OF TIME AND THE RIVER ... 75 YEARS LATER
Several items--in various formats--discussing or mentioning Of Time and the River appeared in 2010, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Wolfe's second novel. (That it was also the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of From Death to Morning seems to have gone unnoticed.) In "Time Marches On: The Golden Age of Thomas Wolfe and the Gant Clan" (Weekly Standard, 18 October 2010), Edwin M. Yoder Jr., points out that " Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe's second novel, and I came into the world within months of one another 75 years ago" (36). Describing Wolfe as a "dangerous intoxicant" for "aspiring literary adolescents," Yoder writes:
I hadn't, until recently, reread Of Time and the River since my youthful binges and rather shied away for fear of finding the book cloying. It cannot be boyish prejudice at this late date to say that I found it an indisputably great novel--and, notwithstanding its episodic structure, one of the greatest in our language. (36)
Yoder defends the book against attacks by Bernard DeVoto and other detractors, stating that "they could not permanently damage a powerful novel which, for all its flaws, speaks for itself and is a work of genius." And he concludes: "Seventy-five years later it lives and breathes, which is more than can be said of 99 percent of the fiction of last week or last year or last century" (37).
David Gessner praises Of Time and the River in the "Best of the South" issue of Oxford American (no. 69, Summer 2010), which features a series of "Ode to ..." articles. In "Ode to the Best Novel for Enflaming Youth," Gessner asks, "Wasn't Thomas Wolfe the greatest of his time, at least in terms of raw voltage?" He explains: "For me, it was a book like a bomb. Or rather it was a book like a lit fuse, and my brain was the bomb" (104). Citing flaws that he now sees in the novel, Gessner says that Wolfe "might not have been the best or sanest model" for aspiring young writers, and he adds that "Among the thousands whose mind-fuses he lit, hardly any, [Philip] Roth excepted, would ever approach the level of success of the giant himself." Gessner quickly responds to his own criticism of the book by concluding, "But so what? Didn't Wolfe himself believe that it was the trying alone that mattered, the comic, failed, glorious effort? O furious hope! O wild extravagant belief!" (105).
Gessner continues the praise in "Drive Yourself Crazy with Thomas Wolfe," his post for 23 June 2010 on his (and Bill Roorbach's) blog, Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour:
If a young person were to come to me and sit at my knee and say, "Old Professor Gessner, you seem so wise. (Here I would nod.) Could you tell me the best book for me to read if I want to drive myself insane with ambition and dreams of glory?" I would reply: "Yes, son/ young lady. I recommend that you run out and buy a copy of Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and a River [sic]. That will do the trick." And it will, it will!
Garrison Keillor did not specifically mention the seventy-fifth anniversary, leaving it up to his listeners to do the math, but he began the 8 March 2010 installment of his nationally syndicated radio show, The Writer's Almanac, with the following (a slightly longer written version is available on The Writer's Almanac Web site):
It was on this day in 1935 [that] Thomas Wolfe's novel Of Time and the River was published. When he turned it in to Scribner's, it was as long as Proust's In Remembrance of Things Past, and Wolfe's editor, Maxwell Perkins, convinced him that it should be edited down to one volume.
Rocker, ranter, raconteur Henry Rollins has a well-known appreciation of literature, including the works of Thomas Wolfe. In his LA Weekly column (8 October 2010)--during his "favorite month"--Rollins labels Of Time and the River "perhaps my favorite take-me-to-my-happy-place book." He then provides a paragraph from chapter 39 in which Eugene Gant has returned to Altamont after the death of his father:
"October is the season for returning: even the town is born anew," he thought. "The tide of life is at the full again, the rich return to business or to fashion, and the bodies of the poor are rescued out of the heat and weariness. The ruin and horror of the summer is forgotten--a memory of hot cells and humid walls, a hell of ugly sweat and labor and distress and hopelessness, a limbo of pale greasy faces. Now joy and hope have revived again in the hearts of millions of people, they breathe the air again with hunger, their movements are full of life and energy. The mark of their summer's suffering is still legible upon their flesh, there is something starved and patient in their eyes, and a look that has a child's expectation in it."
Rollins adds: "Every October, I re-read that chapter. I am looking forward to opening that book again this Sunday." David Strange reports:
Because I can do no other, I note for the record that the above transcription contains one minor error (there is no "the" preceding "heat and weariness" in the novel) and that in the lead-in to the passage, Eugene Gant's hometown is given as Asheville, rather than Altamont. But as I type this, my inner eighteen-year-old is saying, "Dude, it's Henry Rollins ... telling his readers about Thomas Wolfe. Henry--Rollins! Let it go." At age three-times-eighteen, I find my inner teenager's frequent use of the F-word irritating, but I completely agree with his point. We can ignore a couple of nitpicks when a cultural icon like Henry Rollins mentions Wolfe. You have to admire a man who concludes a column with "October has come again and it is time to rock."
Finally, Steve Newman, a British writer, publisher, historian, director, and actor from Stratford, posted on the Socyberty Web site (29 November 2010) an article titled "Thomas Wolfe--Of Time and the River--Paris, 1935." He does not cite a source, but most of his information seems to be taken from David Herbert Donald's Wolfe biography, albeit with some embellishment. Soon after Wolfe arrived in Paris--just as Of Time and the River was being published in the United States--he got into a fistfight at Harry's New York bar. Newman claims that Wolfe "probably started" the fight and that he "visited several whore houses from which (according to some reports) he was ejected violently." A kindly American woman treated Wolfe's "black eye and bruises," and she later "suggested he visit Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co...." After Newman's description of that meeting, he notes that Wolfe received a telegram from Maxwell Perkins about Of Time and the River and that "Wolfe went into something of a depression and again started visiting the bars." Newman adds: "Only when Perkins sent Wolfe another telegram reassuring him that the book was doing well did Wolfe begin to cheer up."
"SLIME AND FILTH"
Upon his return from Paris in the summer of 1935, Wolfe was interviewed by several reporters. A few of his remarks appeared in the 15 July 1935 issue of Time magazine in a brief "People" item that is now available online--along with two contemporary reader responses. Wolfe is described as "bulky" and "vigorous," and he talks about his week in "a service flat in London" that included a butler who "was such a prude he would make Ruggles of Red Gap look like a blacksmith." Wolfe tells reporters that he wanted to "find out just what kind of fellow [the butler] was under his servant's mask." To do so, Wolfe says, "I gave him so many whiskeys and sodas that I got cockeyed drinking with him." When the butler refused to loosen up, Wolfe asked him, "For God's sake, can't you be a human and talk for once like a human being?" Wolfe says that the butler, "without changing his dead-pan expression," responded, "Begging your pardon, sir, but here in England we're all a bit of a snob."
Two weeks later, in the 29 July 1935 issue, Time published a letter from J. Randolph Jones of New York City, who asked, "Why didn't [Mr. Wolfe] leave the good London butler alone to attend to his own business? The butler had no desire to be made a fool of. Mr. Wolfe has his authoring, the butler his butlering. A good butler is a jewel...." Laura M. Evans of Wichita, Kansas, also submitted a letter expressing her thoughts about Wolfe:
May I please congratulate the English butler who refused to visit with our noted citizen Mr. Thomas Clayton Wolfe (TIME, July 15). There are self respecting citizens of America who also would dislike to associate with slime and filth such as oozes from Mr. Wolfe. We refer to his two books Look Homeward[,] Angel and Of Time and the River. Mr. Wolfe is a forceful writer of English but it is not likely he will ever find a worthy subject for expression as it is evident he has never looked for one....
TURN OF PHRASE
"Ghost, Come Back Again" is the title of Dan Kois's review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray for the New York Times Book Review on 5 September 2010. The novel, set in a Dublin boys' school during the "Celtic Tiger" economic boom of the early 2000s, is an elegy for lost youth.
Also using the final four words of Wolfe's proem to Look Homeward, Angel as a title during 2010 was novelist/poet/professor Joseph Bathanti. His essay about discovering Thomas Wolfe and being inspired by his work was published in the summer issue of Smoky Mountain Living. A slightly revised version appears in this issue of the Review (see pages 126-31).
And we note a newly discovered fifty-year-old use of this phrase in the title of a television program (see page 193).
"A resort kinder and gentler on the landscape but still financially viable" is an inset quotation within Bethany Lytle's 28 July 2010 New York Times article about a planned community in South Carolina (the slide-show photos accompanying the online version are captioned "A Kinder, Gentler Development"). And the title of philosopher Paul Kurtz's editorial in the June-July 2010 issue of Free Inquiry is "Toward a Kinder and Gentler Humanism." Neither article mentions President George H. W. Bush who used "kinder, gentler" in a speech written by Peggy Noonan. The phrase appears in Look Homeward, Angel, and Noonan, responding to an inquiry by Edward Gillin for an article in the spring 1991 TWR, says she is familiar with Wolfe's work and that she has been greatly influenced by her early reading of his novels. Gillin was actually examining a different Noonan-penned phrase (which had become a refrain for the first President Bush): "a thousand points of light." As noted in March 1989 by Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko, Wolfe used very similar wording in both The Web and the Rock and You Can't Go Home Again. President Bush's use of "a thousand points of light" and "kinder, gentler" was mocked by Neil Young in his hit song "Rockin' in the Free World" (1989). In this issue of the Review Joanne Marshall Mauldin aptly uses the "kinder, gentler" phrase in the title of her article about Dr. Eugene Glenn (pages 35-53).
Speaking of Noonan, her op-ed column for the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal on the 234th Independence Day titled "Declarations" was about the pain Thomas Jefferson endured while he watched his draft of the Declaration of Independence being edited by committee. Noonan writes that, during the first few days of July 1776, Jefferson suffered "the death of a thousand cuts," as members of the Continental Congress "read and reread" his draft and suggested numerous changes, which included deleting a substantial number of his words.
Jefferson looked on in silence. [Historian David] McCullough notes that there is no record that he uttered a word in protest or in defense of what he'd written. Benjamin Franklin, sitting nearby, comforted him: Edits often reduce things to their essence, don't fret. It was similar to the wisdom Scott Fitzgerald shared with the promising young novelist Thomas Wolfe 150 years later: Writers bleed over every cut, but at the end they don't miss what was removed, don't worry.
It is hard to read anything about editing without finding a Wolfe reference. Sam Tanenhaus reports on the late John Updike's archive of personal papers crowding an aisle and a half of metal shelving in the basement of Houghton Library at Harvard ("John Updike's Archive: A Great Writer at Work," New York Times, 20 June 2010). Tanenhaus states that Updike had hoped to study with novelist Albert Guerard and poet Archibald MacLeish, neither of whom appreciated his fiction submissions.
