January 16, 2018
Thomas Wolfe, Going HomeOn this day in 1940 Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again was published, two years after his death from tubercular meningitis at the age of thirty-seven. Earlier novels in his four-book, autobiographical series included the best-selling Look Homeward Angel, and the lesser-known middle books, Of Time and the River and The Web and the Rock. Wolfe's legendary style of writing, like that of his life, was flowing and impassioned, and an editor's worst nightmare. The first two books in the series were reworked by Wolfe under advisement from Max Perkins at Scribner's; the last two (and a collection of short stores, The Hills Beyond) were culled by Harper's editor Edward Aswell from the mammoth manuscript which Wolfe left behind in jumbled piles and boxes -- some 1.5 million words, about a dozen novels of ordinary length. "I've got too much material," says the central character, writer George Webber, about halfway through You Can't Go Home Again. "It keeps backing up on me until sometimes I wonder what in the name of God I'm going to do with it all...."
Wolfe's self-chronicling and wasteland-wandering was cast as a mission from start to premature finish. "I am inevitable," he wrote in a 1923 letter home from Harvard:
"To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth--
"--Whereon the pillars of the earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending -- a wind is rising, and the rivers flow."
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