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Thomas Wolfe (Thomas Clayton Wolfe) Biography

(1900–38), (Thomas Clayton Wolfe), Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River

American novelist, born in Asheville, educated at the University of North Carolina and at Harvard. Wolfe then settled in New York where he taught and wrote several small plays which attracted the attention of Aline Bernstein, the stage designer and actress, who subsequently became a significant influence on his life. Look Homeward, Angel (1929), a moving semi-autobiographical work representing the Southern family life of the Gants, revealed Wolfe's stylistic debts to Joyce, Dreiser, and other contemporaries. The saga of the Gants continues with Of Time and the River (1935), in which the earlier and more slender A Portrait of Bascom Hawke (1932) was absorbed; and the posthumous The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940), which were compiled by Edward C. Aswell from manuscripts left at Wolfe's death. These four works mirror Wolfe's own harrowing progress from the South to the North, to Europe and then back again. In a prose that ranges from brisk narrative to long meditative reflections, the escape from the ensnaring web of social experience and the search for the solid rock of personal strength function as the organizing symbolic structure. As well as these major contributions to American fiction, he also wrote many short stories, which were collected in From Death to Morning (1935) and The Hills Beyond (posthumously published in 1941), incorporating striking scenes of city life as in ‘Only the Dead Know Brooklyn’. ‘Poetical’ extracts from his fiction were collected in The Face of a Nation (1939) and A Stone, A Leaf, A Door (1945). At its best his prose has a lyrical quality more easily associated with poetry. In the critical study The Story of a Novel (1936), he described his own creative processes and his working relationship with the editor Maxwell Perkins, who exerted a strong influence on Wolfe. Since his death The Letters of Thomas Wolfe (1956, edited by Elizabeth Nowell) and the final novel, The Lost Boy (1965), have appeared.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Woking Surrey to Æ