It meant that the world wasn't in such bad shape. It meant it might like your stuff, too. So he bought Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe's new book, read it, and was bowled over. It was Wolfe's heartfelt love of a place and people. And Wolfe was the writer with whom, after Singermann's release, Myron had been compared. The reviewer in the London Times had called them the rising stars of the American literary scene and the future of the novel in America. But Wolfe seemed to be getting better and better. All Myron was doing was marking time. So instead of making him feel better, Wolfe's novel only exacerbated his despair. It's not Gertrude Stein's fault, he told himself, you've got no one to blame but yourself. (113)
Brinig tells Mabel Dodge Luhan about the book in a letter: "I've finished Thomas Wolfe's 'Of Time and the River,' a magnificent novel which I commend to you. Perhaps there's such a novel in me--But it hasn't come yet" (113-14). Later, while Brinig is living in one of the houses at Luhan's New Mexico compound, she tells him "I've just finished Of Time and the River. It's everything you said. A magnificent work." She adds, "What a powerhouse the man must be! I'd love to meet him" (120). Soon enough, she phones Brinig to tell him that Wolfe is in Santa Fe and that she has invited him to visit her for dinner.
Thomas Wolfe! Myron knew at once that of all Mabel's famous guests, here was one he really wanted to meet. After he hung up he got out Of Time and the River and read its opening. He loved how Wolfe maintained the energy of his sentences. Who cared that he repeated himself? Each repetition was from a slightly different angle. You read one sentence into the next into the next. Only after you'd finished a paragraph could you sense the grandness of the movement. It was Keats walking around the urn, or a Hollywood close-up camera moving around a star's face. (121)
Seeing an opportunity to punish Brinig for a perceived offense, Luhan does not invite him to the dinner with Wolfe. Although surprised and hurt, Brinig quickly recovers and the next morning asks her, "How did you get along with Wolfe?" Luhan replies with her version (as filtered through Brinig's memoirs and then through Ganz's novelization) of an episode that has been noted by Wolfe biographers and several other writers (see, for example, "Other Book Appearances" on page 165).
"I didn't see him," Mabel said. "He didn't arrive at my dinner time and I waited and waited. Then I ate. When he still didn't show up I went to bed. He arrived around midnight, dead drunk and with two women. He frightened poor Beatrice to death." Beatrice was Mabel's housekeeper. (121)
Brinig asks where Wolfe spent the night, and when he learns that it was at La Fonda, a small hotel in Taos, he rushes into town to seek him out:
He looked around the small lobby but saw no one resembling the elephantine Wolfe. Myron had heard different things from people who'd met him. The general opinion was that Wolfe was a genius with a bad temper and a bad drinking problem. In New York, one woman told Myron that Wolfe had chased her around a dinner table with a kitchen knife. Perhaps Mabel was lucky the genius hadn't stayed. (122)
Brinig finds Wolfe in the hotel restaurant enjoying his breakfast and bourbon. What follows is a delightful seven-page scene in which Brinig can't "believe his good luck. Here he was sitting with Thomas Wolfe, the one author in all of America he admired the most. Here was a chance to really talk to him" (122). The two writers discuss Mabel Dodge Luhan, their own work, editors, critics, agents, lawsuits (Wolfe had not experienced any at this time, but Brinig had), Wolfe's western travels, and writing for the movies. On the latter, the conversation sounds remarkably like wording Wolfe would use three years later in his Purdue speech:
"... If Hollywood wants to make me a prostitute by buying my books, I'm not only willing ... I'm eager for these seducers to make their first dastardly proposal." "That's it," said Myron. "Your position in the matter is very much like that of the Belgian virgin the night the Germans marched into her village." This was a joke he'd heard in the army. "She had only one question." "What?" asked Wolfe. "When do the atrocities begin?" "That's it!" said the laughing giant and raised his glass in a mock salute. "Let the atrocities begin!" (125)
When the hotel owner's wife approaches and points out that Wolfe is about to miss his bus to Flagstaff, Arizona, the two men prepare to part company:
Gulping the rest of his bourbon, Wolfe rose and for the first time Myron saw him full length. Well over six foot six with a body narrow at the top, widening to a soft middle, then sloping precipitously to his feet, he was an erect oval. Myron also stood and Wolfe said good meeting you and shook his hand. Then Mrs. Karavas, like a circus lady with a trained elephant, led him outside. (128)
After Wolfe leaves town, Brinig describes the meeting to Luhan, gleefully noting the irony that it wouldn't have happened if she had invited him to the planned dinner in the first place. Luhan, however, thinks everything worked out for the best and wonders what might have happened had Brinig been at her home when the drunken Wolfe showed up:
"Think of it. Two of America's leading novelists squaring off in my front parlor." She paused, and added, "I like him. I kept my door open and listened to him rant and rave. He has the spirit of real genius." Myron burst out laughing. The idea that he'd fight a giant, albeit a soft one, was funny.... ... "My writing day's shot. I need to sleep off the bourbon." He paused and smiled. "Wolfe's asleep already," he said, "mouth open, head against the window. He won't remember either one of us." "Not true," said Mabel and broke into a grin so big her gums showed. It was a facial expression she guarded against. "He'll remember me." (129).
Wolfe's name pops up a few more times during the novel, especially in reference to his late-night traveling companions. At one event they are described as "the lady friends of Thomas Wolfe who last month accompanied that author to Mabel's house. Wolfe had dubbed them Miss Sage and Miss Brush. The ladies had liked the names so much they began using them" (171). "Miss Sage" and "Miss Brush," show up again three years later at the Santa Fe opening of The Sisters, a film adapted from Brinig's 1937 novel and starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. Brinig had agreed with a friend's suggestion that "the two ladies who had accompanied Thomas Wolfe to Mabel's doorstep" would be acceptable escorts under the circumstances.
After all, Wolfe had just died. Weren't these women a living memorial to that author's only visit to New Mexico? And Myron decided that if he were called on to speak, he'd mention Wolfe's passing and ask for a moment of silence. Like everyone, he'd been shocked by the author's death the previous month. It happened so quickly. The man had been so strong, so vital. But when you thought about it, it wasn't so surprising. Wolfe was a tempter of fate. (244)
Other Book Appearances
In Heaven's Window: A Journey through Northern New Mexico (Graphic Arts Center Press, 2001), Michael Wallis tells about meeting Thornton Wilder in Santa Fe in 1971:
Wilder kept me spellbound. Well into the evening, he regaled me with intriguing accounts of Mabel [Dodge Luhan] and of Dorothy Brett, Thomas Wolfe, Leopold Stokowski, Spud Johnson, Robinson Jeffers, and Witter Bynner. Hours vanished like minutes as Wilder spoke of high and low times in Santa Fe and Taos. (32)
Lynn Cline tells a version of the well-known story of Wolfe's arrival in Taos, in Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1917-1950 (University of New Mexico Press, 2007):
Novelist Thomas Wolfe journeyed to Taos at Luhan's request, but his visit in July 1935 turned out to be "Mabel's most magnificent failure." On his way to Luhan's house for dinner, he stopped in Santa Fe to attend a lunch held expressly for him. The celebration continued in a car ride to Taos accompanied by two women he met at the lunch, and by the time he arrived at Luhan's house, he was totally drunk. She refused to see him, even though she greatly admired his writing. (99)
Merrill Gilfillan's story "Uncle and Shrike" from his collection Grasshopper Falls (Hanging Loose Press, 2000) is the tale of a summer driving and camping trip across the Great Plains. He describes the unnamed uncle as "a great reader" who "carried a duffelbag of old paperbacks in the trunk, as well as a grocery box of particular favorites on the backseat" (9). At one stop, the narrator says, "When the time was right my uncle pulled a Thomas Wolfe novel from the duffel and started on it for what he said was the fourth time. He called me over now and then and read me a long sinewy sentence or a favorite passage as he sat within a small dome of lantern light" (16).
Melanie R. Benson's Disturbing Calculations: The Economics of Identity in Postcolonial Southern Literature, 1912-2002 from University of Georgia Press (2008) is one of those academic titles that make you want to rush right out and buy the book. Chapter 1 continues the orgy of verbosity with its title: "The Fetish of Surplus Value: Reconstructing the White Elite in Allen Tate, William Alexander Percy, William Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe." Wolfe is discussed for about four pages (out of approximately thirty in the chapter). One correspondent who read the introduction (which has a line from Look Homeward, Angel as one of four epigraphs) was unable to explain the author's thesis.
Magazine, Newspaper, and Electronic Reports
"What is Southern?" within the "Good Reading" section of Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living (January 2008), a previously unpublished essay by the late Edna Lewis, is on southern cooking with references to writers interspersed. Numerous sentences begin "Southern is ..." including one claiming "Southern is Thomas Wolfe and Of Time and the River." An inset Carl Van Vechten photograph of Wolfe is captioned:
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), from Asheville, North Carolina, stormed onto the literary scene with a massive, untidy manuscript about the growth of a creative genius: himself. That novel, Look Homeward, Angel, and its sequel, Of Time and the River, aren't in fashion these days, but it's worth remembering that Wolfe, like Walt Whitman, breathed life into the American experience. (28)
"Calder at Play: Finding Whimsy in Simple Wire" is the title of Holland Cotter's review of the art show "Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933" for the New York Times on 17 October 2008 (C25). The exhibition appears at the Whitney through 15 February 2009. Holland begins by asking, "Is art basically glorified child's play, extending into adulthood, through a lifetime, picking up ideas and gaining finesse as it goes?" Five days earlier, the Times carried Kathryn Shattuck's report "From a Big Imagination, a Tiny Circus" about Calder's circus (12 October 2008, Arts and Leisure 28). Shattuck writes:
In the United States the circus became all the rage socially, with The New Yorker announcing that performances could be arranged through the Junior League at Saks Fifth Avenue. Visiting New York in 1929 Calder performed at a Park Avenue party, donning kneepads to crawl on the floor. Thomas Wolfe was in attendance, something Calder learned only after reading what he called "some nasty remarks on my performance" in "You Can't Go Home Again" (1940), in which a fictional version of Calder appears as the character Piggy Logan. But the circus was hardly child's play.
