Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

A First Edition That Isn't, Exactly: An Addendum to Carol Johnston's Bibliographical Entries on Thomas Wolfe's from Death to Morning

Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

A First Edition That Isn't, Exactly: An Addendum to Carol Johnston's Bibliographical Entries on Thomas Wolfe's from Death to Morning

Article excerpt

The reception of Thomas Wolfe's From Death to Morning, both with the critics and in the bookstores, has produced two bibliographical curiosities. Although the bible for the Wolfean bibliophile is Carol Johnston's 1987 bibliography, at the end of her introduction Johnston writes, "A bibliography is outdated the day it goes to the printer. Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited" (xix). This is an addendum.

From Death to Morning, a collection of Wolfe's stories, was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in the fall of 1935 and came on the heels of Of Time and the River published earlier that year. (1) Between publication of the books, Wolfe enjoyed success and recognition in Germany and wrote to Maxwell Perkins in May, "Please don't go too far with the stories before I get there" (462). Despite this caution issued to his editor--who only two months earlier had received a letter from Wolfe complaining that Of Time and the River "like Caesar, was from its mother's womb untimely ripped ..." (446)--Wolfe wrote Martha Dodd in July, one week after his return stateside, "We have a book of stories which are ready and which are coming in October" (478).

Notwithstanding the certainty of publication expressed in Wolfe's letter to Dodd, he wrote Perkins on 12 August from the Writers' Conference in Boulder, Colorado, "Finally, you must not put the manuscript of a book of stories in final form until after my return to New York. If that means the book of stories will have to be deferred till next spring, then they will have to be deferred ..." (485). Wolfe's concern was to guard against those matters of authorship and critical response that had caused him anguish in the experience of publishing Of Time and the River; he proposed "rather to prepare my work in every way possible to meet and refute, if I can, some of the very grave and serious criticisms that were made about the last book" (485). (2) For this task, he claimed to need Perkins's help and explained that, despite the need to attend to the lawsuit with Madeleine Boyd, and before finishing "The October Fair," "we must first do a thorough, honest and satisfactory job upon the book of stories" (485).

In September Wolfe wrote Perkins from Hollywood urging on him "the desirability of getting a good order in the arrangement of the stories" so there is progression to "illustrate the title, 'From Death To Morning'" (486). Wolfe went on to explain that "the stories do have a kind of unity and should be presented with an eye to cumulative effect, as the title ... indicates" (487).

In this same letter to Perkins, Wolfe seemed pleased to know of the existence of collectors interested in his books:

   ... a number of these moving picture people here in
   Hollywood--directors and other executives--know all
   about my work and are collecting it! I have met several
   who have a copy of every story I ever wrote, including
   the college stuff of Chapel Hill days--furthermore,
   they've read it. (487)

While Eugene Gant, in Joel Pierce's mansion, despaired "that all the glory, genius, and magic of a poet's life may lie condensed in six rich bindings ... unused and empty on a rich man's shelf" (Of Time 591), Wolfe's pleasure in his own collectability included the owner's appreciation for what lay between the covers. He was less enthusiastic about collecting per se and had written Stringfellow Barr in 1932, "... I hate the hocus-pocus of professional book collecting; there's something scavenging and stinking about it" (326).

From Death to Morning was ultimately published in 1935, two weeks after October--Wolfe's favorite month--and contained fourteen of his stories that had been published earlier. John L. Idol notes that reception of the book "was mixed," with "unfavorable comments outweigh[ing] the favorable" (81). Richard S. Kennedy writes that the book "perplexed the reviewers" and concludes that, despite some positive reviews, "this collection has not held its place beside Wolfe's novels" (285). …

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