"I gave Mr. Guerard segments of my book to read," Updike informed his parents in his freshman year, "and when he held his little conference with me to determine my admittance into the course, he said 'I may be giving you much the same treatment Thomas Wolfe got at Harvard.' Evidently Wolfe was not admired by the English Department at Harvard at that time when he was a student. Mr. Guerard went on to say, rather kindly and apologetic, 'You may be a fine writer, Updike, but at present I do not think it would be a good idea to have two people with such different notions of prose as you and I in the same course.' In short, I was firmly booted out," Updike conceded that it wasn't simply a matter of clashing sensibilities: "He called what I had written uneven and uncontrolled."
We've previously noted mention of Wolfe by Ivan Doig, and in his introduction to a paperback edition of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's The Yearling (Scribner, 2002) he writes:
Part of Perkins's fabled success in making the Scribner's publishing list into such a jackpot--the alphabet of authors he handled included Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Ring Lardner, Alan Paton, and Thomas Wolfe--came from his capacity to spread his bets all over the literary table. Thus, at the same time he was spending day and night trying to thread storyline into the boundary-breaking prose of Wolfe, Perkins took care to continually encourage, nudge, and do some persuading on Rawlings, who on the face of her previous pages was never going to be that innovative a stylist but showed promise as a natural straight-ahead storyteller. (8)
In Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Donald Sturrock tells about a missed opportunity. After editor Curtice Hitchcock's death at age 54, Roald Dahl wanted Maxwell Perkins "who had discovered Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe" to publish his novel Some Time Never (266). John Hall Wheelock read it first and sent a copy to Perkins's home, but the verdict never came. Two days after receiving the manuscript, Perkins died at age 62. "The manuscript of Some Time Never--possibly the last thing he ever read was left on his desk with his notes by its side" (267). Wheelock wrote that Perkins had been intending to tell Dahl he liked the book. Wheelock, overwhelmed with grief over the death of the colleague he had known since school at Harvard and the extra duties imposed by Perkins's death, did not have time to give Dahl's book thorough editing (267-68). The book appeared in April 1948 and was met with "faint praise" (272).
IT'S A TRIPLE MYSTERY
During the summer of 2010, three stories published years earlier came to our attention within weeks of each other. "Thomas Wolfe and the Tombstone Mystery" was written by Theodore Mathieson as the third in a series of what he called "historicals"--short stories that, while including some fanciful fictional elements, focus on real events in the lives of famous people. After completing tales about F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Barrymore, Mathieson wrote his Wolfe-inspired story for the March 1973 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The narrative is built around Wolfe's tour of the Western national parks in the summer of 1938 and his death on September 15 of that year. Because it is a mystery, no further details will be provided here, but we are pleased to report that the biographical details Mathieson used in his story are accurate.
The same cannot be said for The Mystery of Biltmore House, a book for young readers by Carole Marsh. Gallopade International, widely recognized as a leading provider of educational materials, was established by Marsh in 1979, and the firm originally published The Mystery of Biltmore House in 1982. It was the first in a successful series of Carole Marsh Mysteries[TM] that feature characters based on real children, including the author's own. The Biltmore story, which has gone through several printings, including a 25th anniversary edition, also has an Asheville newspaperman, the late Bob Terrell, as a character. In chapter 12, "Thomas Wolfe's House," the children meet Terrell on the porch of the Old Kentucky Home, and he tells them a little about Wolfe, helping them to understand one of the clues they stumbled across at the Biltmore House--the phrase "you can't go home again." They use this knowledge in chapter 13, "You Can't Even Go to Biltmore Again," to begin to solve the mystery.
"Bob Terrell" also tells the youngsters that, growing up in the boardinghouse, Wolfe sometimes had to sleep in the bathtub, that "he was a newspaper carrier for the Citizen-Times, where I work," and that, as an adult, he weighed 300 pounds and "used to put his typewriter on top of the refrigerator and stand up to type" (86-87). One doubts that the real Bob Terrell would have made such silly statements. He knew, for example, that the Citizen-Times did not exist when Wolfe was a boy (young Tom was a carrier for the Citizen; the two papers did not come under common ownership until 1930 and did not actually merge into a single daily paper until decades later). And Terrell was also surely aware that Wolfe never learned to use a typewriter, much less on top of the fridge. Furthermore, the weight is an obvious exaggeration, and the bathtub anecdote is dubious at best. Unfortunately, the teacher's guide for the Biltmore book (published in 2003) includes the typewriter story as a fact (10) and suggests that teachers could have their students "consider how it would have felt to live in a boarding house where, when the rooms were filled up, you had to sleep in the bathtub!" (12). The most egregious error in the teacher's guide, however, is the statement that in Look Homeward, Angel Wolfe used the phrase "You can't go home again" (10).
Explaining the plot of David Loye's self-published, error-filled sci-fi novella Tangled Tales of the Book Trade or The Mystery of the Missing Century (2007) is difficult. But on the surface, a 115-year-old writer named Dilbert Dickens, whose failed suicide attempt has left him drifting in and out of a coma for several years, relates his nightmares to a psychiatrist. The first one, "Thomas Wolfe Meets Maxwell Perkins," has Wolfe trying to deliver the manuscript of his first novel to Scribner's in the year 2000. Perkins is a 19-year-old pony-tailed hipster who goes by "Perk," and he greets Wolfe thus: "Tom! Tom, baby!" (4). A nightmare indeed. A subsection of chapter 12 of Tangled Tales is titled "Look Homeward, Catfish." Don't ask.
Part of Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Lacuna (HarperCollins, 2009) is set in Asheville, and Wolfe references abound. In the book, on 4 May 1946, Violet Brown writes to novelist Harrison W. Shepherd:
Your book is good. This town hasn't had such a sensation since Tommy Wolfe came out with Look Homeward, Angel. And that sensation was not pleasing to most. Some in Asheville were disgruntled to be left out of the story, and all others dismayed to be left in, thus the scandal was entire. The library refused to carry it. I was already in the Woman's Club (recording secretary), and our meeting convened the week that book came out. I doubt if so many salts of ammonia have ever been used in our city, before or since. You had only to open the door of the meeting hall to get a mighty dose. I couldn't guess how to write a book. But here is my opinion: people love to read of sins and errors, just not their own. You were wise to put your characters far from here, instead of so-called "Altamont" as Mr. Wolfe did. That "Dixieland" is his mother's boardinghouse on Spruce Street, and all here know it. Few were spared the jabs of Wolfe's pen, even his own father whom I myself can remember teetering into the S & W Cafeteria reeking of spirits before noon of a Monday. Many feel there was no need to bring that kind of thing to the lime-light, especially by a family member. (317; original in italics)
It was Wolfe's sister Mabel who, in telling of the initial impact of his first book, said she went to a women's club meeting where she was recording secretary. Also, W. O. Wolfe was dead before the S & W Cafeteria opened.
Brown becomes stenographer to Shepherd, and on May 28 he writes in his journal about an outing to Riverside Cemetery. "Tom Wolfe is still in situ, though the town is evidently still put out with him. Many graves bore jars of wilting peonies today, but nary a posy for poor Tom, a man so recently gone, dramatically and in his prime, reeling from the fracas of fame" (320).
Later Shepherd asks Brown if she remembers the first advice she ever gave him about writing. When she replies that she never offered any, he responds, "Oh, you did. In that first letter. You said Tom Wolfe got himself in hot water exposing the scandals of Asheville, and I was wise to keep my story in Mexico. Here was your advice: people love to read about sins and errors, but not their own" (337).
Eventually, local rumors spread that the relationship between Shepherd and Brown is more than employer-employee, and on 1 February 1948 an item appears in a fictional Asheville paper, whose gossip columnist is unable to spell the city's name (or its nickname):
Young men in the Land of Sky seem to prefer the taste of old wine. A decade ago in Ashville, North Carolina, young writer Thomas Wolfe rocketed to fame, fleeing Southern scandal for Manhattan's forgiving bohemian scene and the arms of a lady seventeen years his senior. The writer's family tried to squelch the match with comely theater designer Aline Bernstein--that's Mrs. Bernstein--and so did Mr. Bernstein, we're guessing. But Wolfe carried the torch to an early grave. Now Harrison Shepherd is out to prove history repeats. This Ashville writer rode his pen to the heights with Vassals of Majesty and last year's Pilgrims of Chaltepec, ringing up more sales than Wolfe saw in a lifetime. Thanks to secretive habits and a well-known scorn for press correspondents, Shepherd has nudged over Wolfe as the talk of his town. In a new move plainly inspired by his tutor, Shepherd has now linked up with a lady exactly seventeen years his senior. Married? At least once, say our sources. (409)
Finally, in the summer of 1949, Shepherd writes about a visit to the library: "Not a soul in the place, the perfect opportunity to walk about openly carrying Look Homeward, Angel and Tropic of Cancer without raising an eyebrow" (466).
When Barbara Kingsolver appeared for a reading in Asheville, efforts were made to get a copy of The Poisonwood Bible signed. It would have been nice to have gotten The Lacuna signed also.
In Hartspring Blows His Mind (New American Library, 1968) by Ernest Lockridge--son of Raintree County author, Ross Lockridge Jr.--one particularly sleazy character is a young writer who is willing to use anyone as fodder for his fiction. He decides to use the novel's protagonist, Professor Hartspring, as a model for a future character:
"It ought to be fun. You don't have to do anything, really, except be yourself. I'm the one has to do all the work. Later on, you'll be grateful. Look at old Thomas Wolfe. Asheville hated him at first, but later on it was the guys who didn't get in the novels who raised the biggest stink. Hell, by the time I'm through with you, sir, you'll be immortal."
"I do hope you'll change my name when your next novel is published."
"Oh, yeah, sure I'll do that. I wouldn't want to get sued." (92)
WOLFE AND THE PERFORMING ARTS
On the Big Screen ... Articles about proposed movie production should usually be treated as rumors, but the entertainment press continues to feature stories about two films focusing on Thomas Wolfe. News of a movie based on Wolfe's affair with Aline Bernstein--to be directed by Lajos Koltai, with a script by Tom Vecchio--began appearing three years ago (see the 2007 TWR, page 197). Several of these reports confidently stated that Aline and Wolfe was to begin production in 2009. More recent reports claim that production is to begin in 2011 and that Academy Award winner Helen Hunt will portray Bernstein.
