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There can be little doubt that a Thomas Wolfe renaissance has begun. The year 1987 saw publication of six important books about him, including a bibliography of primary sources, and next year will see the appearance of a secondary source bibliography, the first in twenty years. Each of the two works under review here complements the other as a valuable source of Wolfe scholarship.
Professor Field's book undoubtedly was stimulated by the assertion in the early 1980s by John Halberstadt, and widely publicized, that Wolfe's second editor, Edward C. Aswell, altered the three posthumous books, The Web and the Rock, You Can't Go Home Again, and The Hills Beyond, so greatly that he, not Wolfe, should be considered their real author. Professor Field summarizes the controversy, which has come to be known as "Wolfegate." Richard S. Kennedy of Temple University, a noted Wolfe scholar, commented upon Aswell's "creative editing," which he found acceptable, in The Window of Memory, back in 1962. Clearly what was needed in the 1980s was a careful study of the manuscripts of these two books edited by Mr. Aswell and published after Wolfe's death. Now the manuscripts have received this scrutiny by Professor Field, who agrees with Professor Kennedy in defending Mr. Aswell's editing.
Professor Field has divided his book into three parts: "Writing and Editing," "Cameo Test Cases," and "Thomas Wolfe and His Editors." Notes, a bibliography, and an index round out the work. Scattered throughout are photographs of manuscript pages, of the typed final drafts, and of Wolfe, Maxwell Perkins, Elizabeth Nowell (Wolfe's agent), and Mr. Aswell. In his Preface Field states: "This study should once and for all dispel the myth that Thomas Wolfe's posthumous publications were written by his last editor, Edward C. Aswell. Internal evidence and newly discovered letters prove that Wolfe was the writer, [End Page 628] Aswell the editor: the posthumous publications are authentic Wolfe works." This last assertion is repeated in varying language at the close of several chapters to emphasize Professor Field's belief in the essential propriety of Mr. Aswell's editing. In researching the project, Professor Field examined the Wolfe papers at the Houghton Library of Harvard University and at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Professor Field's technique has been to examine closely what he calls "cameo cases," typical passages from each of the posthumous books. Any other procedure would have been impossibly burdensome. Of "The Quarrel" section of The Web and the Rock he notes:
As we go from first manuscript to final draft to printed text, the additions and word substitutions seern to be by Wolfe. And much material has beeen rearranged editorially by Wolfe himself. The hand of the rearranger and reviser is not always completely evident, and yet there are clues. Wolfe's crossings out are bold, unruly; his additions are readily apparent, as are the bold directions for inserting this or that passage.
Presumably this is typical of the huge manuscript as a whole. If one examines the manuscript and typescript carefully, says Professor Field, one will find that Wolfe's overall plan was followed quite well.
A fair amount of the material in this book, for instance, Chapter Four, "An Editor Discards," is likely to be of interest only to the Wolfe specialist. The casual reader will almost certainly read selectively.
Professor Idol's book, although presumably meant for the less knowledgeable reader of Wolfe, nonetheless contains material of use to the experienced scholar. We have in mind his listing of some scholarly studies that should be made: "The study of Wolfe's indebtedness has been explored piecemeal . . . but a study . . . to determine how and why Wolfe drew on his Anglo-Irish American forebears is sorely needed. Such a study could also delve into his forays into French, German, and Russian literature. Tracing Wolfe's place in the tradition of Western letters has . . . been a favorite pastime of many Wolfe...