The party at Aline Bernstein's apartment was on 3 January 1930. The daily crossword compiled by Thomas Joseph appeared in newspapers, including the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Raleigh News & Observer on 15 September 2008 (the 70th anniversary of Wolfe's death) with a five letter word being the answer to 38 across, "'Look Homeward[,] Angel' writer."
Tumbleweed Smith, a self-described "chronicler of Texas people and events" for the Midland Reporter-Telegram, posted "Thomas Wolfe, Ken Burns among influential people: There are some people who have had a great impact on my life" for the Web site mywesttexas.com on 3 November 2007. He writes:
Speaking of books, I found a book at a bookstore sale at Baylor titled 'You Can't Go Home Again' by Thomas Wolfe. I had never read such prose in my life. His descriptions of life in America made me want to see this country and experience as much of it as I can. A few years ago I went to his hometown of Asheville, N.C., just to breathe the same air he breathed.
Donald Ray Pollock, author of the debut short story collection Knockemstiff (Doubleday, 2008), told Dylan Foley for "On-MyNightstand" in the Newark Star-Ledger (8 June 2008):
I just started reading Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I read the book years ago and I liked it. I'm reading it again because I remember liking it, and the novel I'm trying to write is a serial killer/coming-of-age story. Look Homeward, Angel is also a coming-of-age story, as well. Wolfe was such a prolific writer. I tend to shy away from books that are over 400 pages. He wrote such massive tomes.
"The American Dream: Bloodied but Unbowed" (with its subtitle statement: "Even those Americans who were its fiercest critics were inspired by the vastness of its land") was written by award-winning Irish journalist Con Houlihan for the Independent Newspapers (Ireland). It appeared in the online version, Independent.ie, on 20 January 2008. Houlihan begins his essay:
"I believe," said Canon Sheehan, "that the mighty throb of Niagara gives the Americans their great energy." Thomas Wolfe would seem to have been born to exemplify that intuition. We think of him as a kind of wild genius who poured out words with little care for shape or form but here and there in his writing you will find passages of great beauty and nuggets of wisdom. He was about the same age as the century and he died before he was 40. One cannot help but suspect that in his frenetic ambition to express the life of his country he came to a premature death. He didn't reach his fortieth year. He may not be the best of American writers but he is the most American. Nobody loved his country more: when he was living in Paris, he longed "to touch the peeling handrail of the boardwalk in Atlantic City." Love may be blind but it is also fiercely perceptive. Wolfe's life was darkened by a feeling that his country was going the wrong way. He wrote: "I believe that we are seeking for a door and a key. We are lost but we will be found." Those words were written when he was about 30.
Houlihan mentions other American writers (Sherwood Anderson, Thoreau, Emerson, Edgar Lee Masters, before turning to the U.S. invasion of Iraq: "The invasion of that country was an example of monstrous hypocrisy," and "The Americans have no hope of winning the struggle but they may have convinced the innocents back home that they achieved their purpose when they captured Saddam Hussein." Houlihan returns to authors:
In Wolfe's Of Time and the River, there is a chapter about a young man travelling in a train from North Carolina to New York, and in the carriage with him are a number of men who discuss the future of their country. They are all optimistic that it is on the verge of greatness. Some are not certain how this will come about, but their faith is boundless.
Before concluding, Houlihan also mentions Noam Chomsky, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, and Scott Fitzgerald.
"The Library's Helpful Sage of the Stacks" is Sam Roberts's article for the New York Times on 31 December 2007 about David Smith, "officially a supervising librarian in the Allen Room at the Wertheim Study at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. But a business card printed for him as a 50th birthday gift ... reads 'Librarian to the Stars.'" The article notes that
His father was a Navy veteran and high school English teacher who, on a trip to the South, met Fred Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe's brother and the basis for the character Luke in "Look Homeward, Angel." He introduced David to him--"the first person related to a book that I ever met in person," Mr. Smith said.
An oddball mention of Wolfe crops up in issue 58 (November 2007) of the online film journal Bright Lights Film Journal 101, where Gordon Thomas reviews DVD versions of silent movies. At the conclusion of his review of True Heart Susie in which Lillian Gish plays the character Susie, Thomas writes: "If he saw this movie, Thomas Wolfe probably cried."
Columnist Bob Terrell's "Joys of the 1890s Included Rise of Biltmore, Slope of Flint Street" (Asheville Citizen-Times, 7 August 2006) is based on recollections of the late James W. Atkins who was born in Asheville in 1880 and later became editor and publisher of the Gastonia Gazette. Atkins remembers watching construction of the Biltmore House, sliding three or four blocks down Flint Street from the Catholic church in winter weather, and seeing the body of Zebulon Vance lying in state in the First Presbyterian Church "where the funeral of Thomas Wolfe was later held, if memory serves me." Terrell writes:
Speaking of Wolfe, Atkins recalls watching Tom's father, W.O.--the W.O. Gant of "Look Homeward, Angel"--"ambling," he said, home to Woodfin Street from work in his marble shop on the Square where the Jackson Building stands today. "He came down College Street and out Oak one block to Woodfin," Atkins said. "I was reared in and around the old Asheville Female College, the property of which was bounded by College, Oak, Locust and Woodfin streets. From the campus I saw many people pass along Oak, and Wolfe was one of those I remember most vividly."
Those who remember Jan Hensley's article "Saving Dixieland" in the 2004 issue of this journal (63-70) can be excused if they did a double take when Bob Terrell's article "Saving Dixieland" appeared in the November 2008 issue of Our State. While Hensley credited an earlier newspaper piece by Terrell ("One Man's Love for Heritage Saved 'Dixieland' from Bulldozers") in his article, Terrell apparently reworked information from his newspaper item for the new article without realizing the new title was already taken. Both Hensley and Terrell present information on Harry Blomberg's role in helping preserve the Old Kentucky Home.
"When Grand Central Was Younger" by David Margolick in the New York Times on 30 March 2008 begins, "Thomas Wolfe wrote that the late Pennsylvania Station was vast enough to hold the sound of time. More than half a century ago, across town at Grand Central Terminal, a 23-year-old industrial design student named Boris Klapwald did something else with time: He stopped it." The rest of the article is about Klapwald's photography.
An article in Time for 27 July 1959 titled "End of the House Party" reflects upon Hollywood's "The Garden of Allah," which was to be torn down for construction of an office building. The article's epigraph is from Wolfe's 26 July 1937 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald: "I'll be damned if I'll believe anyone lives in a place called 'The Garden of Allah.'" The article begins: "Even Tom Wolfe, the country boy from North Carolina, should have known better. Everyone lived at the Garden of Allah Hotel--everyone, that is, who was part of the Hollywood elite in the old days when the town still managed to be wacky in the grand manner." After revealing plans for demolition, the author writes: "Like Tom Wolfe before them, tourists will find it hard to believe that there was once a Garden of Allah."
Andrew Ross, in his essay "Intellectuals and Other Ordinary People: Reading the Rosenberg Letters," which appeared in Cultural Critique 9 (1988), notes that while in prison awaiting what they were sure would be a successful appeal, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg passed the time with an "eclectic" reading list, including "lots of Thomas Wolfe" (65).
In "The Rise and Fall of the American Bestseller," which was posted on monstersandcritics.com on 22 August 2008, Philip Roth observes:
All the authors mentioned above, past and present, have something in common: they geared their writing to the popular taste, to that man and woman on the street. But I also find many names on the lists for the 30's that occupy the higher spheres of literature: Willa Cather, John Galsworthy, Isak Dinesen, Thomas Wolfe, George Santayana, Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf (and at least eight others, including three Nobel Prize winners: Pearl Buck, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck). On the 90's lists I can produce only one name in that league: Toni Morrison.
The lists Roth refers to are from Publisher's Weekly, as collected by Michael Korda in Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999 (Barnes & Noble, 2001). That only six of the eleven writers Roth mentions were Americans should dispel any notion that the term "American Bestseller" refers to an author's nationality (an understandable assumption, but here it refers only to the level of a book's sales in the United States).
A. C. Snow recollects former newspaper staff members in "They Leave, Lights Blinking in the Dusk" for the Raleigh News & Observer on 24 August 2008. Of one, he writes:
John was the newsroom con man. Assigned to review the Carolina Playmaker's production of "Look Homeward, Angel" in Chapel Hill, he turned in overtime for staying up all night to read the lengthy novel beforehand. Years later he called from Italy, asking the editor for a letter substantiating his IRS deduction for using his apartment as his "office." The connection was poor, but he kept saying something about the IRS not letting him come home again.
In his 1 November 2007 article in the Asheville Citizen-Times about Wolfe contemporary L. B. Jackson ("Chosen Children Fulfill Hero Roles of the Day"), Rob Neufeld writes:
Thomas Wolfe, whose father's shop Jackson bought and replaced with his 1924 Jackson Building, knew about both anointed children and entreprenuerial knights. In "Look Homeward, Angel," the hero, Eugene Gant, is stamped, at age 3, by a horse's hoof--"the mark of the centaur." Growing up, Wolfe sampled his older brother Frank's favorite reading material--tales such as "Ragged Dick," in which a Horatio Alger type makes money by inventing carpet tacks covered with matching carpet.
Writing for the Joplin Globe on 19 September 2008, Gilbert Millner questions "Worldwide Depression Again?" He writes:
History repeats because human nature doesn't change. Love, hate, fear and the love of money make us do hurtful things to ourselves and to our neighbors. Only the stage props and actors change. Thomas Wolfe wrote about the cause of the Great Depression and said it best: "Single selfishness and compulsive greed!"
Corky Simson's column for the Tucson Citizen on 10 October 2008, "Summer's Over, but Not Our Unquenchable Thirst for Its Boys," quotes several descriptions of baseball. His first one begins:
As Thomas Wolfe saw it, "The scene was instant, whole and wonderful. In its beauty and design that vision of the soaring stands, the pattern of 40,000 empetalled faces, the velvet and unalterable geometry of the playing field and the small lean figures of the players...."