Genius, a film about Maxwell Perkins, is also said to begin production soon. According to Borys Kit in the Hollywood Reporter (3 August 2010), the script is based on A. Scott Berg's 1978 biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, and focuses on "the relationship between Perkins and a young Thomas Wolfe." Kit writes that the director, Bill Pohlad, has a "strong working history" with Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, who is "in talks" to play Perkins. (Kit also says that Berg's biography was published in 2008, so reader beware.) Gossip published in September 2010 suggested that Joaquin Phoenix was being considered for the role of Thomas Wolfe, but later reports identify Michael Fassbender as the leading candidate.
On the Small Screen ... The online catalogue of the UCLA Film & Television Archive lists two Wolfe-related television programs that evidently have not been previously noted. The Touch of Fame. Thomas Wolfe--Ghost, Come Back Again, a thirty-minute biographical program directed by Phil Thornton, aired 12 May 1961 on KNXT (which is now KCBS) in Los Angeles. The program was produced by the University of Southern California. Further and Further Down Under was produced for Australian television by the U.S. Information Agency, c. 1965, and the catalogue lists three genres for the program: "Readings," "Propaganda," and "Australian television programs." The following summary is also provided: "Charlton Heston reads from the Declaration of Independence, poetry by Australian convicts, and from American authors Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe, and Robert Frost."
Two versions of a dramatization of the death of W. O. Gant were broadcast during season 3 of the Hallmark Hall of Fame. On 4 October 1953 (the day after Wolfe's birthday), "Of Time and the River," starring Thomas Mitchell as W. O., Sara Haden as Eliza, and Lamont Johnson as Eugene, aired as the season's second episode. According to tv.com, this was "the first telecast dramatization of a major work of Thomas Wolfe." Then on 15 November, the same cast performed a "re-staging" of the earlier production as episode 8, which was titled "The Death of Gant." Both productions were directed by Albert McCleery, who said, in a 7 December 1953 Time magazine article, that television "is the dream of mankind, the magic box that will bring man the world." The Time profile ("Beautiful Words") continues:
[McCleery] has staged shows ranging from the two-hour Maurice Evans Hamlet to an hour-long excerpt from Thomas Wolfe's gargantuan, garrulous novel, Of Time and the River. Finding a TV drama in Wolfe's torrential prose was not easy. McCleery chose an episode dealing with the last days of a Southern patriarch and the effect of his death on relatives and friends. The story was told mostly in the screen-filling close-ups that have become a McCleery trademark. Actor Thomas Mitchell gave a memorable portrait of the old man "who, knowing that he had often lived badly, was now determined to die well." The show was alive with crosscurrents of affection and hate, small tyranny and big-souled resignation, all set to the orchestration of Wolfe's sonorous words. Says McCleery: "If we don't do things like this, we're not doing our job. You've got to let people know that occasionally they're going to hear beautiful words, beautifully spoken."
On the Radio ... The Digital Deli (www.digitaldeliftp.com/) offers a remarkable database of "Old Time Radio" programs, including several that feature the works of Thomas Wolfe. Access to the collection is available for a small fee, which enables one to download a large amount of data. In addition to programs that have been mentioned before in Wolfe bibliographies (such as "Thomas Wolfe and the Unfound Door," "They Knew Thomas Wolfe" from the Biography in Sound series, and "Wolfiana" by Norman Corwin), the database contains at least two programs that were previously unknown to us. "1489 Words," narrated by actor William Conrad and broadcast 10 February 1957 as program 54 of the CBS Radio Workshop series, includes a portion of the "thunder of the imperial names" passage from Of Time and the River. And "Flight before Fury," broadcast 13 March 1969 as program 6 of An American Gallery, is introduced by novelist Irving Stone and features actor Michael Anderson as Wolfe.
A third program new to us, "The Words of Thomas Wolfe--Giant on a Rock," is not available from the Digital Deli database but is listed in the site's archive as program 149 (23 July 1948) of NBC University of the Air: The World's Greatest Novels. The script for this program is in the Phyllis Merrill Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Another Old Time Radio program came to light this fall when a TWS member found a 1961 album for American Portrait, a series of twelve three-minute programs read by famed actor Raymond Massey. "Cut 4A" is "Thomas Wolfe." The album is accompanied by an 18-page script for local announcers to lead into and out of each program. Based on an ominous warning that appears on the record label and on several pages of the script, the American Portrait programs have not been broadcast in fifty years: "Each cut on this record is restricted to three plays. Do not play this record after August 31, 1961." The lead-in script for the Wolfe program reads:
Thomas Wolfe is one of America's best-loved authors. For, in the four novels he wrote, he managed to capture some of the essence of youth ... of the seeking and the finding, of its joy and wonder. But Wolfe did something else equally important. In over a million words, he conveyed the vastness and variety of America itself ... the sights, the sounds[,] the rhythms, the texture. This is rightly the job of a poet--and in that sense Wolfe removes himself from the ranks of the ordinary novelist and, in many ways, takes his place beside the great Walt Whitman. Here is Mr. Raymond Massey to paint another "American Portrait" ... Thomas Wolfe! (ellipses in orig.)
The lead-out script reads:
Thomas Wolfe died in Baltimore in 1938. He had caught pneumonia during a Western tour with some newspaper reporters, and the disease was fatal to him Although two of his novels had been published during his lifetime, he left behind him more than a million wor[ds of] unpublished manuscript. These were edited and turned into his last two novels, " The Web and the Rock" and "You Can't Go Home Again." Wolfe was more than just a promising author when he died, but he never knew how great his success eventually would be. The publication of his last two novels, and his great lyric gift, have put him in the very forefront of America's finest modern novelists. And, as would have pleased him, a play adapted from his first book, "Look Homeward, Angel," was produced with notable success on Broadway. (PAUSE) Another "American Portrait" as painted by Raymond Massey.
Archives of Old Codger with Courtney T. Edison, a radio show broadcast from WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, are available as free podcasts from iTunes. The show features an irascible host with a deep appreciation of early-twentieth-century songs (motto: "Playing 78 RPM records like they're going out of style!"). The online playlist provides a title quotation for each program, which highlights the host's codgerliness. On 13 November 2007, the title reads "Thomas Wolfe on the codger (1926): 'a nervous ugly man, swollen with petty tyranny.'" This certainly sounds Wolfean, but we have been unable to locate the quotation, so we do not know to whom Wolfe was actually referring.
On the Stereo, iPod, etc.... The second track on Painkiller (2009) by Australian rock musician Steve Kilbey is titled "Wolfe," and the seventh track is "Look Homeward Angel." There is no direct reference to Thomas Wolfe in the lyrics of either song, but the titles (despite the lack of a comma in the second one) would seem to be more than coincidence. On the other hand, Kilbey's 9 June 2010 posting on his blog, The Time Being, includes these lines about his own work:
thirty odd years of songs packed full of esoterica messages puzzles clues random name dropping of things I had no real idea about
Other Wolfe-related songs recently noted: "Thomas Wolfe" by Modern Skirts on their 2010 EP, Happy 81; "Thomas Wolfe's Front Porch" by Jackie Young on her 2004 CD, Ashes to Asheville; "The Devil in Stitches," the title song from the 2010 CD by L.A. punk rock band Bad Religion (the first line of the second verse is "So don't look homeward angel from that rumble seat"); and "O Lost" by South Carolina progressive rock band Farpoint, on their 2004 release, Dreaming to Dreaming (lyrics include "The wind-grieved ghost / Will return again" and "The wind-grieved ghost / Shall return / No more").
All of the above can be downloaded from the iTunes Store, and (since 22 October 2008) the unabridged Look Homeward, Angel, read by Scott Sowers, is also available. The 2009 German translation by Irma Wehrli of Wolfe's first novel, Schau heimwarts, Engel, joined the iTunes list on 14 September 2010. The novel is read by actor Christian Bruckner (well known in Germany for his voice-dubbing of American actors Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, and many others), and is also available on CD from Parlando Verlag of Berlin (2010).
On the Stage ... Statements in the press beginning in the fall of 2008 and continuing through the summer of 2009 that a revival of Ketti Frings's dramatization of Look Homeward, Angel (newly adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn) was set to open on Broadway in the fall of 2009 turned out not to be true. These reports listed the director as Daniel Sullivan, who had directed Auburn's Proof. Several news items went so far as to say that the play was scheduled for one of the Schubert theatres. Adam Hetrick's 7 May 2009 article on Playbill.com, in fact, reported that an invitation-only reading of the new adaptation was scheduled for 18 May 2009 and would feature Tony Award winners John Lithgow and Cherry Jones, along with Paul Dano and Tony nominee Thomas Sadoski. Nothing further has been heard about the proposed revival.
More intriguing, perhaps, is the discovery of statements in several sources declaring that the first choice for the role of Eliza Gant in the original Broadway production was Bette Davis. For example, in The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, a Personal Biography, Charlotte Chandler writes:
Bette was supposed to return to the stage in 1957, playing in Ketti Frings's adaptation of the Thomas Wolfe novel Look Homeward, Angel, when she broke her back in a fall. She was looking at a rental house in Los Angeles and opened a door that she thought was a closet. Instead, it was a stairway to the basement, and she fell down fourteen steps. She said she remembered every one of them. When the play opened on Broadway without Bette, it won a Pulitzer Prize. (223)
Look Homeward, Angel opened in November 1957, with Jo Van Fleet portraying Eliza. Later in the 564-performance run, Miriam Hopkins took over the role (just as Andrew Prine replaced Anthony Perkins in the role of Eugene). After it closed, the play went on a national tour, with Hopkins again playing Eliza.
In dramatic readings of historian Stephen Smith's script, A Thousand Things Time Will Never Let Us Say: The Correspondence of James & Katherine Boyd & Friends, Thomas Wolfe is portrayed by Reagan Parsons, Town Manager of Southern Pines, North Carolina. An observer at the 26 March 2010 performance at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities claims that Parsons bears a "striking physical resemblance" to Wolfe.
A staged reading of Edla (Missy) Frankau Cusick's Midnight Lunch was performed at The Actor's Studio in New York on 15 March 2010. The play portrays Thomas Wolfe and Aline Bernstein (Cusick's grandmother) as they examine a loft space that they will rent in New York. For more on Cusick, see Jan G. Hensley's "The Journey Down" in the 2009 TWR (104-06).
A new work by Denmark-based playwright/choreographer Stuart Lynch is titled Look Homeward Angel, but evidently does not directly refer to Wolfe. Given the absence of a comma in the title, perhaps Stuart is referring to Milton. Described in the Copenhagen Post online ("Lynch's New Muse Is an African Angel," 12 November 2009) as a "performance that will challenge the audience," Look Homeward Angel was inspired by the true story of eight tourists who were "taken hostage and brutally murdered in the Bewindi National Park in Uganda back in 1999."
