The Right Stuff: I'll Miss My Friend Tom Wolfe

By MacArthur, John R. | The Spectator, May 19, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Right Stuff: I'll Miss My Friend Tom Wolfe


MacArthur, John R., The Spectator


I'll miss my friend Tom Wolfe

To some, Tom Wolfe's death might seem a greater loss for readers on the right wing of American culture and politics, since he viewed himself as a conservative, very much in keeping with his upbringing in the Richmond, Virginia, of the 1930s and 1940s. His gentleman's manners and soft-spoken demeanour recalled another era -- a class-defined and racially segregated world of courtliness and formal collars. Wolfe famously picked on liberal targets throughout his remarkable career: his most savage satires addressed the pretensions of leftish icons from Leonard Bernstein to, most recently, Noam Chomsky.

'Radical Chic', his essay about infiltrating Leonard Bernstein's party for the Black Panthers and Upper East Side liberal fashion in the late 1960s, still looms over Manhattan social life all these years later (no New York host or hostess ever wants a Tom Wolfe-type reporter sneaking into their fancy fund-raising party again), and it can still make you laugh out loud.

As a left-wing liberal, I feel the loss as acutely as anyone, since Wolfe was no conventional right-winger. On the contrary, he was a radical reporter and thinker of the sort we rarely see any more in America, which is becoming hidebound and politically correct, on both the right and the left, to the point of suffocation. In this, he was the most classic of liberals, open-minded, curious and willing to debate any issue. Over the nearly 40 years I knew him, Tom was never an ideologue and thus never dull-minded. He was always the arch opponent of orthodoxy in all its forms. That I could disagree with him completely about, say, the Vietnam War or the welfare state never lessened my admiration of his hostility to cant.

Wolfe's literary and journalistic exemplar was Emile Zola, a reform-minded liberal who made the effort to learn about the real environments in which he placed his imaginary characters, whether they were poor and dispossessed or rich and ruthless. Wolfe liked to cite Zola's extensive research for Germinal, the story of a miners' strike, which included a visit by Zola to a working coal mine. Why couldn't contemporary American novelists do this kind of reporting, Wolfe demanded to know of the literary establishment.

Not that he made the poor his cause. But his point was validated when he stunned the literary world with his first and most successful novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. To write it, Wolfe learned the ins and outs of the Bronx criminal courthouse -- the whole cast of judges, lawyers, clerks, defendants and cops -- with an eye to detail that made his plot ring with authenticity. He was able to describe the high and the low of New York society without resorting to what he called the 'absurdist' anti-realistic approach to fiction that he claimed had been incubated in universities. In 'Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast', his much-attacked 1989 essay in Harper's Magazine, he wrote, 'By the mid-1960s the conviction was not merely that the realist was no longer possible but that American life itself no longer deserved the term real. …

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

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
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Right Stuff: I'll Miss My Friend Tom Wolfe
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?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
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.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, 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." (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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.