The passage is from Of Time and the River, chapter 19 (page 202 in the first edition), and is about as accurate as can be expected.
Elizabeth Royte's review of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott (Random House, 2008) appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review on 17 February 2008 and was titled "Of Crime and the River."
Judge Francis J. Larkin, retired member of the Massachusetts judiciary and Chancellor and Dean Emeritus of the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth, reviews Peter D. Baird's novel, Beyond Peleliu (Ravenhawk Books, 2006) for the fall 2006 issue of Experience, a publication for the Senior Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. Larkin begins: "In Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe's classic and nostalgic elegy to his beloved Western Carolina hill country, written in 1929, the author penned these words as prologue...." He then quotes in full the remarkable opening paragraphs of Wolfe's novel, including "... you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas"; "The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert ..."; and concluding with "This is a moment." Larkin stresses that the "seed" of the destruction of the McQuade family in Baird's book is obvious:
For, as this compelling story unfolds, it is plain that the root of the "disintegration" took place--not in Wolfe's "Crete" but, rather, in 1944, on the Island of Peleliu--amidst some of the bitterest, bloody, and savage fighting of the South Pacific War. As in Wolfe's classic, the Peleliu event was indeed a moment. (45)
Larkin concludes his review with a (slightly inaccurate) passage from Wolfe's "Political and Social Notes" presented in Richard S. Kennedy and Paschal Reeves's introduction to The Notebooks of Thomas Wolfe (1: xxvi). Larkin astutely connects the McQuades with Wolfe's image of an American wound, his belief that the American Dream has gone awry:
As Baird's novel ends, this reviewer was once again reminded of words of Thomas Wolfe--words that would well serve as a coda for Baird's superb work. Wolfe--in his later writings, in the heart of the Great Depression--suggested that not only for individuals, but also perhaps for the country as a whole, American life has not quite worked out the way we thought it would. Somehow--as in the McQuade's situation--America itself, as a society, has also suffered a wound, a wound that affluence, material prosperity, pervasive egocentricity only exacerbated. As Wolfe put it, "But, ... however bad or hidden our great hurt may be.... Is it not true that ... (as a country) we are all ashamed? Is it not true that there is in our hearts the knowledge of betrayal ... self-betrayal of ourselves, America's betrayal of herself? Is it not true that all of us are conscious in our hearts that (once) there was hope of high and glorious fulfillment in America ... but that promise of high and glorious fulfillment has been so aborted, and corrupted, ... that its ancient and primeval lineaments are no more to be seen? Is it not true that (once) we were given here for the enrichment and improvements of man's life a golden wilderness, and that we have made of it a wilderness of ... ugliness and confusion? [citation omitted] The protagonists of Baird's powerful and arresting novel, son and father, presumably, would not disagree. (48)
Tom Nolan reviews three books in "The Mysteries of Family, for Good and Ill" for the Wall Street Journal (4 August 2008). Of the second book, Damnation Falls by Edward Wright (St. Martin's/Minotaur, 2008), he writes:
and when the final revelations arrive, full of family secrets and old grudges, the Gothic contours seem to fit the territory too--that storytelling turf tilled by William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Thomas Wolfe. In this redemptive fable, though, you can go home again, if you're willing to pay the price.
Being a Scot (Wiedenfeld, 2008) by Sean Connery and Murray Grigor is an autobiography of Connery. In his review for Timesonline, which was posted on 24 August 2008, Christopher Hart says of Connery:
Intellectually, too, he was way behind until a fellow actor gave him a reading list. Before long, he was visiting public libraries whenever possible, and making his way through Ibsen and Thomas Wolfe (he particularly loved Look Homeward, Angel), Hemingway, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy and Turgenev. Such a programme "greatly increased my confidence and self-esteem. It gave a balance to my life and a better identity, just as body-building had done for me physically."
S. E. Ganesalingan's review of G.Nagarajan Complete Works appearing in the Hindu ("India's National Newspaper") for 9 December 2008 concludes: "To summarise, his works and his ideology reflect a part of a quote by Thomas Wolfe, mentioned in the book: 'It is not ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life ... life.'"
Maureen Garvie reviews Rui Umezawa's The Truth about Death and Dying (Doubleday Canada, 2002) in the September 2002 issue of Quill & Quire. Garvie writes: "This extraordinary first novel--noisy, hilarious, and tragic--falls somewhere between Thomas Wolfe and Monty Python."
Biography and Letters
Kerouac: His Life and Work by Paul Maher Jr., with a foreword by David Amram (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004), was issued in paperback by the same publisher in 2007 as "revised and updated." There are numerous Wolfe references, including mention that Kerouac's style was often imitative of Wolfe (66, 212), that a review of Dr. Sax in the Saturday Review mentions Wolfe (392), and that the hurricane in Visions of Cody, was mistakenly placed in October, but that Kerouac remembered that it was near Wolfe's death (15 September 1938).
The most interesting references occur around pages 168-70 where we learn that Kerouac took classes at the New School for Social Research near Greenwich Village and that in one of Elbert Lenrow's classes he wrote a paper titled "The Minimization of Thomas Wolfe in His Own Time." Kerouac also visited Lenrow at his home to see his Wolfe memorabilia and heard about Lenrow once being with a group that saw Wolfe off on a trip on a ship from the Cunard line. (A copy of the paper, which seems never to have been published, was given to Aldo P. Magi by Lenrow and is located in the Magi Collection at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.)
Another interesting Wolfe mention comes up in The Letters of Alan Ginsberg, edited by Bill Morgan (Da Capo Press, 2008), in a letter to Jack Kerouac on 25 February 1950:
The American myth of Wolfe and power and pathos is changing in this decade. What is happening I realized this week, reading Wolfe's Credo, is that we are nearer to the edge of inevitable social transformation that is going to affect us in thought and sense: for one thing, do you realize how much nearer the alignment of east against west has become, especially since English sway in elections? If we could carry this off, it were different; but I feel in my bones that we are not really the world-spirit-power, but that Russia is actually stronger, militarily already, potentially more overwhelming, perhaps even in her myths now, and I think that Wolfe's "lost" America may be reduced to the pathetic status of self-deception. (57)
Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2008), has received a lot of attention. On 5 March 1963, Bishop writes to Lowell from Rio de Janeiro (the footnotes that follow are also from in the book):
There was a huge batch of mail in Petropolis by then, including your letter of Feb. 10th, and yesterday as we came back, THE NEW YORK REVIEW. Thank you so much. It is very impressive and what a lot of work it must have taken to get it together so fast--can they keep on bringing it out, I wonder? I read it through last night--so many good pieces. Elizabeth's Grub Street awfully good, I thought--she "generalizes" awfully well. That must be the poor Brazilian you mentioned--who is he, anyway? (1) And who is the poor lady who stays in bed and reads?--I feel she must be myself but no, here I am. (2) Wolfe does take in even sophisticated foreigners--I think I finally convinced Alfredo (3) (who you never got to know) about him. 1. "A South American in a brushed, blue serge suit ... with his nervous precision, his aching repression, he declared that the huge, romantic, excessive Thomas Wolfe was the American with whom he felt the closest spiritual and personal connection. He meant to write a book on Wolfe in Portuguese"; Elizabeth Hardwick, "Grub Street: Washington," The New York Review of Books (Feb. 1, 1963). 2. "Old lady writers, without means, without Social Security, reading in bed all day--dear old Sibyls almost forgotten, hardly called upon except perhaps at midnight by a drunken couple from a pad down the street"; Elizabeth Hardwick, "Grub Street: Washington," The New York Review of Books (Feb. 1, 1963). 3. Alfredo Lage. (447)
Hazel Rowley's Richard Wright: The Life and Times (Henry Holt, 2001; paperback, University of Chicago Press, 2008) has some slight Wolfe references, including Wright's being mentioned in 1958 in an obituary for Edward C. Aswell "along with Thomas Wolfe and Kay Boyle" (495). Rowley also writes:
The Pulitzer Judges announced in May 1941 that there was no deserving candidate for that year's fiction prize. Wright's Native Son, Hemingway's For Whom the Bells Tolls, and Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again: none was considered worthy. (251).
Finally, Rowley notes that on 17 February 1960, a theatre adaptation of Wright's The Long Dream opened on Broadway, lasting only five performances. The scriptwriter was Ketti Frings who "had won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award the year before for her stage adaptation of Look Homeward, Angel" (508).
From South Pacific and The Pajama Game to Gypsy, Broadway has seen a large number of revivals in recent years. Now comes news in "Footnotes" by Dave Itzkoff in the "Arts, Briefly" section of the New York Times (5 November 2008) that
"Look Homeward, Angel," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Ketti Frings adapted from the Thomas Wolfe novel, is coming to Broadway for the first time since its original production in 1957. The original production featured a cast that included Hugh Griffith and Anthony Perkins and was directed by George Roy Hill. The producers of the revival say it will be directed by Daniel Sullivan and revised by David Auburn, the Pulitzer Prize- winning author of "Proof." It is expected to open in the fall of 2009; no theater or cast has been announced.
Away from Broadway, the Frings adaptation is frequently performed, including a lavish production at the Artistic Home in Chicago during November and December 2008. Reviewing the play for the online Chicago Theatre Review Examiner on 11 November 2008, Catey Sullivan writes:
"Look Homeward[,] Angel" is a succulent sprawl of a play, stuffed with juicy character roles and thick with sexual tension. "Take it easy. And try not to care so much," advises the town doctor to Ben Gant, the saintly consumptive elder brother of the drama's hero. It's advice everybody in this emotionally humid epic would do well to take. The one thing shared by all the broken hearts, raging drunks and desperate seducers that populate Thomas Wolfe's autobiographical story? An inability to stop hurting due to an inability to stop caring so very much.
Sullivan notes that the actress portraying Eliza Gant was the star of the production: "Eliza Gant could easily be portrayed as a superficial riff on the Wicked Witch of the West. Instead, we get a woman of immense power and complexity and a mother whose abrasive, obsessive love for her children is both their blessing and their curse."