A Brooklyn Heights Association centennial event on 6 December 2010 was held in a brownstone once occupied by Wolfe. The event featured readings from Wolfe's work by actor/filmmaker Chris Eigeman.
Deborah Klugman's review in LA Weekly (online 1 July 2010) of Praying Small at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, California, says that the central character in this play "about one man's struggle with alcoholism" is "an intrepid, introspective Everyman with a strong sense of irony, who references Thomas Wolfe and repeatedly mulls why it is that one can't go home again." Comments by playwright Clifford Morts about Klugman's review of his play appeared in his 30 June 2010 post ("The Rules of Writing ...") on his blog, Last Tango in Los Angeles:
In some ways, although just a relatively short blurb, she nailed something interesting that I hadn't really given a lot of conscious thought to--the repeated short scene in the play and tying it in to the reference to Thomas Wolfe's famous line, you can't go home again. It's a tremendously insightful thought. And again, not one I did, at least I don't think I did, on purpose. I'm reminded of the reporter that asked Hemingway about The Old Man and the Sea. After repeatedly trying to get Hemingway to admit to writing a novel about the essential struggle between good and evil, God and the Devil, the author finally blurted out a bit angrily, "It's a novel about a guy who catches a fish and then loses it, God Damn it." When I read the short blurb last night, however, I began thinking about Ms. Klugman's thesis. And it does, I have to admit, make perfect sense. But I also have to admit I didn't have that in mind when I wrote it. It is one of the questions most often asked about the play, "Why do you repeat that scene and then finally resolve it at the end of the play?" Ms. Klugman has explained it as well as I ever did ... it's Sam's physical enactment of his inability to 'go home again.' Well, whadaya know.
Morts had actually titled his blog post for 26 June 2010 "You Can't Go Home Again ... unless you're a different person." And in it he writes:
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote the all-encompassing line, "You can't go home again." I think it was in Look Homeward, Angel. He was talking about a lot of things with that line, not of course, simply going home. He was talking about our human tendency to try and recapture a moment, a place, a time in our life that has [passed], that we cannot revisit no matter how hard we try. Maybe rekindling a love affair, or trying to pick up a feeling, a specific moment, that has disappeared. It is one of the saddest lines in all of literature.
Of course, the line is not in Look Homeward, Angel, but Morts discusses the wisdom of the phrase throughout his post, noting that "... I actually use that line of Wolfe's in the play [Praying Small ]. You can't go home again. And God knows I have tried so many times in my life. So many times I've tried to recapture something that was fleeting, both good and bad." He concludes:
Thomas Wolfe had so, so many things on his mind when he wrote that sentence, you can't go home again. But I've discovered that sometimes you CAN actually go home again. You just can't go back to the same neighborhood. You can't ride the same bike. You can't stand in the same yard. You can't sneak in the same backdoor. You can't lay awake at night and listen to the same grownup, far-away, drunken, senseless chatter. You can't dwell on the same doors being slammed. And you can't be the same person.
Based on the final two paragraphs of Wolfe's "God's Lonely Man," Dark Brother by Harry Partch was performed 29-30 May 2009 as part of a tribute to Partch at the Roy and Edna Disney/ CalArts Theatre (REDCAT) in Los Angeles. In REDCAT's promotional material, the piece is described as "intensely anguished."
WOLFE AND THE VISUAL ARTS
Artist Tony Kuoch has posted (23 August 2010) on his blog, Flicker and Billow, an evocative piece titled Hollowmice. The caption describes it as an illustration (in FW acrylic inks) for Thomas Wolfe's short story "Hollowmen." The story Kuoch refers to is actually "The Hollow Men" and was published post-humously in the October 1940 issue of Esquire, which appeared almost simultaneously with the publication of You Can't Go Home Again. Chapter 29 ("'The Hollow Men'") of that novel is a longer version of the story--the quotation marks in the chapter title driving home the reference to T. S. Eliot's poem. Esquire reprinted the story in October 1973, and it appeared in The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe (Scribner's, 1987). An audio version read by actor Ossie Davis is part of The Esquire Readings (1988), a collection reissued as Great American Writers in 1996.
The illustration by Kuoch features a group of eight mice dressed as city dwellers who are staring straight up, presumably facing the fourteen-story Admiral Francis Drake Hotel in the Depression-era Brooklyn of "The Hollow Men." These are not cute Disneyesque mousecatoons, but hardcore urban rodents with mean, dull, ratlike faces--perfect representatives of Wolfe's "Standard Concentrated Blotters." Depending on one's interpretation of the artwork, the vacuous vermin are watching "C. Green" as he stands on a twelfth-floor window sill before jumping, or they are mindlessly staring at the empty window from whence the poor man had earlier leaped. Is that dark splotchy area at their feet all that remains of "C. Green"? Is that lighter spot on the lamp post a bit of brain matter? On the other paw, perhaps the angled shadow line crossing the little group of gawkers is not that of the hotel building, but is in fact that of "C. Green" himself as he plummets earthward, about to flatten the Blotters, who are too stupid to get out of the way. Whatever the artist's vision for this scene, if the mice were not wearing pants that conceal their caudal appendages, the piece might have made an appropriate illustration for Wolfe's "The Hollow Men" when it appeared in the 1955 paperback anthology Great Tales of City Dwellers.
It was reported that the David Levine caricature of Thomas Wolfe was prominently shown on the CBS News program Sunday Morning on 3 January 2010 during a remembrance of the artist, who had died 29 December 2009. Because Levine created at least two solo caricatures of Wolfe for the New York Review of Books (and a third, smaller, image as part of the background of the cover illustration for A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius), we are not sure which one was used.
The well-known photo of Wolfe feeding a chipmunk during his 1938 Western journey has been posted (11 August 2010) on a blog titled If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. Appearing as "# 61" of "Artists and Animals," the photo includes this caption: "Thomas Wolfe feeds God's lonely chipmunk."
We've noted Wolfe references in books by William Gay of Hohenwald, Tennessee, as well as his professed admiration for Wolfe. On 4 August 2010 Sue Freeman Culverhouse wrote about attending the Sixth Annual Clarksville [Tennessee] Writers' Conference for the "Arts and Leisure" section of Clarksville Online. Her article, "An Accidental Meeting with William Gay," describes a delightful encounter with the author:
... he started writing when he was about 13 because he had a teacher who noticed he read a lot. The man gave William a copy of Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe because William had been reading mysteries by Earl Stanley Gardner and westerns by Zane Gray. The teacher told William, "You are reading widely but not deeply." "Look Homeward, Angel blew me away," William admitted. He was affected deeply by the language.
Similarly, in a 28 October 2009 interview essay, "Inventing Tennessee's Own Yoknapatawpha County," by Clay Risen for Chapter16, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee, Gay says:
... in seventh grade, I first read Thomas Wolfe and that determined what I would be, whether successful or not. I had [a] teacher who noticed I was reading a lot of books, but he didn't think the books I was reading were very good. And so he asked me one day if he gave me a book would I read it, and I said yes. And he said if you read it you can have it, and he gave me Look Homeward, Angel. I was mesmerized by Wolfe."
Risen notes that "In just over a decade, William Gay has gone from being an unpublished drywall hanger to one of Tennessee's most acclaimed living writers. Often compared to William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, and Thomas Wolfe." He quotes Gay:
... I love language. The thing I loved about McCarthy and Thomas Wolfe and Faulkner is their language, and if I had to crank out a story like True Confessions or something where I didn't get to use what they call quasi-poetic language, that wouldn't be any fun.... I wasted a lot of time trying to write like Thomas Wolfe. I guess I'm not the only one; a whole lot of people in my generation were trying to write like Thomas Wolfe.
Risen's article concludes with Gay's description of his being asked (as one of several writers "who had been swept away by Wolfe when they were young") to contribute to "Praise for Look Homeward, Angel," part of the introductory material for the 2006 reissue of the novel: "I thought that was kind of neat. Like blurbing Thomas Wolfe."
Wolfean references abound in beat literature, and there are several in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters, edited by Bill Morgan and David Stanford (Viking 2010). In late July 1945 Ginsberg writes Kerouac: "I am not a cosmic exile such as [Thomas] Wolfe (or yourself) for I am an exile from myself as well (10; brackets in orig.)." On 12 August 1945 Ginsberg writes from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn:
Since my presence here is voluntary and experimental, I don't take it all so hard and don't find myself itching to knock out anybody's teeth or go A.W.O.L. The Thomas Wolfe reaction to all of this, of romantic disapproved [sic] and fiery rejection, doesn't particularly interest me. (13)
To this apparent denigration of Wolfe and his work, Kerouac replies on 17 August: "You 'question the consciousness and validity of gestures.' Never would you subscribe to 'Thomas Wolfish fiery rejection and romantic disapproval.' It pains me, my friend, it pains me" (16). And on 22 August Ginsberg responds: "I meant by the way that the peckerhead romanticism came in where you fungled up the choice of jobs until you are so screwed up that the only practical thing is to be Wolfish" (16-17).
Around April 1948 Kerouac writes Ginsberg with reference to his Columbia professor Mark Van Doren:
Thus, if he should happen to like my novel, I would get the same feeling that Wolfe must have gotten from old [Maxwell] Perkins at Scribner's--a filial feeling. It's terrible never to find a father in a world chock-full of fathers of all sorts. Finally you find yourself as father, but then you never find a son to father. It must be awfully true, old man, that human beings make it hard for themselves, etc. (33; brackets in orig.)
