Thomas Wolfe

Wolfe, Thomas Clayton

Thomas Clayton Wolfe, 1900–1938, American novelist, b. Asheville, N.C., grad. Univ. of North Carolina, 1920, M.A. Harvard, 1922. An important 20th-century American novelist, Wolfe wrote four mammoth novels, which, while highly autobiographical, present a sweeping picture of American life. He was the son of William Oliver Wolfe, a stonecutter, and Julia Westall Wolfe, a boardinghouse keeper and speculator in real estate. Wolfe's early, insistent efforts to become a playwright met with frustration and failure. In 1924 he became an instructor at New York Univ., teaching there until 1930; thereafter he wrote mostly in New York City or abroad. During the late 1920s he was closely associated with Aline Bernstein (the "Esther Jack" of his novels), a noted theatrical designer, who was a major influence in his adult life.

In 1929, under the rigorous editorial guidance of Maxwell Perkins, he published his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. After the appearance of its sequel, Of Time and the River (1935), he broke with Perkins and signed a contract with Harper & Brothers, with Edward Aswell as his editor. After Wolfe died at 38 from complications following pneumonia, Aswell arranged from the material left at Wolfe's death two novels—The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940)—and a volume of stories and fragments, The Hills Beyond (1941). Wolfe's other publications include From Death to Morning (1935), a collection of short stories; and The Story of a Novel (1936), a record of how he wrote his second book.

Wolfe's works compose a picture, left somewhat incomplete by his premature death. They describe the life of a youth from the rural South through his education to his career in New York City as a teacher and writer. Wolfe's major theme was almost always himself—his own inner and outer existence—his gropings, his pain, his self-discovery, and his endless search for an enduring faith. He was obsessed by memory, time, and location, and his novels convey a brilliant sense of place. His writing is characterized by a lyrical and dramatic intensity, by the weaving and reweaving of a web of sensuous images, and by rhapsodic incantations.

See his letters, ed. by E. Nowell (1956); his letters to A. Bernstein, ed. by S. Stutman (1983); To Loot My Life Clean: The Thomas Wolfe–Maxwell Perkins Correspondence (2000), ed. by M. J. Bruccoli and P. Bucker; O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life (2000), a restored version of Look Homeward Angel, ed. by A. and M. J. Bruccoli; biographies by A. Turnbull (1967), N. F. Austin (1968), and D. H. Donald (1987); studies by R. S. Kennedy (1962), L. Field (1988), and J. L. Idol, Jr. (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Thomas Wolfe: Selected full-text books and articles

Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His Youth By Louis D. Rubin Jr Louisiana State University Press, 1955
Thomas Wolfe at Washington Square By Thomas Clark Pollock; Oscar Cargill New York University Press, 1954
The Web and the Rock By Thomas Wolfe Harper & Brothers, 1939
Carolina Folk-Plays By Frederick H. Koch Henry Holt, 1941
Librarian’s tip: "The Return of Buck Gavin: The Tragedy of a Mountain Outlaw" by Thomas Wolfe begins on p. 113
O Lost: A Family History By Roberts, Terry The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1, Winter 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Narrative Discourse of Thomas Wolfe's "I Have a Thing to Tell You." By Idol, John L., Jr Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter 1993
Tom Wolfe's Epictetus By Dougherty, Jude P The World and I, Vol. 15, No. 2, February 2000
Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature By Thomas Reed Whissen Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "Look Homeward, Angel" begins on p. 135
American Literature and the Dream By Frederic I. Carpenter Philosophical Library, 1955
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Thomas Wolfe: The Autobiography of an Idea"
Creativity in Context: Update to the Social Psychology of Creativity By Teresa M. Amabile; Mary Ann Collins; Regina Conti; Elise Phillips; Martha Picariello; John Ruscio; Dean Whitney Westview Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Thomas Wolfe. The Pressure of Success" p. 14
The Influence of Modernist Structure on the Short Fiction of Thomas Wolfe By Bentz, Joseph Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 1994
Fifty Southern Writers after 1900: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook By Joseph M. Flora; Robert Bain Greenwood Press, 1987
Librarian’s tip: "Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)" begins on p. 535
The Faraway Country: Writers of the Modern South By Louis Decimus Rubin University of Washington Press, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Thomas Wolfe: Time and the South"
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