After having its premiere at the 2007 Thomas Wolfe Festival, Sandra Mason's play, Return of an Angel, returned to the Asheville Community Theatre for five performances during the first week of October 2008.
Fitzgerald's Bed Buddy
Hemingway once signed a photograph for Fitzgerald "To Scott from his old bedfellow Richard Halliburton," a joke made in reference to the sexuality of Halliburton, who was at Princeton with Fitzgerald. TWS life member Gerry Max has expanded upon earlier research into the life and career of Halliburton to produce Horizon Chasers: The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney (McFarland, 2007). Max acknowledges benefitting from the recollections of the late William Alexander Levy who knew Halliburton and his lover, Mooney. Max also acknowledges
The late Professor John Phillipson of the Thomas Wolfe Society for his initial encouragement. Besides an easy ability to offer from memory lines from authors Thomas Wolfe and Willa Cather, among countless others, John could recite the opening lines of The Royal Road to Romance. I also wish to thank Aldo Magi of the Thomas Wolfe Society for his queries as to the book's progress. (vii)
In the preface, Max claims that "some writers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, finding Halliburton's style too gullibly exuberant, ridiculed it." But, he notes, "Other writers, such as Thomas Wolfe or, more recently, Susan Sontag, have been attracted to Halliburton, and the spirit of travel he invoked. Paul Theroux heads the list of modern travel writers who have paid tribute to him" (5). In his introduction, Max writes:
The Halliburton style played lightly; few heavy-handed chords were struck. Satirist Corey Ford found it foolishly funny and superficial. Writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, equally amused, thought to emulate it. Paul [Mooney], with a genius for parody and perhaps incapable of developing a style of his own, easily duplicated it. (16)
Max notes that during Mooney's early years in New York, he "breathed the same air at least of its Lost Generation and such people as Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, and Elinor Wylie" (40). Max also notes how Mooney met Max's source, William Alexander Levy. One of Levy's instructors at NYU was
Thomas Wolfe, who, before publication of Look Homeward, Angel, taught English composition to the school's law, medical, and architecture students. Occasionally Alexander, who was five foot seven, and Wolfe, who was six foot seven, walked together from class at 37th and Fifth Avenue to the main campus in Greenwich Village. As soon as the novel was off the press, Bill brought a copy of Look Homeward, Angel for its author to inscribe. Wolfe called his adoring friend "Billy." Bill called Wolfe his "mentor number one." (54)
Wolfe's inscription, "To Billy Levy with friendship and thanks/ Thomas Wolfe /Oct 25, 1929," is reproduced in facsimile on page 55. Max adds that "remarkably, [Levy] had gotten a B from Wolfe, who was not known to dispense high grades" (56). Max also writes that Levy was "throughout his life a celebrity collector, and quite proud of it" (66) and that, referring to his walks with Wolfe, fellow NYU students told him he was "shadowing Wolfe" (258n5).
Halliburton and Mooney disappeared at sea in 1939. Max writes: "others of note passed with Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney.... Thomas Wolfe's death, two weeks before his thirty-eighth birthday, occurred on September 15, 1938, just days before Paul and Richard left San Francisco" (230).
In the 2007 issue of the Review, we noted a report of novelist Richard Ford's comments honoring his editor, Gary Fisketjon, on the occasion of his receiving the Maxwell E. Perkins Award. Ford told the audience he didn't "think Gary would take a 1,000-page jumble and turn it into 'Look Homeward, Angel,'" as Perkins did with Wolfe (193). Perhaps the Fisketjon/Ford relationship was closer to the Perkins/Wolfe relationship than anyone imagined. Although not mentioning Perkins or Wolfe, a story in the New York Times on 13 February 2008 related that Ford has ended his 17-year relationship with Alfred A. Knopf and more than two decades of working with Fisketjon to move over to Ecco (ironically an imprint of HarperCollins) to work with Daniel Halpern.
While the writer of "Rough Crossings: The Cutting of Raymond Carver" appearing in the New Yorker (24-31 December 2007) observes that "editing takes a variety of forms" (94), the story told rings familiar. The article begins with note of a letter Raymond Carver wrote on 8 July 1980 to his editor, Gordon Lish, imploring him to stop production of a forthcoming edition of stories, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love." Lish, who had edited Richard Ford, among others, at Esquire, became an editor at Knopf and signed up Carver who had sobered up and was living with the poet Tess Gallagher. The article notes: "In the normal course of things, editorial work is relatively subtle, but there are famous instances of heroic assistance ... Maxwell Perkins finding a structure in Thomas Wolfe's 'Look Homeward, Angel,' and cutting it by sixty-five thousand words" (93).
The story collection was ultimately published by Lish to great success, but the article indicates that Tess Gallagher felt Lish's work "encroached upon Carver's artistic integrity. 'What would you do if your book was a success but you didn't want to explain to the public that it had been crammed down your throat?' Gallagher said recently." Further, Gallagher "is hoping to republish all the stories in Carver's second book in what she believes is their 'true, original' form" (94). The article also quotes an editor who would soon suffer his own editorial severance:
"An editorial relationship is a private one, and nobody can see it fully and completely," Gary Fisketjon, an editor who helped Carver make the selections for "Where I'm Calling From," said recently. "Clearly, there was a catastrophic breakdown here that's unknowable." What can be known is that, by the mid-nineteen-eighties, Carver's relationship with Lish was at an end. Lish told D. T. Max, "I don't like talking about the Carver period, because of my sustained sense of his betrayal, and because it seems bad form to discuss this." Gallagher, for her part, thought that Lish had been claiming too much credit for Carver's achievements. (94)
Excerpts from Carver's correspondence with Lish follow the article, including the letter of 8 July 1980, in which Carver writes:
You are a wonder, a genius, and there's no doubt of that, better then any two of Max Perkins, etc., etc. And I am not unmindful of the fact of my immense debt to you, a debt I can simply never, never repay.... But Tess has seen all of these and gone over them closely. Donald Hall has seen many of the new ones (and discussed them at length with me and offered his services in reviewing the collection) and Richard Ford, Toby Wolff, Geoffrey Wolff, too, some of them.... How can I explain to these fellows when I see them, as I will see them, what happened to the story in the meantime, after its book publication? (96)
The last page of the article is a facsimile of a page edited by Lish. The caption reads: "Lish reduced Carver's manuscript by forty per cent" (99).
In the 2007 Review(192), we noted Charles McGrath's article on the Lish-Carver controversy. That article generated another twist: comparing editors to CEOs. William Dunk, an international business consultant based in Chapel Hill, wrote "In Search of Leadership: Looking for Small Fish in a Big Pond," posted 5 November 2007 on wral.com (WRAL is a Raleigh television station). He too takes note of McGrath's article
about editors with a deft hand--and those with a heavy hand. The great Maxwell Perkins, who shaped many of our great authors, crafted the prolix, turgid, wandering Thomas Wolfe into an acceptable author. Slash and burn Gordon Lish cut Raymond Carver to the bone and is fairly accused of distorting the meaning of more than one piece.
Dunk uses that mention as a springboard to discuss the difficulties of finding chief executives in contemporary times, noting that contemporary leaders have "been found wanting." He explains that in the global economy the paradigm has shifted, and instead of being a big fish in a small pond, modern executives must be "small, agile fish in a huge pond." And his discussion "brings us back to Maxwell Perkins." Dunk writes that in the global economy "the CEO has a delicate chore. He must get the creative best out of his company's network, encouraging outrageous out-of-the-box thinking on the run from those in his orbit. He must be a Maxwell Perkins, but, he must have a lot of Wolfes waiting to pounce."
Clyde Wilson praises two scholars who died in 2008--James Babcock Meriwether and Matthew J. Bruccoli--in "Irreplaceable Men" for the January 2009 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Of Bruccoli, Wilson writes:
His achievement that I value most is the editing and publication, with his wife Arlyn, of O Lost by Thomas Wolfe. This is the authentic version of Wolfe's masterpiece, which was mangled and truncated by Maxwell Perkins into the inferior Look Homeward, Angel. (The execrable Perkins was long hyped as the masterful editor who had "made" Wolfe and other important writers.)
Thomas B. Congdon died at age 77 on 23 December 2008. An obituary by Bruce Weber in the New York Times on Christmas day notes that authors described Congdon as a "meticulous, old-fashioned line editor who wrote long, detailed memos in response to manuscripts" and that he "worked at several publishing houses and started one of his own." Weber also writes:
By the time of his first success with Peter Benchley's Jaws in 1974, he was already a mentor to a young biographer, A. Scott Berg, who was at work on a book about the editor Maxwell Perkins. That year Mr. Berg turned in a manuscript in which, he recalled in an interview, his own prose tended to imitate, at different times, the style of other writers--namely Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, authors Perkins worked with. "I did three or four drafts under Tom's tutelage," Mr. Berg once said. "And I remember once, he circled a paragraph, and he said: 'You know who this sounds like? Nobody. Write the whole book like this. That's your voice.'"
Weber concludes by quoting Christopher Buckley, whose first book, Steaming to Bamboola, was edited by Congdon: "Tom's motto was that an editor should make love to his writer.... And Tom's writers felt made love to. I know I did."
Craft and Refrigerators
Jerry Leath Mills advises that our readers may be interested in Robert W. Trogdon's The Lousy Racket: Hemingway, Scribner's and the Business of Literature (Kent State University Press, 2007). "Although Wolfe is cited only a few times (twice with references to Hemingway's derogatory comments about Wolfe's prolixity)," Mills writes, "the study provides a very useful view into the internal dynamics of the Scribner's firm during Wolfe's association with Max Perkins. Included are discussion and data about marketing practices, royalty scales, editing procedures, etc." Mills adds that "Especially interesting are the translation of monetary amounts from the decades in question into modern equivalencies."
There are a few mentions of Perkins and only the smallest references to Wolfe in The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Publishers, Their Editors and Authors by Al Silverman (Truman Tolley Books/St. Martin's Press, 2008). In his introduction, with reference to great American publishers, Silverman writes: "I could hear them letting out a clamorous cry on behalf of the great works of the 1920s and 1930s, when the novels of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe were being nurtured by the master editor of the period, Maxwell Perkins" (3). Later, with reference to Peter de Vries, he writes: "I started reading him in the early 1950s after I had disowned the hero of my youth, Thomas Wolfe" (368).