On 3 July 1948 Ginsberg urges Kerouac not to try to imitate Wolfe: "I am struck by your ending. It might be great. It is the most promising if you just don't fuck it up with Wolfe brooders" (38). Kerouac himself indicates some doubt about Wolfe's view of life in a letter of 18 September 1948: "I've been having some very mad thoughts since I saw you ... visions that tell me there is no such thing as 'life's bitter mystery,' (Wolfe and others), but--never more clearly could I see that it is a beautiful mystery. And it is a mystery, you know" (42; ellipsis in orig.). Wolfe's philosophy is further questioned by Ginsberg in 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" American may be reduced to the pathetic status of self-deception. (121-22)
In January 1955 Kerouac agrees that Neal Cassady's "Joan Anderson letter," should be published:
... it's a masterpiece and was the basis for my idea about prose, tho Neal himself doesn't care or understand; but that dense page where he breathlessly drew a diagram of the toilet window is the wildest prose I've ever seen and I like it better than Joyce or Proust or Melville or Wolfe or anybody. (271-72)
Later that year, Kerouac discusses a summer evening of drinking with Malcom Cowley, noting the latter's view of Kerouac's novel-in-progress:
Cowley got drunk with me in the Village, said he will try to get me prize money, thought the novel-excerpt I showed him with idea of $25-a-month to finish it was too Wolfean--so is Normal Mailer Wolfean--(Cowley is old and insensitive sometimes to pain of young beat poets)--(he sleeps in letters)--but likes me--and I told him about your greatness. (301)
Late in 1956 Kerouac tells Ginsberg that "you actually gave me Visions of Neal type prose, it was not only from Neal's letter but from your wild racing crazy jumping don't care letters that all that sketching came out, it broke me off from American formalism a la Wolfe. (337)
Finally, Kerouac's irritation with comments by poet/critic Kenneth Rexroth is made clear in two letters. In December 1957 he tells Ginsberg: "I see where Rexroth says I am an 'insignificant Tom Wolfe' (can he really say that [a]bout Sax?)" (379). And early in January 1958, he writes: "Got big letter from [Elbert] Lenrow who told me [Archibald] MacLeish at Harvard praising my book. Rexroth however is down on me, called me an 'insignificant Tom Wolfe' on KPFA, because, why?" (386; brackets in orig.). Elbert Lenrow, who knew Wolfe in the 1930s, was one of Kerouac's instructors at the New School in New York, and Kerouac wrote a yet unpublished student paper titled "The Minimization of Thomas Wolfe in His Own Time." Lenrow's 1984 memoir of his friendship with Kerouac and Ginsberg, Kerouac Ascending: Memorabilia of the Decade of On the Road--only part of which had ever been published--very recently appeared in Britain, published by Cambridge Scholars (2010).
MORE REMARKS FROM WRITERS
Daiva Markelis, in her engaging memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life (University of Chicago Press, 2010), discusses the powerful influence of Thomas Wolfe on her life as a young bicultural American living in the Chicago suburb of Cicero:
In the sixties and seventies, both Seventeen and Mademoiselle published short fiction and poetry. Both recommended literature in columns geared toward educating the tastes of a new generation of sophisticated young women. Look Homeward, Angel was one of the books. Thomas Wolfe's classic novel enthralled me in a way no literary work had yet done. The charming alcoholic father, the bossy, materialistic mother, and poor, misunderstood Eugene Gant--these people lived in my Lithuanian neighborhood. I went on to read Wolfe's Of Time and the River. Like Eugene, I wanted to escape my provincial home town and run away to New York City. (109)
In an interview with Alec Hanley Bemis titled "Mean Snacks and Monkey Shit: Talking Bananas with George Saunders," (LA Weekly, 10 May 2006) the best-selling author of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) and The Braindead Megaphone (2007), among several others, reports that before becoming a writer he attended the Colorado School of Mines to study mineral engineering and get into the oil business: "My reading was a bit off. My school had Thomas Wolfe and Thornton Wilder in the library. I only had Somerset Maugham in my head." The title of the article comes from Saunders's description of the final nail in the coffin of his early fascination with Ayn Rand, neocon thinking, and working in the oil business (that is, in addition to his eventual recognition that "Ayn Rand writes bad prose").
I went swimming in a river in Sumatra, and we were drunk and I was thinking, "This is so great, I'm in a river in Sumatra," and I look up and there are 300 monkeys on this pipeline pooping into the water, and I'm like, "Oh, heck, I am aware I am swimming in monkey shit." The next day I got sick as a dog with some kind of viral infection. Finally, I couldn't take it, and I quit and did some Kerouac-lite bumming around.
The protagonist of Philip Roth's 2008 novel, Indignation, attends Winesburg, a fictional small college in Ohio obviously named after Sherwood Anderson's 1919 book. In a 12 September 2008 interview for the Independent in London ("Philip Roth: American the Dutiful"), Roth laments that Anderson has largely been forgotten. The interviewer adds: "So, too, has one of his teenage literary idols: Thomas Wolfe." Roth comments:
There wasn't a budding young literary kid of 16 or 17 who didn't fall madly in love with Thomas Wolfe ... the gush of it, the torrent of feeling, and the marvellous portraiture: the overabundance. He is by no means the genius that Bellow was, but he had a similar kind of feeling for bigness, for portraiture, for American types.
Los Angeles-based writer and social commentator Jonathan Pontell is credited with identifying a lost generation located between Boomers and GenXers. Discussing the sudden popularity of British politician Nick Clegg for London's Independent on 3 May 2010 ("Clegg's Rise Is the Sound of Generation Jones Clearing Its Throat"), Pontell writes that "The exact birth years vary slightly between countries; in the UK, GenJonesers were born from 1955 to 1967, and are now 42 to 55 years old." He notes:
Last century, Thomas Wolfe wrote that another generation wasn't lost so much as undiscovered. "And the whole secret, power and knowledge of their own discovery," he declared, "is locked within them--they know it, feel it, have the whole thing in them--and they cannot utter it."
Though we are unsure where in Wolfe's voluminous writings this statement can be found, it does sound Wolfean. For example, in You Can't Go Home Again, George Webber declares: "I doubt very much the existence of a Lost Generation, except insofar as every generation, groping, must be lost" (715).
Richard Goodman's "Off the Cuff" column for the August 2010 issue of The Writer, titled "Dear Reader--And I Mean That," is described as "a playful thank-you letter to you, a collaborator on his work" (15). At one point Goodman refers to having seen people reading his book and not having bothered them with an introduction. He notes parenthetically, "I remember reading that the same thing happened to Thomas Wolfe. He was riding a bus and saw someone reading his book, his first book, and it was all he could do not to talk to the reader" (16).
Literary agent Harriet Wasserman, who started as an assistant at the firm of Russell & Volkening, related one of Henry Volkening's memories of Thomas Wolfe in her memoir, Handsome Is: Adventures with Saul Bellow (Fromm, 1997):
[Volkening] told me he and Thomas Wolfe used to eat at Luchow's and then go to the burlesque on Fourteenth Street. Henry was just out of Fordham Law and working in real estate, which he didn't like at all. He taught night school at NYU, where Wolfe was on the faculty too. They had become buddies, and it was Tom who suggested that Henry go and talk to his editor, the renowned Maxwell Perkins, about getting into publishing. Perkins told him he didn't have an editorial opening, then suggested he consider becoming an agent. (18)
Pat Conroy's "A Love Letter to Thomas Wolfe" has been published in various versions at least four times previously, but we are glad to see it in print again. This time it is chapter 11 of Conroy's My Reading Life (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010). In the first chapter of the book, Conroy writes: "In Look Homeward, Angel the death of Ben Gant can still make me weep, as can the death of Thomas Wolfe's stone-carving father in Of Time and the River" (12). And even though the complete essay was published in the spring 2000 issue of the Thomas Wolfe Review, we can't resist quoting from it again from My Reading Life:
The book's impact on me was so visceral that I mark the reading of Look Homeward, Angel as one of the pivotal events of my life. It starts off with the single greatest, knock-your-socks-off first page I have ever come across in my careful reading of world literature.... I did not know that words could pour through me like honey through a burst hive or that gardens seeded in dark secrecy could bloom along the borders of my half-ruined boyhood because a writer could touch me in all the broken places with his art. (239-40)
Some of Conroy's book selections in My Reading Life, plus brief excerpts from his observations about them, appear in "Books That Shaped Pat Conroy" in Southern Living (October 2010).
In Edmund Wilson: A Biography (Houghton Mifflin, 1995), Jeffrey Meyers reports on Wilson's friendship with poet Elinor Wylie and notes that
Thomas Wolfe wrote a flattering portrait of her as the glacial Rosalind Bailey in The Web and the Rock (1937) [sic]: "Her neck and the carriage of her head were young and proud and beautiful, her dark hair was combed in the middle and framed her face in wings, her eyes were very dark and deep, and her glance was proud and straight. Anyone who ever saw her would retain the memory of her lovely, slender girlishness, her proud carriage, the level straightness of her glance, and a quality of combined childishness and maturity, of passion and of ice." (57)
The passage is from chapter 30 ("First Party"), page 482. In addition to having it published two years early, Meyers makes one transcription error: in the novel, retain is preceded by always.
Among various Wolfe-related dissertations and theses available on the Web is "Conversations with Ray Bradbury" by Steven Aggelis (Florida State University, 2003), in which Bradbury complains about the literary snobbishness of some intellectuals:
But so many of these teachers of literature.... Well, look at the New York School. They scare the hell out of me. Every time I pick up the New York Review of Books ... snobs! One week you have Susan Sontag writing on Norman Podhoretz and then you have Podhoretz writing on Susan Sontag. Then the following week there'll be a review on their latest novels and.... The whole thing is so incestuous that it can't help but kill itself. Most intellectuals will not accept the fact that you can sit down and read Gerard Manley Hopkins one minute and the next minute pick up Peacock, Shaw, Ayn Rand, Maugham, Christopher Morley, Thomas Wolfe, Buck Rogers, Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne ... and read them all and love them equally. This is what life says: Why do we have to stop our pleasures? Why can't we pick up James Bond and not have to apologize? It's the ability to immediately go with a new kind of love and not just stick with the safe love, the "in" thing. (32) (ellipses in orig.)
When asked if it would be "unfair or wrong to say that one finds much of Whitman or Emerson" in his work, Bradbury responds:
Not too much. I read Emerson so many years ago that I can't really say that he rubbed off that much. Little of Whitman, and I was very young. But Whitman could have come to me through other people, people like Norman Corwin or Thomas Wolfe. I'm not sure how much Whitman Thomas Wolfe read, but there are echoes.
On his Web site, novelist and emeritus professor Ernest Lockridge has posted some of his views about the suicide of his father, Ross Lockridge Jr., author of Raintree County. He writes:
... such stressors triggered the underlying pathology that fractured my father's sanity, much as influenza had ruptured with fatal results the encapsulated childhood tubercule that Thomas Wolfe (RAINTREE COUNTY'S chief literary influence) had contracted in his mother's boarding house for tuberculars. Exhausted, beaten to a pulp, my father lost the strength to keep the monster in its cave.
