Look Homeward, Angel

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1995-10-01
  • Publisher: Scribner

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Look Homeward, Angel is an elaborate and moving

coming-of-age story about Eugene Gant, a restless and

energetic character whose passion to experience life takes him

from his small, rural hometown in North Carolina to


Author Biography

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe was born in 1900 in Asheville, North Carolina, a resort town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His father was a tombstone cutter from Pennsylvania, his mother a native of the mountain area. Much like Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe spent his youth going back and forth between 92 Woodfin Street, where his father and his sister lived, and The Old Kentucky Home, which was the Dixieland boarding house in Look Homeward, Angel. In 1912, Wolfe became a student at the North State School, a private school, and in 1916 he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After rejecting the offers of various newspaper positions, in 1920 Wolfe entered Harvard Graduate School, from which he received his MA in English. He completed an extra year at Harvard, studying playwriting, but he never had any luck selling his plays in New York.

He became an instructor in English at New York University in 1924, serving intermittently until 1930, writing and traveling extensively in Europe and the Americas. In 1925, while sailing for New York, he met a woman who was to be his constant companion for the next five years, Mrs. Aline Bernstein, who was married and some eighteen years older than Wolfe. In 1927, Mrs. Bernstein persuaded Wolfe to work solely on his novel, rather than to return to his teaching job. She rented a garret for him over a tailor's shop in a run-down building where he wrote his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. After several publishers rejected it, it was finally accepted by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner. In 1929 Look Homeward, Angel was published. Much has been written about the fact that Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel is autobiographical, and its publication met with violent reaction in Asheville. The community was furious that its secrets had been laid bare by one of its own sons. Only later was the literary merit of the book appreciated.

In 1931, Wolfe moved to Brooklyn where he spent the next four years living in poorly furnished apartments with cigarette-burned tables, straight chairs, and dry-goods boxes where he placed his completed pages. He wrote the hard way -- in fits and turns, without chronology, moving from one unconnected episode to another, often revising, often rewriting entirely.

His next book, Of Time and the River was published in 1935. The book was a triumph, and in an effort to capitalize on its popularity, Scribner rushed through a book of Wolfe's short stories, From Death to Morning. Wolfe was now widely known, and it was during this time that he "was set upon by every kind of parasite," as he wrote, "every kind of harpy, every kind of vulture, every kind of female egoist that had a string to pull." Though he wanted merely to be left alone, a number of provoking incidents plagued him: lawsuits, blackmail letters, and a grave quarrel with Scribner. Eventually, his publishing relationship with Scribner was severed when Perkins and Wolfe became divided on ideological issues (the last four chapters of You Can't Go Home Again), Perkins protesting when Wolfe wished to replace his lyrical prose with political and ethical arguments.

Wolfe began a publishing relationship with Harpers which published The Web and the Rock in 1939 and his last novel, You Can't Go Home Again, in 1940.

In early July of 1938, Wolfe, on a trip to British Columbia, contracted pneumonia. When a fever persisted during convalescence, the doctor ordered an X ray which revealed a tubercular lesion on the upper lobe of his right lung. In Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, an operation showed that Wolfe's brain was infected by tubercular germs released during the siege with pneumonia. Thomas Wolfe died on September 15, 1938, eighteen days short of his thirty-eighth birthday.

When Perkins learned of Wolfe's death, he thought of the lines from William Shakespeare's King Lear:

He hates him
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
"For," wrote Perkins, "he was on the rack almost always, and almost always would have been, and for one reason. He was wrestling as no artist in Europe would have to do, with the material of literature -- a great country not yet revealed to its own people."


  • The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe

  • Of Time and the River

  • The Web and the Rock

  • You Can't Go Home Again

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Chapter 1 A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.This is a moment:An Englishman named Gilbert Gaunt, which he later changed to Gant (a concession probably to Yankee phonetics), having come to Baltimore from Bristol in 1837 on a sailing vessel, soon let the profits of a public house which he had purchased roll down his improvident gullet. He wandered westward into Pennsylvania, eking out a dangerous living by matching fighting cocks against the champions of country barnyards, and often escaping after a night spent in a village jail, with his champion dead on the field of battle, without the clink of a coin in his pocket, and sometimes with the print of a farmer's big knuckles on his reckless face. But he always escaped, and coming at length among the Dutch at harvest time he was so touched by the plenty of their land that he cast out his anchors there. Within a year he married a rugged young widow with a tidy farm who like all the other Dutch had been charmed by his air of travel, and his grandiose speech, particularly when he did Hamlet in the manner of the great Edmund Kean. Every one said he should have been an actor.The Englishman begot children -- a daughter and four sons -- lived easily and carelessly, and bore patiently the weight of his wife's harsh but honest tongue. The years passed, his bright somewhat staring eyes grew dull and bagged, the tall Englishman walked with a gouty shuffle: one morning when she came to nag him out of sleep she found him dead of an apoplexy. He left five children, a mortgage and -- in his strange dark eyes which now stared bright and open -- something that had not died: a passionate and obscure hunger for voyages.So, with this legacy, we leave this Englishman and are concerned hereafter with the heir to whom he bequeathed it, his second son, a boy named Oliver. How this boy stood by the roadside near his mother's farm, and saw the dusty Rebels march past on their way to Gettysburg, how his cold eyes darkened when he heard the great name of Virginia, and how the year the war had ended, when he was still fifteen, he had walked along a street in Baltimore, and seen within a little shop smooth granite slabs of death, carved lambs and cherubim, and an angel poised upon cold phthisic feet, with a smile of soft stone idiocy -- this is a longer tale. But I know that his cold and shallow eyes had darkened with the obscure and passionate hunger that had lived in a dead man's eyes, and that had led from Fenchurch Street past Philadelphia. As the boy looked at the big angel with the carved stipe of lilystalk, a cold and nameless excitement possessed him. The long fingers of his big hands closed. He felt that he wanted, more than anything in the world, to carve delicately with a chisel. He wanted to wreak something dark and unspeakable in him into cold stone. He wanted to carve an angel's head.Oliver entered the shop and asked a big bearded man with a wooden mallet for a job. He became the stone cutter's apprentice. He worked in that dusty yard five years. He became a stone cutter. When his apprenticeship was over he had become a man.He never found it. He

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