William Noble has interesting observations on Wolfe in Noble's Book of Writing Blunders: And How to Avoid Them (Writer's Digest Books, 2006). One reference indexed under "Thomas Wolfe" leads to comments on Tom K. Wolfe's use of ellipses, but in section 17, "Don't Expect the Maid (Editor, That Is) to Clean Up Your Mess," Noble observes:
Perhaps we remember too well those intriguing tales of Thomas Wolfe dropping thousands of blotted, marked-up pages on Maxwell Perkins (which resulted in Look Homeward,Angel) or Jack Kerouac walking in on Bennett Cerf and handing him a massive teletype roll on which he'd scrawled a story (which resulted in On the Road). [Kerouac's story was actually typewritten, reportedly during a Benzedrine rush, on sheets taped together, and he presented it to Malcolm Cowley at Viking.] But these are vivid exceptions because in both cases the writers had taken their work as far as they humanly could. Their "mess" certainly needed straightening out, but they were not able to do it without help. (105)
Noble's most poignant comments are in section 15, "Don't Let Rhythm and Sound Turn Sour":
In the hands of a master storyteller, the rhythmic character of punctuation and syntax can be portrayed so well. Here's Thomas Wolfe from his book Of Time and the River, and he has Helen Gant, the daughter of the dying Eugene [sic] Gant, attempting to understand why a group of blue collar men have come to the house to pay respects to her father. Wolfe reveals her thoughts as she approaches the group:
"Why-Why-Why--these men are really the closest friends he's got--not rich men like Uncle Will or Uncle Jim or even Mr. Sluder--but men like Mike Fogarty--and Jannadeau--and Mr. Duncan--and Alec Ramsey [sic ]--and Ernest Pegram--and Ollie Gant--but--but good heavens[,] no!" she thought, almost desperately--"surely these are not his closest friends--why-why--of course, they're decent people--they're honest men--but they're only common people--I've always considered them as just working men--and-and-and--my God!" she thought, with that terrible feeling of discovery we have when we suddenly see ourselves as others see us--"do you suppose that's the way people in this town think of Papa? ..."
Note the rhythmic flow here, the way Wolfe uses dashes to separate clauses, and the fact that most of the clauses are not complete sentences. The dashes set the rhythm of the paragraph, speed up the action and give the prose an immediacy that grabs the reader and insists the reader pay attention. Read this aloud; note how the choppy phrases form a steady rhythm and how you can hear her thinking as she moves towards the men. The rhythm is so strong that you're not put off when Wolfe breaks it momentarily to offer an aside about seeing ourselves as others see us. But then he picks up the rhythm of her inner thought again. (94-95)
Wolfe is mentioned twice in Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434: The Industry's Premier Teacher Reveals the Secrets of the Successful Screenplay (Perigree Books, 1993). In a section on structure he writes:
You can put a novel aside and later return to the story, but movies keep moving. And even novels keep moving, per Thomas Wolfe: "What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, is that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish." (89)
And in a section on "Where to Write," Hunter notes that "Mark Twain best liked to write in bed. Hemingway stood at a tall desk. Six-foot-five Thomas Wolfe also stood, writing on top of an icebox and then throwing the longhand pages into a pickle barrel for his secretary to collect and type" (137). No source is provided for the pickle barrel factoid.
The anecdote of Wolfe's writing atop the Frigidaire gets a workout in John Saltas's column, "Private Eye: Serious Complications" (Salt Lake Weekly, 20 September 2007). Saltas reviews his difficulties in recovering from surgery to repair a hernia in his groin:
So I'd be remiss to not thank the people who contacted me with the name of the tall Southern author who wrote standing up. For years, I had wrongly believed that person to be William Faulkner, but he was a foot shorter than Thomas Wolfe, the man I had spent years mis-identifying. Yo--Ken Sanders. In retrospect, it's obvious he would have known that one and I should've called him ahead of time. And Keith Moore--hardly a surprise that he, too, would know just about all there is to know about Thomas Wolfe. We used to have a guy in the office I could reliably depend upon for answers to such trivia. I haven't heard from him in a long time. I hope he's eating well and keeping his groin in check. I don't know if Sanders or Moore know this, but apparently there was another person who wrote standing up, although he wasn't Southern or even American. In addition to the notes from those two fellows, I got a voice mail from a local physician who told me about a Victorian English author by the name of Sabine Baring-Gould. Baring-Gould, a reverend, was quite an eccentric, it seems. Among his peccadilloes was apparently a penchant for writing while standing. I believe that because, other than being the grandfather of Sherlock Holmes scholar William S. Baring-Gould, he is most noted for penning the song "Onward Christian Soldiers." That song gains a certain luster knowing it was not written by a guy sitting on his duff. Like I am now.
In "How Do You Crank Up to Write" for Oh My News on 30 January 2008, Dona Gibbs writes:
I read that Nathaniel Hawthorne worked every day for 10 hours straight when writing "The Scarlet Letter." Philip Roth reported that he writes standing up as did Thomas Wolfe, who was so tall he used the top of the icebox. (Note, iceboxes were shorter than today's refrigerators, but you probably knew that already.)
Yet another 2008 mention of Wolfe's use of a refrigerator for a writing surface appears in the North Carolina Literary Review (see the "Notes" entry on page 197).
A handmade scale model of the Old Kentucky home (approximately 6.5 by 8 feet) was offered for sale in an eBay auction ending 21 May 2008. The structure was built in the early 1990s for an outdoor museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. The seller, a resident of the Maggie Valley area, noted that only two of the "about 24 different houses built and displayed" at the museum remain (the other being a model of the Carl Sandburg house) and that the rest "were burned when the new owners bought the land and developed it." A photograph of the Wolfe replica shows it to be about as tall as a small child. The seller, who warned that a pickup truck bed would not be wide enough to haul the house away, provided this description:
The house was built by a local artisan over a period of several months. The frame and base is plywood. The outside is beautifully detailed.... Each of the wooden roof shingles was individually placed. The gutters are hand made from small strips of wood. Some of the roof sections are galvanized steel and some are copper. The windows are Plexiglas. The detailed scroll work around the windows is incredible. There is even a porch swing. The interior is wired for lighting.... Now for what it needs. Some of the windows are missing. There are lots of windows inside, but I'm sure some are missing. The paint looks worn especially on the roof. Some of the gutter downspouts are missing. There are lots of pebbles inside. I'm guessing people threw pebbles at it trying to get them through a window.
The auction opened with a minimum required bid of $499 and was extended until 15 June with the minimum bid reduced to $299. As far as we know, the auction ended with no takers.
Recently, two booksellers offered a total of thirty letters from Maxwell Perkins. Perhaps the most intriguing lot, priced at $3,500, consists of two letters written when Perkins was twenty-four years old. In his description of these letters (now sold), Ken Lopez of Hadley, Massachusetts, writes:
Book Description: 1909. One typed letter signed and one autographed letter signed written to his "Uncle Max" soliciting $50,000, half the expenses necessary to set up a newspaper in Oklahoma City with Sam Bowles. The first letter, dated May 15, typed in blue ribbon, runs 1-1/4 pages and describes the marketing angle of the venture. Hand-corrected; several edge tears (one crossing text); folded with light edge sunning; very good. The second letter, two pages, 4 sides of Grand Union Hotel stationery, dated May 26, is hand-written and makes a more emotional case, obviously after his request is rejected: "It is clear enough to me that a newspaper man with no capital can do more wisely from every point of view than to stay in New York where the highest place he can hope for, or count on some [day] getting, is the most precarious in the whole precarious business--that of a managing editor at not more than $10,000 a year." Perkins later became renowned as the legendary editor at Scribner's publishing house, where he nurtured young writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. One reads these letters somewhat glad for the youthful disappointment in the failed newspaper venture, the success of which might have precluded Perkins from finding his way into literary publishing.
Another Ken Lopez offering is a typed letter signed from Perkins to Homer Watt, priced at $1,250 and described as follows:
Book Description: 1941. Two-page TLS dated July 9 and addressed to Homer Watt, Thomas Wolfe's boss when Wolfe worked at New York University in the 1920s. Perkins was Wolfe's editor at Scribner's and reportedly played a large role in organizing Wolfe's rambling writings and shaping them into his books. After Wolfe died, Perkins was responsible for handling his literary estate. This letter gives Watt permission to use some of Wolfe's letters to him in an article Watt was planning to write on Wolfe as an instructor during his time at NYU. As his literary executor, Perkins was responsible for controlling copyright, and he appears almost embarrassed to have to give Watt permission to use letters that Wolfe wrote to Watt and that Watt himself owns. He also recommends to Watt that, if possible, "it would be most desirable for these letters to go to Mr. Wisdom" and that "he would be willing to pay very well for them." Shortly after Wolfe died, Wisdom had purchased from Perkins all of Wolfe's manuscripts and correspondence, a collection that later went to Harvard University. In the letter, Perkins writes "I had hoped he [Wisdom] would leave all this to the Harvard Library, where Tom's most important manuscript, 'Look Homeward, Angel' now is. He would not quite make that promise, but that may well be the outcome." He also mentions John Terry's work gathering together material for a biography of Wolfe. Terry published Wolfe's letters to his mother in 1943. Wisdom gave the collection to Harvard in 1947, and Perkins was in the process of working on an Introduction to the Collection at its accession in 1947 when he died. An excellent letter by a legendary editor, with good content--literary, biographical, and historical. Stapled in upper corner; fine.
Finally, bookseller Charles Agvent in Merztown, Pennsylvania, offers a collection of twenty-seven typed letters signed from Perkins to novelist Alan Kapelner. Once priced at $8,625, the lot was reduced to $8,250 by the summer of 2008, and it was most recently listed at $7,500.
