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Scholars.

Thomas Wolfe's name comes up often in The Letters of C. Vann Woodward, a volume of witty and informative correspondence edited by Michael O'Brien (Yale University Press, 2013). Woodward, who would become a noted liberal historian, first mentions Wolfe in a letter circa April 1932 to Glenn W Rainey, a friend since their undergraduate days at Emory in the late 1920s.

After finishing his thesis (and pronouncing it "the work of a thwarted genius") Woodward "went down to the corner speakeasy and drank beer and listened to the Philharmonic orchestra play Strauss over the radio." He then added,
   Parenthetically, if you have not read Thomas Wolfe's latest
   addition to the slender shelf of American classics, get the April
   number of Scribners and do so at once.* Having just read it, I am
   ready to proclaim the arrival of America's age of Helenic splendor
   and Elizabethan glory. (For the sake of my critical reputation,
   please make allowances for the Beer and the Strauss and the
   thwarted genius complex, when you quote me on this[.]) (20)


In early October of the next year he again wrote Rainey from Chapel Hill about a woman "ally" who wanted to write a novel about her family, although he expressed doubts ("I'm just afraid she hasn't got it in her"). Yet he allowed, "It would make as powerful stuff as the 'Angel,' if she could--drunken, raw, & full of roil and passion" (27).

He wrote Antonina Jones Hansell (an early lover) from Chapel Hill on 7 April 1935, expressing regret that he hadn't written her immediately after her last letter. "Well, just after reading your letter I was moved to tell you what I thought then. I am sure it must have been eloquent, for that was the way I felt. It was also just after I finished reading Of Time and the River. I was oratorical about everything for a few weeks" (38). About the novel, Woodward went on:
   But you must read this book of Wolfe's darling. Not since Melville
   has there been any thing like him, no such power and magnificent
   abundance of language, richness and passion of feeling, and
   torrential floods of experience. I feel actually grateful to the
   man as if for some imponderable debt. Like I do toward you
   sometimes. (39)


On 2 October 1938, Woodward wrote to Glenn Rainey from Gainesville, Florida:
   Tom Wolfe's death! caused me something nearer personal grief that
   [sic] anything since Ernest's death [unidentified]. It was strange,
   since I had never even seen the fellow, but I realize now that I
   harbored a warmth of affection for him that I would for a personal
   friend. There is nothing so abundantly vital as he was left in the
   South. Did you notice that he died in Johns Hopkins hospital, where
   he described old Gant's horrible death,* and recall that in
   describing it he said that he could vividly imagine himself dying
   there (63)?


Woodward wrote Rupbert B. Vance on 16 November 1940 from California about a novel by C. P Lee, The Unwilling Journey (Macmillan, 1940): "It is a quiet and unpretentious but accurate and fairly penetrating book for a youngster. No Sturm und Drang of the Wolfian romantics, no Poe-esque horror of the Faulkners--the boy remembers that he is writing about Arkansas" (83). Again from California, on 1 December 1940, he wrote British scholar Esmond Wright, "On the matter of the class-ridden society, if you have the opportunity, I wish you would read a chapter in Thomas Wolfe's new novel You Can't Go Home Again, called 'The Universe of Daisy Purvis.' Tell me if that attitude [bottom of page missing] ..." (85).

Finally, Wolfe is discussed in some detail in a letter to David Herbert Donald on 17 June 1984 about Donald's work on what would become Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe (Little, Brown, 1987). The letter provides no insight into Woodward's opinion of Donald's biography.

Of course I was delighted to learn of that cryptic reference to me in Thomas Wolfe's notebook. I have no idea how he heard of me. ([dagger]) I was a constant reader and admirer of his, but I do not recall ever writing him or recall any mutual friends.

I do remember his visiting Chapel Hill and wanting to meet him. ([double dagger]) It was before Glenn and I were married and I was in her office in Old South Building when I saw this giant lumbering past her door and recognized him.

It would have been a simple thing to step out and offer my hand, and I had a strong impulse to do so and will always regret that I didn't--now more than ever since hearing from you about that note. But my nerve failed me and the opportunity slipped by. He was dead within the year. *

[paragraph]

[paragraph]

My very best wishes for the Wolfe biography. It is a great and difficult opportunity. I look forward keenly to reading it. (358)

NPR reported the 16 November 2013 death of Louis D. Rubin Jr. in an obituary from the Associated Press on 17 November. It notes that "He was among the first to write a scholarly analysis on the posthumous reputation of Thomas Wolfe ..." and later observes that "His study of Wolfe, 'Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His Youth,' was an early treatise on the late novelist known for 'You Can't Go Home Again' and 'Look Homeward, Angel.'" An online obituary for the New York Times by Bruce Weber was posted 21 November 2013 but didn't appear in print until the 24th; both versions list Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His Youth among critical works by Rubin and note that his Wolfe book "began as his dissertation" at Johns Hopkins (32).

For more information on Rubin, see Fred Hobson's "Louis Rubin, Thomas Wolfe, and the Autobiographical Impulse" on pages 74-80. Readers may also want to revisit Rubin's "The Shock of Thomas Wolfe" in the 2006 TWR (82-86).

Anthony Denzer, in "The Halliburton House and Its Architect, William Alexander" (Southern California Quarterly 91.3 [2009]: 319-41), notes that Alexander was a student at New York University "in an English class taught by author Thomas Wolfe" (324). The article adds to the picture of Alexander as an architect, notes some of his achievements, and sheds some light on the teaching of architectural ideas at NYU.

* Woodward was referring to "A Portrait of Bascom Hawke" (Scribner's Magazine Apr. 1932: 193+).

[dagger] Wolfe had died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on 15 September 1938.

* W. O. Gant does not die at Johns Hopkins Hospital (his death occurs at the hated Dixieland in Altamont; see chapters 21-34 in Of Time and the River).

([dagger]) A footnote by editor Michael O'Brien explains that Woodward "had forgotten that, in a letter from Antonina Hansell (April 1938) in New York, she told of having dinner with Wolfe, who spoke of [Woodward] and spending time with Glenn Rainey" (358).

([double dagger]) A footnote by O'Brien notes that Wolfe's visit to Chapel Hill was in January 1937, and he cites pages 401-03 of Donald's biography.
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Title Annotation:Notes
Publication:Thomas Wolfe Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Words:1179
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