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Thomas Wolfe Richard S. Kennedy, ed. Beyond Love and Lovalt1•: The Letters of Thomas Wolfe and El;:abetlz Nowell. Chapel Hill: Universityof North Carolina Press, 1983. 164 + xxiipp. Suzanne Stutman, ed. My Other Loneliness: Lette1sof Thomas Woije and Aline Bernstein. Foreword by Richard S. Kennedy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983. 390 + xxii pp. Thomas Wolfe. The Autobiography ofan American Novelist. Ed. Leslie Field. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. 152 + xii pp. Thomas Wolfe. Welcome to Our Citv: A Playin Ten Scenes. Ed. Richard S.Kennedy. BatonRouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. 132 + xii pp. Eugene McNamara It has been almost fifty years since the death of Thomas Wolfe and the case has not been settled yet. The publication of these four books indicates that thejury is still out and asking for more evidence. Vexing questions continue to nag: Wolfe was accused of using real people and incidents in his fiction and doing very little to disguise them. The results included, besides adverse criticism, death threats and lawsuits. As Robert Penn Warren put it in "The Hamlet of Thomas Wolfe," Shakespeare wrote Hamlet but was not that character. Wolfe,Warren asserted, wasalways his main character. Wolfe's reply in the 1935"Making of a Book" speech to students at the University of Colorado was that "any serious work ofcreation is of necessity autobiographical and ...fewmore autobiographical works than Gulliver's Travels have ever been written." 1 This speech was expanded and shaped into The Sto,y of a Novel, which Richard S. Kennedy has included in The Autobiography of an American Novelist along with "Writing and Living," a talk Wolfe gave at Purdue University in the spring of 1938. Both pieces reveal that Wolfe was no fabulous naif, a word-gusher who plundered his own family and neighbors for incidents and characters. He was very much aware of the literary tradition or, perhaps, of the lack of one. In The St01y of a Novel he used a Narcissus on Narcissus approach, setting out in a simple, clear manner the stages of his growth as a writer. He sketched out the early environmental influences, Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1985,115-121 116 Eugene McNamara looked back at his juvenile attempts, at the failed efforts to get his plays produced, and finally explored his crucial turning to prose fiction. He is equally clear and candid about his strengths and weaknesses. Yes,he tended to over-tell a story; but he was not a Flaubertian writer: "I don't know how I became a writer, but I think it was because of a certain force in me that had to write and that finally, like some kind of energy or torrent or pent power, burst through and found a channel" (p. 6). The problem he faced was how to harness this unconscious drive and give it fictional shape. He admitted that his initial efforts tended to be too closeto their life sources. But he asserted that, since his home environment was largely non-literary and American writers had no firm tradition to fall back on, he had to find his own way through trial and error. He felt that he had to depend on his strengths to overbalance the weaknesses. And what he did possess was a tenacious memory and an amazing array of stored-up sense impressions. Add to these a prodigious capacity for hard work. The work, trial and error, was a process of discovery, He speaks of "plan," of "structure," "articulation," "central legend," a "language." Obviouslyhe wasstillstung by Bernard De Voto's attack in "Genius isNot Enough." De Voto held that Wolfe was no novelist, that he was capable of fine lyrical passages but that the passages had no narrative coherence. What art did exist in the novels, De Voto asserted, was the result of Maxwell Perkins and the Scribner's editorial staff. Wolfe was merely a rhetorician. Yes, Wolfe answered, he did not know what a novelist was or what a novel was. But he was striving to do something radically new, different from the main tradition of prose fiction. Even if he were fully aware of his problems, he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 115-121
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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