Book Description: Near Fine. A sizable group of 27 TYPED LETTERS SIGNED (TLSs) dating from 1942 to 1946 to novelist Alan Kapelner, one of the last discoveries of famous Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins who worked on the first novels of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe, and who died in 1947. Kapelner published two novels, LONELY BOY BLUES in 1944, on several neglected books lists, and ALL THE NAKED HEROES in 1960. Nearly all of the letters here are single page on Charles Scribner's Sons stationery and SIGNED in full. The correspondence begins with requests to see Kapelner's manuscript [LONELY BOY BLUES] as well as politely declining the author's requests for a job at Scribner's. Some selections: "I should never think of making a decision on a book of such ability without reading it carefully,--and what's more, I am certain that I shall personally enjoy it greatly." "Thomas Wolfe used to want me to go out and beat up critics--who often were bigger men than I--but I never could see that any particular good could come of it." Several of the letters deal with specific advice about LONELY BOY BLUES, tentatively titled IN AT THE KILL. Wonderful archive from arguably the most important editor of the twentieth century whose advice resulted in often substantial changes and in the final versions of THE GREAT GATSBY, LOOK HOMEWARD[,] ANGEL, THE YEARLING, and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, among others. Hemingway dedicated THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA to Perkins.
A Web search for rare Wolfe books in mid-summer 2008 revealed the following:
TBCL, The Book Collector's Library Montreal, offered a first edition, first issue copy of From Death to Morning in very good price-clipped dustwrapper showing moderate use for $3,750. The book was signed by Wolfe and dated "January 10th, 1936."
John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit is still offering a copy of Of Time and the River inscribed for "Whit and Pierce" with the incorrect information that they were from Burnsville, North Carolina (see "Notes," TWR 29.1-2 : 193).
Encore Books in Redondo Beach, California, offered a very good copy of Of Time and the River, 6th printing, without jacket, inscribed "For Ruth Larson with grateful thanks for her friendly and generous services, Thomas Wolfe, Denver Aug. 15, 1935," for $1,500.
Phoenicia Library Association in Phoenicia, New York, offered a first edition of From Death to Morning without jacket for $1,000.
Printers Row Fine and Rare Books offered a very good copy, first edition, first printing, of From Death to Morning with dust-wrapper, inscribed "For Elizabeth Youngstrom with the best wishes of Thomas Wolfe Nov 14, 1935" for $4,500.
Peter L. Stern and Co. in Boston offered a presentation copy of Of Time and the River in dust jacket for $4,500. The book is inscribed "To Fidelia E. Stark, Sincerely, with best wishes, Thomas Wolfe, Feb 28 1935." The description explains that Stark was "an assistant editor as Scribner's." We've previously noted a copy of Look Homeward, Angel inscribed to Stark (see "Notes," TWR 28.1-2 : 225).
Yet another fan-response letter from Wolfe was offered on eBay in a sale sending 20 October 2008. Titled "Thomas Wolfe rare signed letter re writing process 1935," the posting offered a TLS dated 16 July 1935 to "Mr. Aschaffenburg" who was opined "likely the German author Paul Pattloch Aschaffenburg." The letter is virtually the same as letters of similar vintage typed by Wolfe's secretary in response to fan mail accumulated while he was in Europe and ends: "I am going to Colorado next week, but when I return in the fall, perhaps we can get together." The auction required a minimum bid of $1,500. We do not know if the item sold.
Between the Covers Rare Books is still offering the copy of From Death to Morning inscribed by Fitzgerald to Ogden Nash's father-in-law (see "Notes," TWR 28:1-2 : 225-26) in Catalogue 143, Holiday 2008. The price remains $8,500.
Gregory A. Poole of Raleigh recently acquired an inscribed copy of Of Time and the River and, as thrilled as he is to have such a treasured item, he reports that pasted inside the cover is another treasure--a previously unpublished photo of Thomas Wolfe. Poole has granted permission for the Thomas Wolfe Review to reprint the photograph here. The original is considerably larger than our cropped, reduced reproduction of it, and although the image has obviously faded with age, it is a fascinating photograph. Wolfe, facing the camera, is conversing with four men at an outdoor gathering. The inscription in Poole's book ("For Marjorie Lipscomb / Sincerely / Thomas Wolfe / Boulder, Aug 6, 1935") has led to speculation by some that the event pictured was part of the Colorado Writers Conference that year. Others who have examined it, however, theorize that the photo might date from 1938, during Wolfe's travels to the West Coast. In fact, at least one knowledgeable Wolfean sees similarities between the Poole photograph and a well-known image of Wolfe posing with a delphinium at an outdoor gathering in Seattle. He suggests that this newly discovered photograph might have been taken at that same event.
Regardless of the details of the photograph's origins, we are grateful to Greg Poole for making it available for presentation in the Thomas Wolfe Review.
During the Olympics in Beijing we took notice of an article by ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, who contributed his picks for the "Five Best" in the Wall Street Journal on 9 August 2008. Schaap notes that these five Olympics-related books "are pure gold." The third of his five selections was You Can't Go Home Again. Schaap writes:
"You Can't Go Home Again" isn't really about the Olympics, but its protagonist, George Webber, spends the summer of 1936 in Berlin, where he cheers for Jesse Owens and bears witness to the passion of the German masses as they embrace their Fuhrer. The Games of the 11th Olympiad were the most significant Olympics of the modern era, and Thomas Wolfe--who was himself there--captures the atmosphere with, well, a novelist's eye. Here he describes the scene when Hitler approached the Olympic stadium: "At last he came, and something like a wind across a field of grass was shaken through that crowd, and from afar the tide rolled up with him, and in it was the voice, the hope, the prayer of the land." Published posthumously (Wolfe died of tuberculosis in 1938, at age 37), after the German invasion of Poland but before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, "You Can't Go Home Again" makes it clear that Americans, and everyone else, could ignore Hitler's Germany only at their peril. "There seemed to be something ominous about [sic ] it," Wolfe writes about the prevailing mood in Berlin as the opening ceremony approaches. "One sensed a stupendous concentration of effort, a tremendous drawing together and ordering in the vast collective power of the whole land. And the thing that made it seem ominous was that it so evidently went beyond what the games themselves demanded."
The Wolfe passages are from chapter 38 of You Can't Go Home Again and were among those used by Schaap in his well-received book, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). For those keeping score at home, this marks the third consecutive year in which "Notes" has discussed a book focused on the 1936 Olympics. Schaap's transcriptions are adequate, if not perfectly accurate, and, despite his careful explanation early in the Wolfe section that they are excerpts from a novel, he tends to treat them as biography. Schaap borrows one Wolfe line for the title of chapter 13, "The Battle Tent of Some Great Emperor" (150), in which he writes:
One of the more skeptical visitors to Berlin as the Olympics were about to commence was a thirty-five-year-old writer from Asheville, North Carolina. He was a drunk and a bigot, but neither of these qualities hindered his career as a novelist. In fact, by the time tuberculosis killed him at the age of thirty-seven, he had achieved a measure of fame so profound that nearly seventy years later his novels are still widely read and admired. An innocent abroad, Thomas Wolfe went to Berlin to cover the games and to see for himself what Hitler was up to. He was also taking notes for a novel that would become You Can't Go Home Again, which was published posthumously in 1940. In it, George Webber, Wolfe's alter ego, flits from New York to Paris to Berlin at the time of the Olympics. Like Wolfe, George Webber is both awed and terrified by Hitler's capital. Perhaps more than any other American who attended the games, Wolfe was able to communicate the prevailing mood: [Passage from You Can't Go Home Again, page 625, beginning "George observed ..."] Although Germans had packed their uniforms into closets and their anti-Semitic posters in warehouses, they could not hide what was in their hearts. And the thought of it made Wolfe shiver. It was clear that a great society was building its strength and flaunting its resourcefulness and that there would be dire consequences for anything and anyone that stood in its way. (151-52)
Schaap notes that "Unrestrained enthusiasm floated through the city, which was decked out in festive Nazi banners." Following Wolfe's description of the "royal banners" from page 626 of the novel, Schaap writes: "Wolfe could not have known--few people did--that more than grime had been scrubbed from Berlin's streets in the days leading up to the games" (153)
On pages 160-61, Schaap quotes part of Wolfe's description of the huge crowds and their reaction to Hitler (from page 628 of You Can't Go Home Again). He then presents the observations of the novel's narrator (from pages 625-27), and he writes: "But at the center of it all, Wolfe wrote, was Jesse Owens ..." (211).
Schaap's final reference to Wolfe is his take on the much publicized cheering episode inside the stadium:
Among the non-Germans moved by the sight of Owens's crowning triumph was Thomas Wolfe. Seated in the box of William E. Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Wolfe howled in delight, so loudly that the ambassador's daughter, Martha (later allegedly a Soviet spy), said that Hitler heard him and turned around in anger.... (218)
Someone else took notice of Schaap's Wall Street Journal article. The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources issued an "immediate press release" on "Connection between NC Author Thomas Wolfe and Olympics" with a copy of a Doris Ulmann photograph attached (12 August 2008). The press release provides some details about Schaap's article and about Wolfe and his 1936 trip to Germany, including a quotation from Daniel Barth's 1991 article on Wolfe. Information about the Wolfe Memorial and the Department of Cultural Resources is also included. Despite omitting the comma in the title of Wolfe's first novel, the press release was a nice attempt. However, we have not noticed that it generated any press for Wolfe.
HMS Olympic was the ship on which Thomas Wolfe first met Aline Bernstein in 1925. It was a sister ship to the Titanic and the Gigantic (renamed Britannic after the sinking of the Titanic). None of those great ships of the White Star Line remain today, but a Wikipedia entry for "Olympic" notes that Celebrity Cruises "purchased some of Olympic's original wooden panels and created the RMS Olympic Restaurant on board their newest cruise ship, Millennium. According to Celebrity Cruise Line, the rare collection of wood paneling once lined the Olympic's a la carte restaurant."
Aboard the Millennium, at the entrance to the RMS Olympic Restaurant there is a painting of the old ship and artifacts on display. Although there is no mention of Wolfe, the Celebrity Web site features a virtual tour of the restaurant among the information on the Millennium.
