O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life


The editing of Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, originally titled O Lost, has been the subject of literary argument since its 1929 publication in abridged form as Look Homeward, Angel. At the insistence of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, Wolfe cut the typescript by 22 percent. Sixty-six thousand words were omitted for reasons of propriety and publishing economics, as well as to remove material deemed expendable by Perkins. To be published for the first time on October 3, 2000—the ...
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The editing of Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, originally titled O Lost, has been the subject of literary argument since its 1929 publication in abridged form as Look Homeward, Angel. At the insistence of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, Wolfe cut the typescript by 22 percent. Sixty-six thousand words were omitted for reasons of propriety and publishing economics, as well as to remove material deemed expendable by Perkins. To be published for the first time on October 3, 2000—the centenary of Wolfe's birth—O Lost presents the complete text of the novel's manuscript.

For seventy years Wolfe scholars have speculated about the merits of the unpublished complete work and about the editorial process—particularly the reputed collaboration of Perkins. In order to present this classic novel in its original form as written by Wolfe, the text has been established by Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli from the carbon copy of the typescript and from Wolfe’s pencil manuscript. In addition to restoring passages omitted from Look Homeward, Angel, the editors have corrected errors introduced by the typist and other mistakes in the original text and have explicated problematic readings. An introduction and appendixes—including textual, bibliographical, and explanatory notes—reconstruct Wolfe’s process of creation and place it in the context of the publishing process.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
Some Wolfe lovers believe it will prove just how funny and irreverent Wolfe really was and how Perkins, a prim young editor who never used a curse stronger than "My God!," got hold of one of our country's most ambitious novels and cut out its heart.
Library Journal
ea. vol: Univ. of South Carolina. Oct. 2000 .LIT The University of South Carolina Press is celebrating Wolfe's centenary in grand style with the release of this brace of volumes. Few books in American literature are as shackled to misinformation as 1929's Look Homeward, Angel, with its false legend of a manuscript that could fill everything from a truck to an attic. That ponderous sheaf, in fact, was slightly more than 1100 pages--roughly six inches of paper. To make it more marketable, the manuscript was winnowed down by the House of Scribner into the book the public long has known. Renowned literary scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli and wife Arlyn have reestablished the text from the carbon copy of the original typescript and Wolfe's handwritten manuscript to its intended form under the title O Lost. The reinsertion of expurgated material puts the marrow back in the novel's bones, making for a richer reading experience. Many great works by Wolfe's contemporaries reflect a specific time, but screaming from its pages are themes of suppression of the true self, of lives lived unfulfilled, of familial estrangement, and of placing wealth and status above love, which may make this novel speak louder to today's audience than ever before. The Wolfe-Perkins correspondence presents 251 letters between the writer and editor, roughly two-thirds of which have never been published. The letters serve as a chronicle of Wolfe's near-paternal relationship with Perkins as well as his brief publishing career, which ended with his untimely death from tuberculosis at age 38. Both volumes additionally sport photos, introductions, and several appendixes of scholarly notes. Who says you can't go home again? Wolfe's restored epic is more magnificent than ever and quite ready to take its rightful place among the literary masterpieces of the 20th century. The release of O Lost and To Loot My Life Clean is the literary publishing event of 2000 and the first literary milestone of the 21st century. While the letters volume is more for scholars, O Lost is essential for every public and academic library in the country. Highly recommended.--Michael Rogers, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
The famous first version of Look Homeward, Angel (1929), Wolfe's titanic debut novel that had been whipped into publishable shape by Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins. At least that's the standard version—now challenged by the Bruccolis, who have "established" this "new" text (published to commemorate Wolfe's centenary) and restored 60,00 words Perkins cut from the original manuscript. It's a commonplace that anyone who encounters Wolfe's soaring, rhapsodic autobiographical tale in adolescence can't possibly reread it in adulthood. Well, yes and no. The story of authorial surrogate Eugene Gant's struggle to emerge from the inhibiting shadows of his grandiose alcoholic father and puritanical mother, as well as from the roughhewn provincialism of his North Carolina origins, should still strike responsive chords even in readers understandably put off by Wolfe's efforts to elevate even his characters' pettiness and bawdry to heroic, if not mythic, proportions. As Matthew Bruccoli's (slightly defensive) introduction justly observes, the more generous expanse of O Lost offers richly detailed background information that makes Eugene's "artistic" temperament more credible, and its comparative sexual frankness goes a long way toward explaining the Gants' luridly heightened passions. This most Wordsworthian of all American novels is a very literary book as well, and the restoration of Wolfe's numerous allusions and imitations (to and of Eliot, Conrad, and Joyce, among others) is at best a mixed blessing. Perkins was neither butcher nor prude: perhaps it's fair to say he saw Wolfe as a brilliant regional autobiographical writer, not as a cosmopolitan intellectual attempting atrulyencyclopedic "novel of inclusion." This unabridged version is lumbering and ungainly. It's also filled with gorgeous incidental visionary writing ("Spring was coming on again across the earth like a light sparkle of water spray: all the men who had died were making their strange and lovely return in blossom and flower"). Perhaps you can go home again. A strange and lovely return indeed, for which much thanks to the enterprising Bruccolis. Barry, Lynda THE! GREATEST! OF! MARLYS! Sasquatch (224 pp.) paperback original Sep. 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570033698
  • Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Pages: 694
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe
A larger than life figure -- like his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway -- Thomas Wolfe embodied a particularly American vision of the restless and eager writer, taking in the totality of his life experience and turning it into a gigantic, unwieldy vision in prose. With the publication of his semiautobiographical Look Homeward, Angel in 1929, Wolfe announced his dramatic entrance on the stage of modern fiction; but an early death made his exit sadly premature.


