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Look Homeward, Angel (1929)

by Thomas Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,006373,257 (4.02)180
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 Harvard University and the city of Boston. The novel's pattern is artfully simple--a small town, a large family, high school and college--yet the characters are monumental in their graphic individuality and personality.… (more)

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» See also 180 mentions

English (35)  German (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Evocative of May 25, 1990 visit to Asheville, North Carolina which included the Wolfe boarding house (NB before a later fire there).
  rockhurst72 | Nov 18, 2020 |
A legendary author on par with William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, his first novel, about a young man’s burning desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life, in 1929. It gave the world proof of his genius and launched a powerful legacy.
The novel follows the trajectory of Eugene Gant, a brilliant and restless young man whose wanderlust and passion shape his adolescent years in rural North Carolina.

Look Homeward, Angel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Look-Homeward-Angel/Thomas-Wolfe/97807432....
  MRS1973 | Oct 20, 2019 |
Listen to that, will you. ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
[Look Homeward, Angel] by Thomas Wolfe
[Max Perkins, Editor of Genius] by A. Scott Berg

“No leaf hangs for me in the forest; I shall lift no stone upon the heels; I shall find no door in any city. There is one voyage, the first, the last, the only one.”

Reading Thomas Wolfe is to mourn anew, each and every time. Forget the recent movement to abuse his writing as indulgent and overblown. Forget the neo-literary community, perched on a corpse they declare bloated, all the while picking and tearing with sour beaks. Attacking our heroes is the newest fad, and a distasteful one. And Wolfe isn’t the only classic that has suffered at the hands of revisionary criticism. Hemingway is now all too often considered boring and over simple and stereotypically uber-masculine; Fitzgerald’s work superficial and derivative, perhaps even plagiarized from his wife.

Thankfully, A. Scott Berg, with his [Editor of Genius], saw these men through the eyes of Max Perkins, the man who discovered them and midwifed their work. As the title suggests, Perkins saw them all as geniuses, particularly Wolfe. The editor had an intimidating task in distilling Wolfe’s mammoth text. Recent critics have tried to debunk the story about the manuscript’s delivery, but Berg quotes Wolfe’s agent, Madeline Boyd, requesting a truck to pick up the full work. As Perkins read, he was enchanted by the poetic and epic book. Working closely with the author, he reorganized and whittled, often foiled by Wolfe’s ability to replace several pages of new writing for the one or two cut. In the end, the book was an epic coming of age Southern tale. While the story still sags occasionally, the pay off in the last chapter is worth the effort. Eugene is ushered through his transformed hometown by the ghost of his deceased brother, assured that his journey is the only journey in life. It is easily one of the most perfect passages ever written.

Reading Berg’s history along with Wolfe’s debut, [Look Homeward, Angel] is a revelation. Seeing a photo of Wolfe standing next to a crate, filled with loose paper reaching up to knee-height, with a caption noting it’s one of three crates containing a manuscript, give Perkins’ the credit he’s due for translating the Wolfe’s beasts. But Wolfe is revealed, too. [Look Homeward, Angel]’s hero, Eugene Gant, is Wolfe himself – introverted, bookish, out of place in every circumstance except with a pen in his hand; overshadowed by a large and eccentric Southern family but a keen observer. In fact, the book was banned from Wolfe’s hometown after it was published because people were so angry with their fictionalized treatment. Reading about Gant’s youth and transformation into a writer is echoed in Perkins’ biography.

The most affecting passages in the biography are the ones detailing Perkins and Wolfe’s relationship. With five daughters, Perkins found the son he’d always wanted in Wolfe. And Wolfe had found a supportive and loving father. W.O. Gant, the substitute in [Look Homeward, Angel] for Wolfe’s real father, is an acerbic drunk with a piercing tongue. Nothing is ever good enough for W.O., and he casts himself as the eternal victim of the world’s conspiracies. Wolfe flourished under Perkins’ encouraging, and the two were easily one of the most creative partnerships ever seen.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald are showcased in Perkins’ story, as well. Not only the pugilistic bombast and the petulant child that have been substituted for their names over the years. But the secret creative zeal they both harbored, and the fragile egos that refuted the desperate need to create. Hemingway and Fitzgerald reacted in two very different ways during these battles. At one point in Perkins’ story, Fitzgerald is confined to bed with ‘grippe,’ sick to the bone over his financial situation, criticism of his work, and the progress of his next writing project. His treatment was to write about the illness, penning an article about all his daily aches and pains. Hemingway, on the other hand, was constantly on the defensive, raging against the world. Berg recounts him stringing up a tuna he’d caught and using it as a punching bag after someone told him tuna fishing was easy.