Ellen Ann Fentress, in "Intimate Strangers" (Oxford American 69, 2010), examines why Richard Wright and Eudora Welty never met, despite their being "nearly neighbors, with oddly parallel careers" (112). She notes that Ralph Ellison was a mutual friend of the two, but he somehow failed to serve as a go-between for Welty and Wright. Fentress adds:
In addition to Ellison, there was an even more peculiar lost opportunity, which seems always to have escaped notice. Wright's longtime editor at Harper and Brothers, Edward Aswell, and Welty's dear friend and Harper's Bazaar fiction editor Mary Louise Aswell were a literary powerhouse couple of the 1940s. They eventually divorced. The story of how Thomas Wolfe, also one of Edward's authors, spent Christmas at the Aswell home is widely known. It's hard to believe that while the Aswells were busy making literary stars out of their respective Jackson, Mississippi proteges, they somehow never thought to ask if the writers wanted to meet. (114-15)
Timothy B. Tyson's book Blood Done Sign My Name is about a murder in Oxford, North Carolina, and race relations in 1970 when an all-white jury acquitted a white store owner and one of his sons of the murder of a young black man. A review for the New York Times on 14 February 2010 by Godfrey Cheshire of a film of the same name directed by Jeb Stuart begins, "Whether or not North Carolinians are more inclined than other Americans to follow Thomas Wolfe's injunction to 'look homeward,' some past the age of 50 have personal reasons to cast a retrospective glance on the state of their youth." The article discusses the book's author, and the film's director and producer, all of whom grew up in North Carolina during the civil rights struggle.
Richard Greene, reviewing Imperial Bedrooms (2010) by Bret Easton Ellis for the CanWest News Service (12 July 2010), notes that Easton's debut novel, Less Than Zero (1985), seemed to have a "strange mixture of influences," including "traces of James Joyce or Thomas Wolfe."
In "Evocative Southern Gothic Novel about Events of the Past and Their Impact on the Present," for the Basil & Spice Web site on 14 March 2010, David M. Kinchen reviews The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (Bantam, 2010). He begins with an epigraph--an almost-accurate excerpt from You Can't Go Home Again (he omits forty-three words after "country," but neglects to use an ellipsis):
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame... back home to places in the country, [...] back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."--George Webber in Thomas Wolfe's posthumously published novel "You Can't Go Home Again"
The words are not actually those of George Webber, but of the narrator. And the quoted text is from an italicized linking passage placed into the novel by Edward C. Aswell. In this particular paragraph (page 707) Aswell uses Wolfe's own words--with some changes. Following the epigraph, Kinchen writes:
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is arguably North Carolina's most famous writer, and the title of his novel has become part of the language. The phrase is usually interpreted as meaning that your childhood home is too confining, too full of memories for a person who has been away to make the transition to living there later in life.
Kinchen adds that "North Carolina writer Sarah Addison Allen, in her evocative novel ... has two characters who might fit Wolfe's rules: Julia Winterson and Emily Benedict." He also reports that the author "was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, which is also the hometown of Thomas Wolfe."
THE WOLFE MARKET
In sale 2211 Swann Auction Galleries offered a first edition of Look Homeward, Angel without a dust jacket as lot 227. The book was inscribed on the front free endpaper: "For / William Campbell/with friendship and with / warm thanks for helping / me with a job I could / hardly have done alone / Thomas Wolfe / April 30, 1930." The lot was estimated to bring $800-$1,200, and the final bid on 22 April 2010 (exclusive of buyer's premium thought to be 20%) was $2,200.
The Argosy Book Store in New York offers a 14 April 1930 letter from Wolfe, on Harvard Club letterhead, for $2,500. The online description does not reveal the recipient of the four-page ALS nor quote extensively from it. The contents are described as "Wolfe gracefully declines an invitation," and it is noted that "Two words are blottedk [sic ], but legible." Except for line breaks, the excerpt provided online is presented here verbatim:
..."since my time here is so short....I got one of those Guggenheim fellowships and I have been trying to get things in some sort of order before I go...I am terribly tired and jumpy - your description of the glorious life ther almost swept me off my feet - I think I should like to spend a good part of my time flying a kite (as your guests do) instead of being one..."
An Ebay listing first posted in July 2010 offers two items for $1,000--a price that, at first glance, seems grossly inflated. The lot consists of From Death to Morning in second-state dust jacket and K-19: Salvaged Pieces (the 1983 TWS publication). The asking price seems more reasonable when one reads further to find that glued into the book is a small piece of notebook paper with Wolfe's signature and his handwritten address and telephone number. The address, "27 West 15th Street," was the location of the loft in which he lived in 1929 while working with Maxwell Perkins on the revisions of O Lost/Look Homeward, Angel and early 1930 before he left for his Guggenheim year abroad. The seller notes that the phone number is 3882, but he was unable to decipher Wolfe's handwriting for the old-style telephone exchange name. Based on some knowledge of Wolfe's scribble (and aided by an online database of Manhattan telephone exchange names from the 1920s and a Google map of the area), we believe that the word is "Watkins." Thus Wolfe's telephone number at that time was "Watkins 3882," which would translate to 928-3882. The identity of the recipient of Wolfe's jotted-down address and phone number remains a mystery.
In "Kiss and Don't Tell" for the April-May 2010 issue of Verve magazine, Melanie McGee Bianchi identifies several popular make-out spots in Western North Carolina. One is Riverside Cemetery in the Montford community of downtown Asheville. Of it, she writes:
Prefer a swift petting session with a surprise ending? Your makeout muse is short-story master O. Henry, buried in picturesque Riverside Cemetery. Or maybe your style touches all the bases and never pauses for breath. Got you covered: Asheville's most famous author, the sentimental and longwinded Thomas Wolfe, is interred in Riverside, too. (55)
If Bianchi had expanded her research, the front porch of the "Old Kentucky Home" might have made for a good entry.
Chapter 6 of The Story of English (Viking, 1986) by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, a companion to the PBS television series, traces the assimilation or acclimation of African Americans to English. Remarking that Ferdinand Le Menthe's moniker, "Jelly Roll Morton," was "the ultimate sexual braggadocio," the authors claim "Few words in the Black English lexicon have more sexual evocation than jelly roll" (221).
In the African language Mandingo, jeli is a minstrel who gains popularity with women through skill with words and music. In the English creole of the Caribbean, jelly refers to the meat of the coconut when it is still at a white, viscous stage, and in a form closely resembling semen. In English, jelly and jelly roll are both items of food. In Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, a novel published in 1929, the newsboy Eugene Gant, trying to collect his debts, has this conversation with a Black customer who cannot pay: "I'll have somethin' fo' yuh, sho. I'se waitin' fo' a White gent'man now. He's gonna gib me a dollar." ... "What's--what's he going to give you a dollar for?" "Jelly Roll." On the street, jelly roll had many associated meanings, from the respectable "lover, or spouse", to the Harlem slang of the 1930s, "a term for the vagina".
The passage from Look Homeward, Angel appears in chapter 22 (page 304 in the first edition). The editors needed two more ellipses because they silently omitted the description of Eugene's question ("he muttered, barely audible") and the identifier in the final line ("said Ella Corpening"). Punctuation marks in the editors' text above are outside quotation marks as in the original.
Thomas Merton, widely regarded as one of the most influential American Catholic writers of the twentieth century, did not care much for Thomas Wolfe. In Part 1 of "The Thomas Merton We Knew" (therealmerton.com, 1998), Jim Knight writes of meeting Merton in 1936 when both were students at Columbia University. Described by Merton in his 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, as "the red-headed Southerner," Knight was eighteen when he and Ed Rice met the twenty-one-year-old Merton, and all three were part of a group of writers involved with the Columbia humor magazine, Jester. "In terms of sophistication, [Merton] was miles ahead of most of us," says Knight.
He influenced me so totally that I wrote a mocking parody for "Jester" of my absolutely favorite writer, my fellow Southerner, Thomas Wolfe, whom I adored, and imitated--at the age of eighteen, and maybe three or four years more. Tom did not share my affection for Wolfe; even today I feel a quiet surge of embarrassment for having found it necessary to poke fun at my favorite author in order to please the new people in my life.
The members of this close-knit group were having a great time in the late 1930s, but they were also searching, says Mary Cummings in "Edward Rice '40: Traveling on Unbeaten Paths" (Columbia College Today, May 2001): "Beneath the horseplay, there was something else. Rice remembers that they read Look Homeward[,] Angel and sent postcards to each other with the message, "O lost!" Merton found part of what he was looking for in Catholicism, and he was baptized in November 1938. A year later, his opinion of Wolfe is clear in a letter to Robert Lax (verbatim from When Prophecy Still Had a Voice: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax [University Press of Kentucky, 2001]):
I read somewhere where Henry Miller thinks DHLawrence is a much finer writer (guy) than Joyce. I guess you could generalise abt. that whole business and put H. Miller in a catagory f you wanted. In that DHLawrence Henry Miller category Saroyan is maybe the best, and DHLawrence the best writer and Henry Miller not even the most likely to succede. Thomas Wolfe is president of the student laundry in this scheme of things, and I don't know if I like Miller better than he. Guess do. (39)
Lax received a fellowship in 1942 to teach English at Wolfe's alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, where--still searching--he also studied philosophy in 1943. Back in New York, Lax finally chose the Catholic Church. Like Wolfe, he was eventually offered a Hollywood scriptwriting job, but unlike Wolfe, he accepted. His 29 November 1947 letter to Merton from Hollywood includes an interesting Wolfe connection: "I'm still out here, and I guess will be for a while, waiting for another picture to get started. The last one ended in June and is terrible. The plans for Look Homeward[,] Angel seem to have been dropped ..." (103). [For more information on this failed attempt to film Wolfe's first novel, see John L. Idol Jr.'s "Look Homeward, Angel and Hollywood" in the 2004 TWR (26-33).]
Sid Batts, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, broadcasts a radio ministry called Just a Thought. Here is his mini-message for 18 October 2010:
This month many schools will be holding homecoming games and dances. What is it about autumn--with its crackling leaves and smoky fires? One of our native sons, Thomas Wolfe, described this sense of homecoming this way: "All things on earth point home in Old October. Sailors to sea. Travelers to walls and fences. Hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds. The lover to the love he has forsaken." Well, often our spiritual journey involves a homecoming where we come home to God or home to a faith community that welcomes us as family. So, maybe we can go home again. Just a thought.
TWS member John R. Pleasant Jr. tells us that he detects elements of Wolfe's search for the unfound door in "The Weight of Glory," a sermon delivered by C. S. Lewis on 8 June 1941 at Oxford University's Church of St. Mary the Virgin. If so, perhaps Lewis was influenced by his wife, Joy Davidman, whose admiration of Wolfe has been noted (see the 2009 TWR, pages 160-61).