"Closerie de Lilas" (actually it's La Closerie des Lilas) is one of three cafes mentioned in "The most literary cafes in Paris" on the Web site travelbite.co.uk. The "bite" on that cafe states that it is "situated in Monmartre," which is not only misspelled but incorrect (it is actually in Montparnasse). The travel site notes the cafe's celebrated connection with Hemingway, but concludes with "Not just a forum of discussion but also the material for fictional setting, Thomas Wolfe even mentions the cafe in his novel 'Of Time and the River.'"
La Closerie des Lilas is just a short walk up Boulevard Montparnasse from La Rotonde where Thomas Wolfe Society members will dine during the 2009 annual meeting in Paris.
Writers are discussed in the context of geographic areas in David Burke's Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light (Counterpoint, 2008). Burke writes about Wolfe in the section "Rue des Beaux-Arts" (pages 48-49):
American novelist Thomas Wolfe stayed at the still modestly-priced Hotel d'Alsace during the winter of 1924-1925, as does Wolfe's alter ego Eugene Gant in Of Time and the River : It was a good hotel and was the place where Oscar Wilde had died. When he wanted to see the celebrated death room, he would ask to see "le chambre de Monsier Veeld," and Monsieur Vely, the proprietor, or one of his buxom daughters, would willingly show it. [from page 688 of OTATR; with four errors]
Those who remember the annual meeting in Munich in 1997 will be especially interested in "Munich at 850" in the November 2008 issue of Smithsonian (78) in which Charles Michener notes:
in Thomas Wolfe's novel The Web and the Rock, the narrator observes, Munich "is a kind of German heaven. great Germanic dream translated into life.... In other parts of Germany, people will lift their eyes and sigh rapturously when you say you are going to Munich; 'Ach! Munchen ... ist schon!'" (Schon means handsome, beautiful and nice). (80)
The quotation also appears as a photo caption on page 81.
In America-Europe: A Transatlantic Diary 1961-1989 (Xlibris, 2007), TWS life member Klaus Lanzinger provides entries from his notes, corresponding to the years of the Berlin Wall. The book opens with a brief quotation from Of Time and the River. Then one of Lanzinger's earliest entries, from March 1961, is headed "Brooklyn Bridge": "To understand Walt Whitman and Thomas Wolfe one has to stand on the Brooklyn Bridge looking at the skyline to the right and watch the unceasing flow of traffic below" (20). He adds, "Thomas Wolfe who had lived in Brooklyn from 1931-35 treated his experience of the Bridge in his great novel Of Time and the River (1935)" (20).
An entry from July 1964 about his research in the Wisdom Collection notes that Richard Kennedy and Paschal Reeves had just begun their work editing Wolfe's pocket notebooks. Lanzinger writes: "Paschal Reeves called my attention to the many entries on Europe in Wolfe's notebooks. Out of this, finally the idea emerged for Jason's Voyage: The Search for the Old World in American Literature, which appeared as a book in 1989" (67). And in May 1968 Lanzinger again writes about Reeves and their mutual interest in Wolfe. Noting the cordial welcome and reception he received from Paschal and Suzanne Reeves when he visited the University of Georgia, Lanzinger writes: "personal contacts among colleagues in the academic world are one of the best ways to overcome geographical distances and differences between America and Europe" (95).
Concluding his book with a discussion of "The Immigration Experience," Lanzinger says that the "tales and novels of Henry James clearly show that Europe or the Old World has an illusory effect on the American psyche." American travelers in Europe are "driven by the desire to see the great works of art in museums" and they "look for the idyllic, fairy tale landscape, stroll through the picturesque old cities and are guided through castles and palaces" (445). He adds:
The Jason figure of Thomas Wolfe pursues this journey through the historic cities and museums of the Old World--Bonn, Frankfurt, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna--with a passion that cannot be explained by a tourist's interest alone. Wolfe saw the passionate desire of the traveling American in Europe related to the Jason myth and called it "blazoned with the Jason fire." (445)
Transatlantic Exchanges: The American South in Europe--Europe in the American South is a collection of essays edited by Richard Gray and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, published in Vienna (OAW, 2007). In addition to two full articles on Wolfe (see "Bibliography," TWR 31.1-2 (2007): 172-73), the book includes an essay by Hans Skei, "Southern Literature in Northlight," in which he pauses to consider the influence of Wolfe on Norwegian author Agnar Mykle:
Thomas Wolfe was, of course, translated early, and made a difference with some authors, notably one who borrowed ideas and plots, rhetorical and often very lyrical prose from Wolfe, in short stories as well as in a couple of novels that [Mykle] thought made [Wolfe] the greatest writer alive, anywhere. He even spent almost a year in Chapel Hill from the fall of 1951, no doubt because Wolfe had been a student there. His major books were based on personal experience at least to the same degree as Thomas Wolfe's books, with little distance to life, events and people. There is no doubt that Agnar Mykle and his two novels from the mid-50s owe much to Thomas Wolfe. If you have not read Lasso round the Moon and The Song of the Red Ruby, I recommend the first, although his greatest success came with the second, which was first banned as pornographic but later freed. The narrator and main character, Ask Burlefot, looks at his life in retrospect, and he knows that he cannot ever go home again, but also that he has to. He has to enter the night train and journey north towards home, as we all have to do, with the memory of a dead brother in his arms. He knows that "Love is something others do not know of. Love is loneliness." He knows that our time between dark and dark is painfully brief, and perhaps also that only art can create some sort of permanence. I may even contradict something I said earlier, and admit that a study of direct influence would be possible in the case of Thomas Wolfe and Agnar Mykle, to a degree that I cannot show for any other Norwegian writer, not even if I went outside the borders of the South and included, for example, Hemingway or Carver, from whom numerous Norwegian authors have learnt a lot and found new approaches to their own material.
North Carolina Literary Review Humor Issue
The 2008 issue of the North Carolina Literary Review is a humor issue subtitled "The Old Mirth State." In addition to a humorous essay about a childhood incident by Society member Jerry Leath Mills, it contains Society member John Idol's article "Body Language and Satiric Portraits in Thomas Wolfe's The Party at Jack's," as well as Society member Wiley Cash's review of three books by Society members: Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin? by Joanne Marshall Mauldin, and Thomas Wolfe: An Illustrated Biography and Windows of the Heart: The Correspondence of Thomas Wolfe and Margaret Roberts, both edited by the late Ted Mitchell.
Along the way, in Lawrence Naumoff's short story "Men Like White Elephants," the narrator says that both main characters "teach at a university in the South, where Wolfe and Ferlinghetti and Walker Percy all went in their time" (10). In her essay "Geography for Writers," Lee Zacharias says:
Colette, Proust, Joyce, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edith Wharton, Walker Percy, and Truman Capote all liked to write in bed. Other writers have preferred to stand, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf among them. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards standing at a lectern; Thomas Wolfe, who supposedly once skipped down the streets of Manhattan singing, "I wrote ten thousand words today," used the top of a refrigerator. (139)
That essay includes a 1991 photograph of the Oteen cabin by Society member Jan Hensley with the caption: "In the summer of 1937, Thomas Wolfe wrote The Party at Jack's ... in this cabin at Oteen, outside Asheville" (136).
A cropped photograph of the Hendersonville angel by Society member Ruth Winchester Ware accompanies another essay. Next to the photograph is a quotation from Lee Smith's novel Oral History (Random House 1983) that seems to evoke Wolfe:
"I come back from time to time because I feel at home here, or as at home as I can ever be, a wanderer on the earth" (124).
The story "Distance," winner of the 2007 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, was written by Thomas Wolf. Editor Margaret Bauer said: "with a name like Thomas Wolf (even if spelled differently) he must have figured he had to be a writer" (143).
An advertisement promoting the Thomas Wolfe Society appears on page 197. Reprinted here, this is a larger version of the classified ad that ran in the New York Review of Books during 2007 (see the 2007 TWR, page 210). All of these ads were made possible by the generosity of Jasper and Harriet Moore.
Chapter 7 of Adventures in Medical Research: A Century of Discovery at Johns Hopkins (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976) by A. McGehee Harvey is titled "Neurosurgical Genius: Walter Edward Dandy." In addition to the information about and photos of Dandy, Harvey writes: "The life of a neurosurgeon is a difficult one, and his day is not always crowned with successes. One of Dandy's prominent patients was Thomas Clayton Wolfe, the novelist" (65-66). Brief biographical and literary information about Wolfe follows, concluding with "If he had lived in a succeeding generation, this great novelist might not have met his death at the age of thirty-eight [sic ]" (66).
Also included is an exchange of letters between Dandy and Dr. George W. Swift, the Seattle neurosurgeon who had recommended that the family take Wolfe to Johns Hopkins for treatment by Dandy. Swift's first letter is dated 7 September 1938, the day after the Wolfes left Seattle for Baltimore. He notes that Wolfe "has not been under my care. I saw him only in consultation just before he left" and adds that he "advised him to stop off in Rochester [Minnesota; at the Mayo Clinic] in case his condition became alarming en route." About Wolfe, Swift writes: "His home is in South Carolina [sic] and his sister wanted to take him East.... He is an author who writes for Harper's Magazine. Mr. Edward C. Aswell ... is particularly interested in his case, so you might notify him as to your findings" (66).
Dandy responded on 13 September, two days before Wolfe's death, and he provided a detailed description of the author's condition. Swift's response, dated 20 September, concludes with "I am sorry to have to send you such a hopeless case, but such is life ..." (67) [ellipsis in original].
The three letters had been made available by Dr. Walter E. Dandy Jr. for Harvey's article, which was originally published in the November 1974 issue of the Johns Hopkins Medical Journal. The first two letters also appear in "The Death of Thomas Wolfe: A 60-Year Retrospective" by TWS member Dr. S. Robert Lathan (Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, September 1998).
Mark Leibovich's interview with Hardball host Chris Matthews for the New York Times Magazine (13 April 2008) is titled "Seriously. (O.K., Not That Seriously.)." Near the end of the interview Leibovich explores rumors that Matthews might challenge Arlen Specter for the Pennsylvania senate seat in 2010:
I asked him about the Senate rumors. He thinks Specter has hung on way too long, he said, but running would require Matthews to give up a career he loves. Still, "I get a great feeling when I go home" he told me. "Is Thomas Wolfe right? Can you go home again?"
