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Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Look Homeward, Angel (1929)

by Thomas Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Alone. This is a difficult concept to consider when thinking about the greatness both in size and content of Thomas Wolfe's first novel, Look Homeward Angel. The inclusion of so much of the world and so many other voices almost drowns out the voice of Eugene Gant, the narrator of this immense and impressive novel. But perhaps we should begin a consideration of this novel with the question of destiny. This is what we read in the first paragraph:
"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 smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world."

Is this destiny that of Eugene as well? And is it mere chance or will Eugene have a will to make his way in this world? This shows the direction of the story and, as it expands to take in the Gant family of Father, Mother, and siblings in Altamont, I was impressed with the translation of a country's manifest destiny into a town's and into a family's and beyond that the personal story and destiny of one Eugene Gant.

This translation of destiny is a story of coming of age told in what we today might call a "mash-up" of styles that leave the reader looking for structure among the historical commentaries, classical allusions, family rows, and soaring beauty of many more lyrical passages. The last of these alone made the book worth reading. Yes, it is worth persevering the Whitmanesque size of the narrative for some further passages of the beauty in the world that destiny had bequeathed to young Eugene Gant. While he is young and pursuing an education that seems unconventional, in spite of his attendance at the traditional schools, he is living a life of isolation from most of the world around him. There are exceptions, his relationship with his brother Ben is particularly poignant; yet there is a yearning for escape, from family and from Altamont to a world where Eugene may not feel quite so alone.

His estrangement from his own family is both exacerbated and caused by unlikable qualities from his father's boorish drunkenness to Steve's abusive behavior to his mother Eliza's self-centeredness. She is focused on a miserliness that builds a material fortune but does nothing for Eugene. With all his struggles Eugene remains detached from family and home; he seeks some solace with another family, the Leonards, and finds an "angel" in Margaret Leonard. But the stone angels outside his home remain a symbol that has warmth only in an ironical sense.

Wolfe writes near the end of the book that Eugene "stood for the last time by the angels of his father's porch . . . like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left, yet does not say 'The town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges" (p 508). This is where his true destiny lies. This, perhaps, is a place where he will no longer feel the pangs of isolation or, perhaps, it is merely a dream of a destiny denied as yet. For this reader it is not unlike the statement of another young man, Stephen Dedalus, who at the end of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man says, "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." ( )
  jwhenderson | Jun 7, 2015 |

I spent a pleasant couple of weeks with this 500 page classic of American literature. I really enjoyed it, but then again I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories. This one is perhaps a bit loftier than most, and goes beyond just the coming-of-age theme, but at the heart of it all, that's what it is. It is also the story of a family, an odd and morbid Southern family full of quirky members, including my favorite, Ben Gant. I quickly became enamored with his constant scowling and stock response of "Oh, for God's sake. Listen to this, won't you?" as he nods to his invisible Angel. Wolfe's dense and fanciful prose represents a writing style not often seen in today's literature. Perhaps modern readers don't have the attention span necessary to cope with such detail. But it really resonated with me. I loved how he associated specific repetitive descriptions with different characters. The reader comes to expect certain words and phrases to pop up whenever a particular character appears in the narrative. It's both comforting and satisfying. Wolfe's writing is very self-indulgent, though, and when considering that his fiction is merely thinly-disguised autobiography, it makes me think that he was probably a pretty annoying guy in real life. There are more than a few self-important passages in this book, and he certainly goes off on some questionable tangents. But overall, this is a true American classic, and anyone who would deny it is probably just jealous. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
Read more for its "influence" than its content -- it is wild (NOT raw -- highly edited), and juvenile with an alcoholic father at the center of the first chapters. ( )
  keylawk | Jan 16, 2014 |
I am not sure why I waited so long to pick up Thomas Wolfe. I had seen it on various lists to read, its importance. And so I got to experience something I had not encountered much before. I don't think I have come across someone who could pack as much thought and feeling into a sentence as this man.

The criticisms I have come across about Wolfe's work is that is mostly autobiographical. Maybe so, but it is quite a story in that. The book really to me was about life and death in all its gore and glory. The Gant family, the living portrait of every dysfunctional family past and present. Often reading like poetry it captivated me pretty much from start to finish. I would recommend it to everyone to complete their education on great American literature. ( )
  knightlight777 | Jan 2, 2014 |
Started reading this book on June 2, 1948, on which date I said: "It is smashy and heavy." On June 3 I said: "Look Homeward, Angelis realistic, but more than realistic in its orgy of introspection, its detailed youngness." On June 5 I said: "Look Homeward is spotty--great in spots, although at times not good. The boy, Eugene, was surely quite a guy." When I finished the book I copied some of the stirring language therefrom since I did not own the book I read. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 18, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (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 (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Wolfeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maxwell E. PerkinsIntroductionsecondary 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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The Amazon cover with Peggy Darty as author does not belong with this novel; it goes with the novel she wrote that has the same title.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743297318, Paperback)

The stunning, classic coming-of-age novel written by one of America's foremost Southern writers

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. Wolfe said that Look Homeward, Angel is "a book made out of my life," and his largely autobiographical story about the quest for a greater intellectual life has resonated with and influenced generations of readers, including some of today's most important novelists. Rich with lyrical prose and vivid characterizations, this twentieth-century American classic will capture the hearts and imaginations of every reader.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.

» see all 3 descriptions

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