The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For Glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.
IN AND AROUND CHAPEL HILL
The November-December 2009 issue of Go Magazine, a publication of the American Automobile Association, features "Chapel Hill: North Carolina's University Village" by Trish Fitzgerald. She writes that the town was "immortalized in Thomas Wolfe's 'Look Homeward, Angel'" and that its "architectural centerpiece" is the University of North Carolina. Fitzgerald points out that among the "famous names associated with the university" are "Thomas Wolfe, its most lionized literary son, and Michael Jordan, basketball player extraordinare" (23).
A four-page advertising section in Our State magazine (August 2010) focuses on the "arts scene" in Orange County, North Carolina. An inset note claims that "There are more world famous writers in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough, per capita, than in any other place in the world." The text states:
Thomas Wolfe, one of the greatest writers America has produced, came here in 1915, when he was only fifteen years old. He predicted that his portrait would one day hang in Old West near that of North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance, and he was right; it still does today.
Actually, Wolfe arrived in 1916, and the building is New West.
The spring 2010 issue of Windows, a bulletin from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, reports on work by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center to digitize the yearbooks The Hellenian and Yackety Yack as well as early issues of the Carolina Alumni Review. One of three high-speed "Scribe" scanners in Wilson Library is being used; the scanner can digitize about 3,000 pages per day. Nick Graham, program coordinator, says that yearbooks from other institutions are also being digitized. The report, "Digitized UNC Yearbooks Bring University's History to the Web," reproduces Wolfe's senior portrait from the 1920 Yackety Yack and contains an enlargement of the portion of the page about him. The caption indicates that Wolfe's classmates "voted him 'Best Writer,' and 'Most Original.'"
TWS member Edwin M. Yoder Jr. is a North Carolina native, UNC graduate, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. In his delightful memoir, Telling Others What to Think: Recollections of a Pundit (LSU Press, 2004), he mentions Wolfe several times. In fact, Yoder begins his first chapter with a quotation from Wolfe:
Fathers and Sons "Which of us has looked into his father's heart?" asks Thomas Wolfe in the prose-poem that opens his novel Look Homeward, Angel. The question may be unanswerable, but in any case we are condemned by the human condition to judge the hearts of others, even in the most intimate kinships, by what they do and say. (1)
Recalling how his relationship with his father "deepened into mutual respect," Yoder notes that "It is sometimes said that in our search for the missing father--that Telemachus's quest immortalized by our state bard Thomas Wolfe--we seek some compensatory element that is missing in the original" (23).
In chapter 2, "Chapel Hill," Yoder writes of his student days at the University of North Carolina in the mid-1950s:
If Princeton had its Scott Fitzgerald and Sewanee its William Alexander Percy, Chapel Hill had its Thomas Wolfe (class of 1921) [sic] and he was more than enough. It was Wolfe who conferred literary immortality on the thinly veiled "Pulpit Hill" of Look Homeward, Angel. As he wrote, viewing it through the eye of his awkward young hero, Eugene Gant, it was "a charming, an unforgettable place...." (43)
Yoder provides more of Wolfe's description of "Pulpit Hill" from chapter 28 of Look Homeward, Angel, including "There was still a good flavor of the wilderness about the place--one felt its remoteness, its isolated charm" (44), He then writes:
Chapel Hill has inspired other writers for two centuries. For like all old and beloved places it is easy to write about, deceptively easy, perhaps, inasmuch as a stock of prefabricated images is there to be tapped if imagination or memory falters. When I went there as a freshman in the fall of 1952, Chapel Hill was as familiar to me as any place I knew. And it was undoubtedly closer in climate and appearance to the Chapel Hill of Wolfe's day than to the noisy, auto-crowded segment of the Research Triangle conurbation it has become. Wolfe himself went on to grumble that the university and its encompassing village had declined since his day, had forfeited the sweetness and beauty conferred by poverty and remoteness and a "century-long struggle in the forest." Even so, Wolfe, who died in 1938, could hardly have foreseen what the high-tech research boom, not to mention the furtive aggression of Durham county real-estate developers and a student body now swollen to more than twenty thousand, would do to its "isolated charm." Charm remains; but it is hardly "isolated." (44)
Discussing the sexual experience--or lack thereof--of college students in the 1950s, Yoder writes:
One sex-starved dorm mate tried out the only known bordello in the Chapel Hill area, a Durham establishment known as Katie Mae's. He returned with an infestation of pubic lice (popularly, "crabs") that required countless showers and many stinging applications of disinfectant to subdue. If I recall, Eugene Gant, in Look Homeward, Angel, comes down with the same affliction--a case of plus ca change, perhaps. (50-51)
Yoder's fascinating chapter on his friend Willie Morris makes note of the novelist's appreciation of Wolfe:
There are no Mozarts of writing; even the best writers serve apprenticeships to the masters, as Willie did not only to Faulkner but also to Thomas Wolfe, whom in so many ways he resembled--not only in his verbal exuberance but in his living. He had absorbed Wolfe's trademark thematic search for the missing father and for "lost and wind-grieved ghosts." He was forever fascinated that I myself hailed from "Old Catawba," that I had walked the sandy walks of Pulpit Hill in the footsteps of Eugene Gant of Look Homeward, Angel. (201)
In the 1970s, when Morris was working on a novel that remained unfinished at his death, he asked Yoder to "help him find a place in Chapel Hill where he could live incognito for a few weeks." He wanted to spend that time "steeping himself firsthand in an ambiance he already knew from his reading of Look Homeward, Angel and from his interrogations of me about what it had been like to follow Wolfe's hero Eugene Gant to Pulpit Hill" (203-04).
Wolfe's name pops up several times in the spring 2010 issue of Chapter and Verse, newsletter of he Creative Writing program at UNC. Thomas Wolfe Scholar Maria Carlos ('13) is pictured on page 6 with a mostly juvenile account of undergraduate exploits, including thoughts of climbing the water tower, ending:
There's another thing I could tell you. A confession actually: I haven't yet read any of Thomas Wolfe's work. I know, I know, it's kind of blasphemous, considering the fact that I wouldn't be here if he hadn't ... existed. I mean, I know I'm going to read it eventually. That's a given. But I'll make a pact with you reader: I'll close my iTunes, shut off the television, lock my door, and read Look Homeward, Angel word for word right this second, if you can tell me the best way to reach the ladder at the base of the water tower. (6; ellipsis in orig.)
The same page has a photograph of the most recent Thomas Wolfe Scholar, Jordan Castelloe ('14).
The cover story is on Carrboro's Daphne Athas. An excerpt from her essay "The Spirit of Play" in her new book, Chapel Hill in Plain Sight: Notes from the Other Side of the Tracks (Eno, 2010), is about the folk tradition in literature at Chapel Hill. Here is an excerpt of that excerpt:
Here is where Thomas Wolfe comes in. For he was the legacy Chapel Hill was claiming in 1940. He was newly dead and very famous. He had set out from Asheville, come to Chapel Hill, took classes from Proff [Professor Koch], and was determined to be a playwright. He failed at that of course, but the unabashed lyrical extravagance of his language, "A stone, a leaf, an unfound door--O Lost, and by the Wind Grieved, Ghost come back again," formed the melody of the recognizably plebian music of North Carolina.... In the late Thirties when I came to Chapel Hill, Horace Williams, Howard Odum, Proff Koch, the late Thomas Wolfe, and Paul Green were the resident legends. All were Southern except Proff. Our high school generation breathed them in with little idea of what they were about. And since the death of Paul Green, they are fixed harder than ever in the firmament. But like all institutions they remain resistant to time while their meaning escapes us. (8; brackets in orig.)
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN
Correspondent Rita Braver spoke with novelist Philip Roth during a visit to his hometown on the 3 October 2010 broadcast of Sunday Morning on CBS: "If it's true you can't go home again, don't tell that to Phillip Roth. The legendary writer's childhood house in Newark, New Jersey, still stands--with a plaque in his honor." We assume that Braver and CBS were unaware that the segment would air on Wolfe's birthday.
The nationally syndicated comic strip Shoe, created in 1977 by the late Jeff MacNelly (who named the title character in honor of North Carolina journalist Jim Shumaker for whom MacNelly had worked at the Chapel Hill Weekly) is now produced by Chris Cassatt, Gary Brookins, and Susie MacNelly. The strip used Wolfe's famous phrase on 13 September 2010. Shoe is--as usual--having a drink and a smoke at the bar when another patron remarks, "It's true what they say...." Shoe replies, "What's that?" "You can't go home again," says the other barfly. To which Shoe responds, "In my case, that's a court order."
A recent Mike Baldwin cartoon features a couple of office drudges, loaded down with paperwork late at night. One remarks, "They say you can't go home again. They ought to know. They own the company."
A recent Chris Wildt cartoon set in a bar shows two men in suits, and one says, "It's true--'you can't go home again' ... usually for tax reasons."
"Finding Our Way Home" by Katheen A. Hughes for the weekened edition of the Wall Street Journal (20-21 February 2010) notes that technology "is helping more of us return to the places where we grew up" but asks "when you arrive, will it measure up to your memories?" The article begins: "'You can't go home again,' Thomas Wolfe concluded in his novel of the same name. But what if you insist on trying?" (R1).
Dorothy Rabinowitz's review of NBC's Parenthood for the Wall Street Journal on 5 March 2010 was titled "You Can't Go Home Again."
A feature in the June 2010 Smithsonian on the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird has a quotation (both in the text and in a photo caption) attributed to Harper Lee from a 1961 interview in Life: "I'm not like Thomas Wolfe. I can go home again."
Perhaps no one has taken issue with Wolfe's famous title as often as Maya Angelou. In Letters to my Daughter (Random House, 2008), she writes:
Thomas Wolfe warned in the title of America's great novel that "You Can't Go Home Again." I enjoyed the book but I never agreed with the title. I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one's skin, at the extreme corners of ones eyes and possibly in the gristle of the ear lobe. (6)
Carroll Leggett's column "Between You and Me" in the February 2010 issue of Metro Magazine in North Carolina is titled "Things I Think I Know." He discusses reading Angelou's book, noting that she has one son and no daughter. He writes: "Angelou made an observation, which I will use to conclude this litany of what 'I know' or, as she puts it, 'I believe,'" and he proceeds to quote the statements on Wolfe in Angelou's book (40).