Given the genius Perkins corralled in just these three, it’s hard to believe he also edited Ring Lardner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Jones, and Taylor Caldwell. And the biography is a rich source for other authors to seek out: Nancy Hale, Marcia Davenport, Martha Gellhorn, Will James, Etta Shiber, and Christine Watson – many would never have been known without Perkins’ eye for talent.

Though Perkins and Wolfe were estranged toward the end of Wolfe’s life, their love and admiration for one another never faltered. Wolfe’s last writing was a note from his deathbed remembering a climb to the top of a tall building with Perkins, the power and glory of life laid out before them. Perkins believed Wolfe was lost to the world much too early – and reading these two books is a testament to that obvious truth.

Bottom Line: The epitome of literary classics.

5 bones!!!!!
All time favorites. ( )
  blackdogbooks | Sep 30, 2017 |
Six-word review: We are made of lost things.

Extended review:

It's easy to see why this opus won passionate admiration and a place among the most influential novels of the early twentieth century. It's also easy to see why admiring imitators would have done better to choose some other sort of sincere flattery. Like any other distinctive stylist--Van Gogh comes to mind--only Wolfe is Wolfe, and it's best that others not try to be him.

I feel remiss in having failed to read this novel for more than half a century beyond the time when it was first recommended to me. If I had come to it sooner, I might have recognized traces of its unique character in other readings that I can only now reflect on in retrospect. I might also have had enough time by now to come to a full recognition of what the author did in these many pages.

On the one hand, there are beautiful, moving, lyrical passages, such as his paean to the lost young love (page 372), and insights of notable psychological reach: "Unknowingly, he had begun to build up in himself a vast mythology for which he cared all the more deeply because he realized its untruth. Brokenly, obscurely, he was beginning to feel that it was not truth that men live for--the creative men--but for falsehood." (page 183)

And, as if to counterbalance numerous prolix outflowings of overwrought prose, there is on occasion marvelous economy of phrase: "elegant young ensigns out of college, with something blonde and fluffy at their sides" (page 418). And: "As that spring ripened he felt entirely, for the first time, the full delight of loneliness." Some of those, however, are cloyingly sugar-coated, as with all the instances of "lilac darkness" and the abundance of pearl and nacreous light.

On the other hand, there are numerous instances of questionable use of showoff words such as "phthisic" and "inchoate" (nine of the latter, including the absurd "a wild inchoate scream," page 227). When Wolfe springs words such as "gabular" and "ptotic" and "adyts" into the text, I seldom feel, as I do, for instance, with Oscar Wilde, that they belong to his peculiarly erudite vocabulary and flow naturally from his thought; but rather that he has gone to some little trouble to acquire them and that they are there more to impress than to honor precision.

Also noted: frequent suffocating passages swamped in bobbing, floating adverbs: these, for instance, gathered from two almost randomly chosen facing pages (135 and 136): stiffly, desperately, richly, moistly, sparsely, slightly, fiercely, beautifully, brightly, leafily, softly, musically, lazily, swinishly, cleanly, cynically (twice), belligerently, silently, contemptuously, toughly, thinly, pugnaciously, quietly.

Nonetheless, the novel drew me on; I didn't choose to abandon it. I found depths and revelations in this protracted coming-of-age tale, with its permeating theme of loss, that rewarded my attention. I also noticed that it made me write a little oddly for a while afterward, in much the same way that I start to talk a little funny after I've been bingeing on BBC costume dramas. My note immediately upon finishing it says this: "Style is at once lyrical and juvenile, erudite and ostentatious. Characters never seem to be, but constantly becoming. Does not draw conclusions or look for a simple answer anywhere. At times seems breathless and at times breathes wordlessly." ( )
  Meredy | Feb 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
"Kan De finne om ikkje meir enn ei bok til som kjem på høgd med den av Thomas Wolfe, da har De verkelig gjort ein gjerning." Olav Duun

Da Eliza Gant hadde født yngstebarnet, Eugene, "hadde hun stirret dypt ned i de mørke øynene og sett noe som hun visste skulle gløde der inne bestandig, en dyp utilgjengelig og uoppløselig ensomhet, hun visste det var en fremmed som hadde fått liv i det mørke fanget hennes, en gjenganger i sitt eget sinn, ensom når han var alene og ensom når han var midt i verden. Fortapt."

Utkom første gang på norsk i 1933.

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfe, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kostova, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Modick, KlausAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perkins, Maxwell E.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wehrli, IrmaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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... a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
To A.B.

"Then, as all my soules bee,
Emparadis'd in you, (in whom alone
I understand, and grow and see,)
The rafters of my body, bone
Being still with you, the Muscle, Sinew, and Veine,
Which tile this house, will come againe."
First words
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.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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 Harvard University and the city of Boston. The novel's pattern is artfully simple--a small town, a large family, high school and college--yet the characters are monumental in their graphic individuality and personality.

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