Thomas Wolfe and Germany: Modernism and Anti-Anti-Semitism in "Dark in the Forest, Strange as Time" and "I Have a Thing to Tell You"

By Meindl, Dieter | Thomas Wolfe Review, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Thomas Wolfe and Germany: Modernism and Anti-Anti-Semitism in "Dark in the Forest, Strange as Time" and "I Have a Thing to Tell You"


Meindl, Dieter, Thomas Wolfe Review


In memoriam Lawrence D. Stokes

Thomas Wolfe's interest in Germany was rooted in fairy tales, an early admiration of Goethe, and his father's Pennsylvania Dutch descent. It kept growing during his European trips, all of which but the first in 1924-25 took him to Germany. Of his six visits there between 1926 and 1936, it was the last one, in 1936, that opened his eyes to the evil of Nazism, ending his love affair with Germany--father's land and second fatherland--on a somber note.

In his fiction Wolfe deals with Germany in stories and parts of novels. A veritable mystique of Germany suffuses "Dark in the Forest, Strange as Time," a story published in 1934. (1) The "Oktoberfest" section of The Web and the Rock (1939), Wolfe's first posthumous novel, occupies an intermediate position: George Webber, Wolfe's surrogate and protagonist (as well as focalizing fictional character), becomes immersed in the conviviality of the Munich fair, but also criticizes its brutish features, which are apt to strike the post-World War II and post-Holocaust reader as symbolically prophetic. (2) A day of reckoning with Germany is presented in "I Have a Thing to Tell You," published as a story in 1937 and--in a revised version provided with an additional opening chapter derived from Wolfe's 1936 visit to Berlin--as book 6 of his second posthumous novel, You Can't Go Home Again (1940). (3) In both "Dark in the Forest, Strange as Time" and "I Have a Thing to Tell You," the focal character is a German Jew who meets his fate in Germany. Strictly speaking, each character does so still in Germany, on a train moving through and out of it. Thus, both texts feature a space moving through external space, a configuration suggestive of the outsider status of Jewish travelers whose lives are claimed by the country they fail to leave. (4) The two texts reflect the role of Germany in Wolfe's modernism. The earlier story is expressive of the rise of his modernist vision. The later text indicates a modification of Wolfe's modernism through an increasingly society- and politics-oriented outlook referable in part to his confrontation with German anti-Semitism and his own.

"To reestablish Wolfe's importance to literary modernism" (Holliday 5) seems an urgent critical task. Speaking of his and Wolfe's writing, William Faulkner laid claim to all-inclusiveness: "We tried to crowd and cram everything, all experience, into each paragraph"; he credited Wolfe with an attempt "to do the greatest of the impossible ... to reduce all human experience to literature" (Meriwether and Millgate 107, 81). Referring to Proust and Joyce, Jean-Francois Lyotard strikes a similar note. He anchors their modernism in ideas that resist representation: "We have the Idea of the world (the totality of what is), but we do not have the capacity to show an example of it" (78). The present writer considers the totality of what is--life in its totality and change--the metanarrative of modernism. But where would such a holistic impulse have come from? Unfolding the etiology of modernism, too much use has been made of post factum postmodern patterns of thought. In "The Metaphysics of Modernism," Michael Bell claims that the "recognition of the self-grounding character of the human world is the truest meaning of the modernist myth," which he defines "as an emblem of the human world as self-created" (14). In a more historical perspective, it would seem modernism grew out of the fin de siecle collapse of other-world-oriented Christian faith, which impelled writers to suggest what was left--all of life, life as such--through their art, which became their new religion or formalistic creed. With modernism, language was foregrounded not primarily because it "was now seen to form [the world]" (Bell 16), but because it had to assume the all but impossible task of conveying life as a whole. Closely considered, life, the entire existential dimension, defines itself against the mind--always a mind, single and subjective--and hence against speech, spoken or written, which is the phenomenological form language takes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Thomas Wolfe and Germany: Modernism and Anti-Anti-Semitism in "Dark in the Forest, Strange as Time" and "I Have a Thing to Tell You"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.