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Look Homeward, Angel  
LookHomewardAngel.jpg
First edition cover
Author Thomas Wolfe
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) Coming of Age
Genre(s) Bildungsroman
Publisher Charles Scribner's Sons
Publication date 1929
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 544 pp
OCLC Number 220422413

Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life is a 1929 novel by Thomas Wolfe. It is Wolfe's first novel, and is considered a highly autobiographical American Bildungsroman.[1] The character of Eugene Gant is generally believed to be a depiction of Wolfe himself. The novel covers the span of time from Gant's birth to the age of 19. The setting is the fictional town and state of Altamont, Catawba, which is considered to be a not-so-subtle mirror of his hometown, Asheville, North Carolina. Playwright Ketti Frings wrote a theatrical adaptation of Wolfe's work in a 1957 play of the same title.

Contents

History

It is believed that a stone statue of an angel, found in a Hendersonville, North Carolina, cemetery, looking to the east was the partial inspiration for the novel. A historic marker located on Highway 64, or 6th Avenue West in Hendersonville, at an entrance to Oakdale Cemetery, contains this information.

The title comes from the John Milton poem Lycidas:

"Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth."

(163-164)

Wolfe's original title was The Building of a Wall[2], which he later changed to O Lost.[3]

Wolfe began the novel in 1926, intending to delve into "the strange and bitter magic of life." The novel was written over 20 months. On the novel's completion, Wolfe gave the vast manuscript to Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins. Though Perkins was impressed with the young author's talent, he demanded that the novel be revised and condensed to a publishable size. The two sat down and worked through it together. After being trimmed by 60,000 words, the novel was published in 1929. Wolfe later became insecure about the editing process, feeling that the novel was almost as much Perkins' as his own. This led to an estrangement between the two, resulting in Wolfe leaving Scribner. Wolfe later made amends with Perkins, prior to the former's death in 1938. To rebut critics' suggestions that the novel lacked greatness until Perkins edited it, the original unedited version was published in 2000.[4][5]

Descriptions of Altamont, Catawba, in Wolfe's autobiographical novel are based on Asheville, North Carolina,[1] and the descriptions of people and family led to further estrangement, this time between Wolfe and many in his hometown of Asheville. He has even been reported to have received some death threats from residents of Asheville.

The boarding house run by Eugene Gant's mother, based on one run by Wolfe's mother, has been called "the most famous boardinghouse in American fiction."[1]

Style

Wolfe is often characterized as an romantic due to the power of his emotionally-charged, often sprawling style. Look Homeward, Angel is written in a "stream of consciousness" narrative, somewhat after the fashion of James Joyce and Cormac McCarthy, though arguably less professionally polished.

Plot

The book is divided into three parts, with a total of forty chapters. The first 90 pages of the book deal with an early biography of Gant's parents, very closely based on the actual history of Wolfe's own mother and father. It begins with his father, Oliver's decision to become a stone cutter after seeing a statue of a stone angel.

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Part One

Oliver Gant's first marriage ends in tragedy, and he becomes a raging alcoholic afterwards, which becomes his major struggle throughout his life. He eventually remarries after roaming the countryside, builds his new wife a house, and commences to start a family. The couple is beset with tragedy, as their first daughter dies of cholera at two months old, while two more die during childbirth. In the wake of these losses, Oliver is sent to Richmond for a "cure," to little success and becomes abusive to his family at times, threatening to kill his second wife Eliza (Eugene Gant's mother) in one drunken incident. The two remain together, however, and have a total of six surviving children, with the oldest, Steve, born in 1894.

Eugene's father is drunk downstairs while his mother gives birth to him in a difficult labor. Oliver Gant forms a special bond with his son from early on. He begins to gets his drinking under control, save for occasional binges, though his marriage becomes strained as Eliza's patience with him grows thinner. By the fifth chapter they are no longer sleeping in the same bedroom. Though, during all this time he is especially fond of his youngest son, Eugene, with whom he makes a special bond.

Despite his flaws, Oliver Gant is the family's quaystone, reading Shakespeare, having his daughter Helen read poetry, and keeping great fires burning in the house, symbolic of him as a source of warmth for the family. His gusto is the source of energy and strength for the family. Shortly after this, he journeys to California for the last time, returning home to the joy of his family. At this point Eugene is six years old and begins to attend school. He has a love of books and is a bright young boy, much to the pride of both his parents. His mother continues to baby him, unwilling to see him grow up; She does not cut his hair, even though he is teased about its length by the other boys.

During this portion of the book his early education takes place, including several incidents of trouble with his teachers. The book begins to deal with his racial views in the deep South at the turn of the century. Wolfe's treatment of race has been the basis of strong attacks by critics.[2]

Critical reputation

Look Homeward, Angel was published in 1929 to generally positive reviews in North America, most praising the author's brilliance and emotional power.[3] One review called it a "sensation", and described it as having struck the literary world by storm[4]. Despite the novel's enduring popularity, Wolfe's work has since come to be viewed by many literary critics (among them the preeminent Americans in the field,Harold Bloom and James Wood) as undisciplined and largely "formless autobiography".[5] According to Jonathan W. Daniels, those critics simply (and fatuously) wished that "Tom Wolfe's big sprawling powerful pouring prose would have been served in neater packages of sweeter stuff."[6]

Bibliography

  • Wolfe, Thomas (1929). Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life. New York: Randon House. OCLC 220422413. 

References

External Links

Novelguide.com: Look Homward Angel


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