While Matthews ruled out a senate run just a few days later, he seems to have proven that you can go home again. Matthews and Keith Olbermann served as anchors for television coverage of the presidential nominating conventions, but they were replaced by NBC News correspondent David Gregory following controversy about on-air comments during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Still, on 4-5 November, Matthews was back, teaming with Gregory, Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Eugene Robinson to cover the presidential election.
The hard-fought Democratic presidential primary brought separate visits by Hillary, Bill, and even Chelsea Clinton to Asheville. In "Clinton Courts Asheville: Former President Stumps for Wife" for the Asheville Citizen-Times on 29 March 2008, Barbara Blake observes: "The former president delivered speeches in seven cities west of Raleigh, including a final stop in Asheville, where he talked about basketball, a vacation trip to the Grove Park Inn and his fondness for the writings of Thomas Wolfe."
The Chapel Hill News reported on the visit of Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential hopeful John Edwards, to the university campus. In "Find Your Passion: Elizabeth Edwards Shares Stories about Her Time in College and Tells Students to Care about Something," staff writer Jesse James DeConto wrote on 16 April 2008:
Citing authors from Shakespeare to Thomas Wolfe, Edwards said learning should open their eyes to the world around them, and that life experience would be better than any book. "Here you will begin to lift away the gauze of innocence with which you grew up," she said, paraphrasing Wolfe, "At least I hope you grew up that way."
TWS member and retired political science professor George Fouke has written Damn the Warocracy! A Plea to Restore American Democracy (Treehouse, 2009), which carries a second subtitle, "America at a Moral and Political Crossroads." In an e-mail Fouke stated that "I use Wolfe throughout the book as a leitmotiv for hopefulness and Go America, Go. He or his words are woven throughout the book like chocolate in a marble cake." In deed, readers will find several quotations from Wolfe's letters and from Look Homeward,Angel, Of Time and the River, and You Can't Go Home Again, all serving to illustrate various points in Fouke's "call for action" (iv) and his attempt to answer two "old, old questions": "What should individuals and societies live for and what should they die for?" (iii).
Raised in six foster homes by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, Fouke calls himself "bi-political." His passion for politics, history, and literature--and for America--is on display in Damn the Warocracy! as can be clearly seen in this passage from pages 297-98:
Longfellow in the Golden Legend wrote: "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books ... Ah, nothing is too late, till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate ... For age is opportunity no less than youth itself." Age is opportunity but the mind is frustrated, limited to seeing only a glimpse of the exploding future. Yours, though, is the opportunity to live it. Listen to ... No! dance to the music of Wolfe's hero's dying yet optimistic words from You Can't Go Home Again: "To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing ... to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
Colson Whitehead's essay for the New York Times Book Review (2 March 2008) is titled "I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It." He writes: "Google 'brooklyn writer' and you'll get Did you mean: the future of literature as we know it?" Later, he observes:
Occasionally you hear the Brooklyn legends that feed the mystique. There was the one about the young post-postmodernist who was sitting on the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights one day when the ghost of Thomas Wolfe approached him, mumbling, "Where are today's Maxwell Perkinses?" The young man pulled the earbuds from his iPhone and, recognizing this specter from the David Levine caricature on his grandma's New York Review of Books tote bag, asked, "Does anybody actually read you anymore?" The apparition disappeared in a puff of brimstone and nerve tonic.
Speaking of David Levine's caricature of Wolfe, in the November 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, David Margolick wrote "Levine in Winter." Among other caricatures reproduced with the article was the one of Wolfe.
Will Freidwald's "Jazz from across the River" in the New York Sun (21 January 2008) begins:
Thomas Wolfe told us that "only the dead know Brooklyn." Lighten up, dude! I will admit that when I was growing up there, Brooklyn always seemed like a great place from which to escape. Now, however, there's the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, a collective of 10 enterprising instrumentalist-composer-bandleaders who are transforming the borough into the first base for exciting new music.
Class of '47
In the 1947 edition of Chimes, the annual for Berea College in Kentucky, "The Junior Class" section includes a page with a photograph of Dean Caudle, Charlotte Johnson, Robert Blanton, June Jasper, and Albert Shufflebarger, along with the following text:
On this campus and on other campuses there has been a revival of interest in Thomas Wolfe, not because his books have been carried unchecked from the library shelves by admirers, but because no one has ever written as he did. No one has ever interpreted with such lyricism and poignant insight what it means to be young, to be young and lonely and full of wanting to do something.
With this issue almost ready for the press, we took late notice of Once Again to Zelda: The Stories behind Literature's Most Intriguing Dedications by Marlene Wagman-Geller (Perigree 2008). Wagman-Geller dedicates the book of fifty short chapters "To my Js--And to the writers whose fictionalized worlds have forever enriched our own." Chapter 12 is on Wolfe's dedication of Look Homeward, Angel to Aline Bernstein and begins with the observation that his use of initials only ("To A.B.") was because of the circumstance of her being married and the claim that it "proved symbolic, as they are the first two letters of the alphabet, and she was Wolfe's first, and only, love" (59).
The chapter is five and one half pages long, and Wolfe students may want to consult it and assess Wagman-Geller's assessment of the Wolfe-Bernstein affair. Clara Paul may not count as a love, and if it is true that his "usual interaction with the opposite sex was to meet them at one of the innumerable Greenwich Village parties, disappear with them into a bedroom for an hour, and leave, their faces as memorable as a page number in a book," perhaps Bernstein was his first love (60). However, they met on the Olympic, not the Olympia (59), and the chapter ends with the claim that Wolfe's last words were asking for Aline (64). There is room for disagreement with the characterization of the affair extending beyond simple facts like the name of a ship.
There is not room to expand at length, and someone might want to write a "Belles Lettres" critique of the chapter and the author's use of her sources. She cites David Herbert Donald's biography and William S. Powell's Dictionary of North Carolina biography, which are valid resources, but she also cites minor newspapers and magazines and questionable Web sites. While the Web site for the Wolfe Memorial should be valid, entries in Wikipedia (yes, we've been guilty of that too), Enotes.com, and fantasticfiction give pause for concern. And a biography credited to the Thomas Wolfe Society is actually from an individual's Web site that appears not to have been updated since 1998.
You can't say the picture is inaccurate, but while well-written, it seems to lack a depth of analysis and appears to perpetuate anecdotes and legend. Call us snobs, but the blame seems to lie squarely upon the resources consulted. This feature presents both the chaff and the grain, but this Review tries everywhere possible to correct the erroneous. That task appears more difficult the deeper we get into the digital age.
Garrison Keillor noted Gore Vidal's birthday on 3 October 2008 in his daily radio feature The Writer's Almanac, before observing: "It's the birthday of Thomas Wolfe, born in Asheville, North Carolina (1900). He had an affair with Aline Bernstein, a married woman 20 years older than Wolfe, who encouraged him to become a novelist. He dedicated Look Homeward, Angel (1929) to her."
"You Can't Go Home Again" continues to inspire. Ben Brantley's review of "The Homecoming" at the Cort Theater for the New York Times (17 December 2007) is titled "You Can Go Home Again, but You'll Pay the Consequences." Jonathan Clements's inset item "Getting Going" in the Wall Street Journal (9 January 2008) is titled "You Can Go Home Again: Why U.S. Markets Beckon." Tom Vanderbilt's architectural review of the Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo in the New York Times (10 January 2008) is titled "You Can Go Home Again, but Why?" James Grady's report of a return to his hometown for a high school reunion in Parade (28 September 2008) is titled "You Can Go Home Again." During the Olympics, NBC promoted a new sitcom, Kath & Kim (about a grown daughter returning home to live with her mother), with the voice-over tagline, "Apparently you CAN go home again."
A couple of older references were also brought to our attention. In Johnny Goes Home, a 1982 NBC special now on DVD, talk-show host Johnny Carson returns to his native Nebraska for a visit. Carson concludes the program by saying "Thomas Wolfe once wrote, 'you can't go home again.' Well, that's probably true if you expect to find things the way they were. But, in a sense, we're like a turtle--we carry our home with us wherever we go." Finally, the Polish translation (by Maria Skibniewska) of Wolfe's novel is Nie Ma Powrotu (1959), but there is at least one other book by that title--a 1963 novel by Wieslaw Jazdzynski--as well as a 1970 film produced in Poland, Nie Ma Powrotu, Johnny, which is about Americans in Vietnam.
Continuing with the Polish connections, the first segment of music (by Marvin Hamlisch) on the 1982 West German release of the soundtrack for Sophie's Choice is titled "Thomas Wolfe in Polish," which is based on a scene in the movie. The American release of the soundtrack does not include this title.
The "Carolina Alumni Memorial in Memory of Those Lost in Military Service" was dedicated on the Chapel Hill campus on 12 April 2007. The centerpiece of the memorial is a limestone bench on which is inscribed a passage from chapter 39 of Look Homeward, Angel. In the passage Eugene Gant hears the campus bell and thinks he hears the "footfalls of lost boys" running to class, but then the "phantom runners thudded into oblivion."
The PBS NewsHour broadcast of 4 December 2008 featured a guest essay from Chicago Tribune staff writer Julia Keller titled "'Wired' Americans Wrestle with Sleepless Nights." Keller said: "Thomas Wolfe turned insomnia into poetry. 'Long, long into the night I lay awake, wondering how I should tell my story.'"
With thanks to Bob Anthony,Mary Bailey, G. D. Bailey, Deborah Borland, Alice Cotten, George Fouke, Herb Gimbel, Jan Hensley, Jody Higgins, Joseph B. Joyce, Julie Joyce,Margie Kashdin, Aldo P. Magi, Gerry Max, Jamie McMahan, Jerry Leath Mills, Gregory A. Poole, Beth Privette, James A. Privette Jr., David Radavich, Jim Ritz, Steve Rogers, David Strange, Bill Westall, and Anne Zahlan.