Thomas Wolfe was born on October 3, 1900, among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina, a childhood which he immortalized through the creation of Eugene Gant, the hero of Look Homeward, Angel (1929). Wolfe enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the age of fifteen, determined to become a playwright, but despite the success of his college productions, and later, the plays he wrote during his studies at Harvard University's renowned 47 Workshop, he was unable to interest professional New York producers in his work.

Fearing penury and professional failure, Wolfe was encouraged to turn to the writing of fiction full-time by Aline Bernstein, a set designer for the New York Theatre Guild, with whom Wolfe carried on a five-year affair (and who appears in Wolfe's fiction as the Esther Jack character in The Web and the Rock (1939) and Of Time and the River.) Scribner's legendary Maxwell Perkins was the only editor to appreciate Wolfe's freshman effort, Look Homeward, Angel, and after extensive revisions and collaborative editing sessions, the novel was published in 1929. The largely autobiographical book was received with unequivocal enthusiasm. The residents of Asheville, however, the real-life denizens of this "drab circumstance," rebelled against Wolfe's often-scathing portrayal of his hometown. The public outcry was so great that Wolfe did not return to his hometown for seven years.

Rewarded with commercial success and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wolfe wrote a second autobiographical saga about the life of Eugene Gant, Of Time and the River, in which Eugene, an aspiring novelist, details his travels to Europe. This time, the critics were torn. Wolfe's apparent formlessness was both a constant source of delight and frustration to critics, many of whom felt that Wolfe was pioneering new literary ground, while others insisted that the overweening passion inherent in Wolfe's rambling narratives betrayed the author's immaturity and solipsism.

Furthermore, Wolfe's intimate collaboration with his editor, Perkins were often derided by contemporaries, who insisted that Wolfe's inability to master novelistic form without significant editorial assistance rendered him artistically deficient. The rancorous extent of the criticism led to Wolfe's eventual break with Perkins, and in 1927, Wolfe signed with Edward C. Aswell at Harper. Yet Aswell had no less significant a role in reshaping and trimming Wolfe's future works than Perkins did previously.

The early part of 1938 found Wolfe in Brooklyn, this time writing with a new social agenda. Agreeing with some of his critics that his earlier work was indeed too egocentric, Wolfe rechristened Eugene Gant as George "Monk" Webber, and embarked on writing a new novel dedicated to exploring worldwide social and political ills. This mammoth undertaking, after gargantuan editorial efforts on the part of Aswell, would be published posthumously, and as two novels, The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940), as well as The Hills Beyond (1941), a collection which contained short fiction, a play, and a novella.

Wolfe's development as a novelist was truncated by his sudden death at the age of thirty-eight, yet the progression of his novels showcases Wolfe's ever-evolving capacities as a writer. Navigating his way from self-obsessed chronicler of his own adolescence to sophisticated assessor of the adolescence of America itself, Wolfe was a writer who grew up in step with the country that both made him and maddened him. He died in 1938.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Clayton Wolfe (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 3, 1900
    2. Place of Birth:
      Asheville, North Carolina
    1. Date of Death:
      September 15, 1938
    2. Place of Death:
      Baltimore, Maryland

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2000

    Wolfe at his best!

    Wolfe at his best. A must buy for any fan of Thomas Wolfe. My only regret is that I had to wait this long for the release of this work of art.

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