The cover of the "Weekend Journal" section of the Wall Street Journal on 3 September 2010 was a montage of photographs for films reviewed in "The Fall Season: Our Critics and Reporters on the Most Anticipated Movies, Music, Theater and More." In discussing the then upcoming release of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger filmed in London by Woody Allen, Lauren A. E. Schuker observes that "Six of the last seven films by this most New York of all filmmakers were shot in Europe" (W2). The caption for a photograph featuring Allen on the cover reads: "Why Woody Allen may never come home again."
Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr., in The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950 (LSU Press, 2009), contends that Wolfe, to the day he died, was "mired in a morass of a filthy racism" (175). (See George Hovis's article in this issue of the Review, 87-100.) Historian Michaela Hoenicke Moore is more empathetic to Wolfe's growing realization of the horrors of Nazi Germany. Her book Know Your Enemy: The American Debate on Nazism, 1933-1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2010) begins with "Prologue: Thomas Wolfe and the Third Reich." Her prologue is a rare use (by a historian) of a novel as art prefiguring life, and her analysis of Wolfe and his writing in prefacing her study is most insightful. Our resident nitpicker points out a footnote that reads: "Wolfe's father and ancestors had come from Germany ..." (xiii). W. O. Wolfe was born in Pennsylvania, but the ancestors were from Germany, and only an obsessive would notice such a thing. In an e-mail, Moore writes: "Wolfe was a thoughtful, perceptive observer of both the German and American scene." Concluding her prologue, she writes:
... [Wolfe], who died a year before Nazi Germany started the war, not only captured in stirring images Germany's "spiritual disease" and its dual character, he also urgently pleaded for accuracy and integrity in characterizing Nazi Germany. One might argue that this was a luxury the novelist could afford because he had not witnessed the worst. But, as I hope this book demonstrates, truthfulness--the attempt to understand rather than to denounce this enemy--was to become a distinct and conscious impulse in American wartime analyses of Nazi Germany. (xviii)
In Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner, 2010), Daniel Okrent writes:
Xenophobia was yet more intense in the South, even though--or perhaps because--in some southern states the population was as much as 99 percent native stock. When foreigners showed up on their turf, many southerners recoiled. In Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe described the small claque of wets that young Eugene Gant encountered when he accompanied his father to the polls. Outcasts in a dry-dominated town, "they had never been told they stood for liberty," wrote Wolfe. "They stood rubily, stubbornly, with the strong brown smell of shame in their nostrils, for the bloodshot, malt-mouthed, red-nosed, loose-pursed Demon Rum (86)."
Jonathan Yardley, in his 4 April 2010 review of Lucy Moore's Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties (Overlook: 2010) for the Washington Post, notes that it is filled with errors:
Moore ... is guilty of so many mistakes, foolish opinions and omissions that ultimately the entire undertaking becomes suspect. All of us make errors, of course, and as a rule I let minor ones in books under review pass without notice. But there are so many here that they--or at least those that I was able to detect, as I suspect there are more--must be pointed out, for what they tell us is that a very careless hand is at the helm.... Moore is on especially shaky ground when discussing the rise of American literature. She tells us that among the "stars of the new generation" edited by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's were "Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway and Tom Wolfe." She means Thomas Wolfe; apart from being sons of the Upper South with a penchant for florid prose, the two Wolfes have nothing in common.
Given that Moore refers to F. Scott Fitzgerald as "Scott," her referring to Thomas Wolfe as "Tom" seems to be more an error of style than of fact. But Yardley concludes by writing that "If 'Anything Goes' is anything, it's a nitpicker's delight. As history, it's something else."
The 2010 publication by Manesse of Oktoberfest (see David Radavich's review on pages 159-62) is much appreciated, and editor Horst Maria Lauinger's informative afterword provides context and is a delight to read. Unfortunately, it contains an error in the timeline. The events on which the short story "Oktoberfest" is based are said to have occurred when Wolfe first visited the fair in 1927 and that the drunken brawl he got himself into, resulting in serious injuries, happened in 1928. The English translation of the afterword reads: "He arrives in September 1927, just in time for the broaching of the first barrel" (96); and "In a rage of enthusiasm as to the events of 1927, a year later ... Thomas Wolfe again lingers in Munich, again arriving just in time for the Oktoberfest" (99). But Wolfe was not in Munich for the 1927 fair. Both sets of events--the pleasant evening that resulted in the short story, and the horrible evening that resulted in a broken nose and a scarred head--took place in 1928. Wolfe did visit Munich for a few days in 1927 while traveling with Aline Bernstein, but the couple left for Paris long before the fair began. In fact, Wolfe arrived back in New York on 18 September 1927, which was most likely the opening weekend of the Oktoberfest. All of this is made clear in Wolfe's notebook entries and letters, including the full version of the letter excerpted in the new Oktoberfest edition. And in the fictionalized version of events in The Web and the Rock, both visits to the fair also take place during the same trip to Munich.
In The Garden of Allah (Crown, 1970), Sheilah Graham twice uses the well-known note of disbelief at the beginning of 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,' which was what the address on your envelope said. I am sending this on to the old address we both know so well" (see The Letters of Thomas Wolfe, 641-42). But Graham must have fallen asleep at the fact-checking desk when she wrote: "'The old address' was Asheville, North Carolina--Wolfe's home town where Scott had lived to be near his wife, Zelda, who was mentally ill in a sanitarium. The letter was forwarded to Scott at The Garden of Allah" (154). Of course, the "old address we both know so well" was actually Charles Scribner's Sons in New York.
MORE MAGS AND BLOGS
A page in the December 2010 issue of Vanity Fair titled "You're Just Too Young to Remember ... Contributors to Vanity Fair, 1913-36" includes many superluminary writers of the early twentieth century, including Thomas Wolfe (65).
Sean Phelan's 16 September 2010 entry for the Culture Mob blog was titled "Greatest Novels of the Past 100 Years," and the list included Look Homeward, Angel. Phelan's comments quote from John Milton and Bob Dylan:
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe--"Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: / And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth"; or "But it's alright, Ma, it's life and life only."
An article in the January-February 2010 issue of SkyWest Magazine, "River Arts District: A Must See," observes: "Literary super-stars Thomas Wolfe, Carl Sandburg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Frazier have all found a muse in the scenic majesty of Asheville's environs" (19).
Thinking about the "70th anniversary of the Blitz here in London," Guardian blogger Robert McCrum posted, in December 2010, "The Best Boring Books." He says that "There are times when dullness is exactly what you want from a book. Here are some of my favourites." Look Homeward, Angel is number 7 on his list. He writes: "There are copies of these on my shelves: I would not part with them for anything, even though, at the moment of writing, I can hardly imagine opening any one of these books with much anticipation, or excitement. Curiosity, yes. But that's different."
Life magazine's online list of "Greatest Southern Writers" includes Thomas Wolfe. The 1937 photograph of Wolfe standing at the door of his sister Mabel's house is number 17 in the photo lineup. The quotation featured in the caption is from chapter 8 of Look Homeward, Angel: "The exquisite smell of the [S]outh, clean but funky, like a big woman."
The 27 October 2010 entry of Looking toward Portugal ..., blog of TWS member Steve Rogers, opens with a passage from chapter 29, "'The Hollow Men,'" of You Can't Go Home Again:
"Then summer fades and passes, and October comes. [We'll] smell smoke then, and feel an unsuspected sharpness, a thrill of nervous, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure." This is one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Wolfe whose 110th birthday was celebrated earlier this month. I can appreciate Wolfe's observations on the advent of autumn. It truly is my favorite season of the year.
Larry King's interview with American movie legend Kim Novak aired on 5 January 2004. In the middle of discussing working with Frank Sinatra, Novak said, "Well, you know, in Man With the Golden Arm, he was so sensitive. God! And he sent me all of Thomas Wolfe's books."
On 18 September 2010 the online "Today in History" feature provided by the Associated Press included the following two items:
On this date: In 1940, Harper and Brothers published "You Can't Go Home Again" by Thomas Wolfe, two years after the author's death.
Thought for Today: "I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once." --From "You Can't Go Home Again," by Thomas Wolfe, American author (1900-1938).
The quotation is from chapter 24 and is part of a letter from George Webber that Randy Shepperton is reading in March 1930, a few months after the publication of Webber's Home to Our Mountains. Webber is complaining about some of the letters from home he has received since his novel appeared:
"'It's the dirtiest book I ever read,' one citizen cogently remarks, 'but I'll give you credit for one thing--you've got a wonderful memory.'
"And that is just exactly what I have not got. I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once. This thing they call my memory, this thing they can themselves remember, is nothing that they ever saw. It is rather something that I saw after looking at the thing a thousand times, and this is what they think they can remember." (355-56)
One answer on Jeopardy on 9 February 2010 was to the effect that this famous novel by Thomas Wolfe is subtitled "The Story of a Buried Life." None of the contestants replied "What is Look Homeward, Angel?"
Paragrams are word puzzles in which the answer to each clue is an anagram of the previous answer, minus one letter. The answer to clue 7 in one of the paragrams in the November 2010 issue of Superb Variety Sampler is "flower." Clue 8 is "Novelist Thomas," with the obvious answer being "Wolfe."
A TWS member reports purchasing on Ebay a heavy seven-inch-tall Tiffany crystal prism etched with a paraphrased excerpt from the concluding sentence of chapter 31 of You Can't Go Home Again ("The Promise of America"). There is no date on this piece, but hand-etched on the bottom is "184/225," so presumably the original plans called for more than 200 of them to be made by Tiffany & Co. The seller, from Pittsburgh, reports that she found this one at an estate sale.
At press time, we received word that TWS member Ronald R. Koegler has published a novel with the intriguing title of Chasing the Stargazer: With Help from Luigi Pirandello, Nucky Johnson, and Thomas Wolfe. The book is scheduled for release in January 2011, and Dr. Koegler reports that "The novel has a strong Wolfe presence, with many appropriate Wolfe quotations related to the plot." We had just enough time to list the book in "Bibliography" (see page 175), and we look forward to reading it.
With thanks to Robert G. Anthony, Mary Bailey, Deborah A. Borland, Alice R. Cotten, Jan G. Hensley, Joseph B. Joyce, Margie Kashdin, Ronald R. Koegler, Aldo P. Magi, Jamie McMahan, John R. Pleasant, Elizabeth Privette, David Radavich, Steven B. Rogers, Connie Strange, Michael Stutz, and Anne R. Zahlan.
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|Author:||Bailey, J. Todd; Strange, David|
|Publication:||Thomas Wolfe Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
|Next Article:||Thomas Wolfe Society Meeting (May 28-30, 2010; Greenville, South Carolina).|