Thomas Wolfe, American.
Taylor, Priscilla Marion
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Thomas Clayton Wolfe, born in 1900 and died in 1938, is an American writer who well typifies his generation both in his life and in his works. A Southern boy who came North to live and make his reputation, he grew up in Ashville, North Carolina, a small mountain town. His mother's people were of sturdy, Scotch-Irish and English stock and had lived there many years, his father was of mixed German and Welsh stock from Pennsylvania. Wolfe was the last of their eight children, and after his parents separated was brought up alone by his mother. He attended the local grammar school, and prepared for college at a small, but progressive private school in the neighborhood. Undoubtedly the training in this school which emphasized independence of mind effected Wolfe's later career. Wolfe attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for four years and received his degree at the age of nineteen. Here he was a prominent student, editing the college paper in his last year and belonging to practically everything on campus. After his graduation he went to Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts where he took two years of graduate work in English, receiving a Master of Arts degree in 1922. At Harvard he took Professor Baker's famous play course, and spend a good deal of his time doing creative work. In February, 1924, Wolfe received an appointment to the faculty of English at Washington Square College, one of the departments of New York University in New York City, and he taught there with several leaves of absences for travel and study in Europe until 1930. In that year six months after the publication of his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative work and resigned his position to devote his remaining eight years to writing. After a year in Europe during which he complete the manuscript for Of Time and the River, Wolfe returned to America and settled down in Brooklyn to write. It was at this time that he determined to go on alone and broke with his editor friend, Maxwell Perkins, who had done so much work in the revision of Wolfe's novels. The fruit of these seven years in Brooklyn were the two volumes, published posthumously, The Web and the Rock, and You Can't Go Home Again. In 1938 as Wolfe was setting out for the Pacific Northwest, he had an attack of pneumonia and recovered only to die September 15, 1938 of a cerebral infection at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was buried there in the Riverside Cemetery near the grave of O. Henry. Wolfe's published works include, beside his four novels for which he is most famous, two plays, an autobiographical sketch, The Story of a Novel, book of collected short stories, From Death to Morning, and lyric passages from his novels collected in The Faces of a Nation. His output was tremendous, however, for his novels are very long, running from 900 to 1500 pages each. Wolfe was a tremendous man with tremendous appetites. He stood six feet, six inches tall and had a large ungainly frame. He ate and drank tremendously, travelled extensively, made love to many women, and burned himself out physically at the age of thirty-eight. In his reactions to life in the twentieth century America Wolfe was more or less conventional for the time. He revolted against the puritanism and victorianism of the preceding age. He attacked with all the single-minded cruelty and bigotry of youth his own family, his home town, his college and his state. He criticized those who retreated to the country and those who foolishly stayed in the city; he satirized the expatriates and the over-patriotism of certain Americans; he spoke out against Hitler and his government. His rebellion against life was unfocused, unclarified; he simply struck out at everything and everyone within range. Wolfe, like many of the people of his generation following Bergson, Freud, and the others, put all his faith in experience. Be believed that if he experienced enough of life he would become per se wise and rich and successful in art as well as in life. It was only during his very last years that he began to realize how this theory had duped him, and by then it was too late. Wolfe, like the other members of his generations, sought to escape the consequences of the vastly mechanized and inhuman society which modern man has created for himself by escaping into romanticism of one form or another. Wolfe's romanticism took a very personal and intense form and it well reflected in his books as well as in his life. All that he saw or heard in the life around him was colored by this romanticism, by his own feelings about it, and he could not paint truly although he tried to because he did not see truly. He saw himself as a persecuted genius, a sort of Lord Byron except in prose, misunderstood by everyone, and he painted that self in his novels giving it epic proportions and wallowing in self-pity of the crudest type. He portrayed his other characters romantically, too. They are usually symbols or caricatures, never people of flesh and blood. Thus in Look Homeward, Angel his mother is one-sided Convention , his father is Freedom and Joy and License. And all the every-day things of life, trains and subways, food and books, clothes and jewelry are made mysterious and important in his writings. At long last Wolfe, disillusioned in his attempts to experience everything, defeated in his efforts to reform the world by simply shrieking at it, and realizing that he could not escape life in the twentieth century by retreating into a romanticism of the preceding era decided to accept it. This same cycle of revolt, experience, retreat and finally recapitulation has been true of many men of Wolfe's generation. Thomas Wolfe failed, or so it seems to me, as an artist and as a man because he realized too late the ineffectuality of experience as such, of revolt directed against no particular object and with no end in view, and escape into a romantic land -- "You can't go home again."
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University N.B.: Page 48 missing from originals. Alma says there are two copies and both copies don't have page 48.
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