The Party at Jack's: A Novella

Overview

In the summer of 1937, Thomas Wolfe was in the North Carolina mountains revising a piece about a party and subsequent fire at the Park Avenue penthouse apartment of the fictional Esther and Frederick Jack. He wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Nowell, 'I think it is now a single thing, as much a single thing as anything I've ever written.' Abridged and edited versions of the story were published twice, as a novella in Scribner's Monthly (May 1939) and as part of You Can't Go Home Again (1940). Now Suzanne Stutman and ...

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Overview

In the summer of 1937, Thomas Wolfe was in the North Carolina mountains revising a piece about a party and subsequent fire at the Park Avenue penthouse apartment of the fictional Esther and Frederick Jack. He wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Nowell, 'I think it is now a single thing, as much a single thing as anything I've ever written.' Abridged and edited versions of the story were published twice, as a novella in Scribner's Monthly (May 1939) and as part of You Can't Go Home Again (1940). Now Suzanne Stutman and John Idol have worked from manuscript sources at Harvard University to reconstruct The Party at Jack's as outlined by Wolfe before his death. Here, in its untruncated state, Wolfe's novella affords a significant glimpse of a Depression-era New York inhabited by Wall Street wheelers and dealers and the theatrical and artistic elite. Wolfe describes the Jacks and their social circle with lavish attention to mannerisms and to clothing, furnishings, and other trappings of wealth and privilege. The sharply drawn contrast between the decadence of the party-goers and the struggles of the working classes in the streets below reveals Wolfe's gifts as both a writer and a sharp social critic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Aside from Tom Wolfe . . . and Norman Mailer, no stylist today takes as big a bite out of the American landscape.
—Kirkus Reviews

Wolfe's tale, replete with his especially lovely language, can stand on its own despite a few flaws.
—Library Journal

I think it is now a single thing, as much a single thing as anything I've ever written.
&#151Thomas Wolfe, to his agent, Elizabeth Nowell

A significant, addition to the Wolfe texts that have been appearing under this publisher's imprint.
—Choice

Written in Thomas Wolfe's characteristically rhapsodic style.
—New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thomas Wolfe meets Tom Wolfe at last. Remember the Park Avenue penthouse party where the hoity-toity crowd gathered in The Bonfire of the Vanities? Here we're at that same party, without Tom W.'s humor-and without a story. Instead, Thomas W. gives us a cubistic painting of the building itself, from the penthouse to the subway trains beneath that tie the building to the whole U.S. economy, with portraits of the wealthy who inhabit the place, all rendered in prose of a density peculiar to this novella among his works. Those who loved Bonfire are likely to hate Jack's because of its literary daring, with entertainment a secondary consideration. Yet it is of note as the only example in all of Wolfe that shows his mastery of an experimental form he derived from Joyce. Written and revised during 1930-1936, this work first appeared in far shorter form in Scribner's monthly and in You Can't Go Home Again. Comparison with that novel shows that the present editors, both Wolfe scholars, have gone back to the original and presented him at his most expressive. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Those familiar with Wolfe's work will recognize this title as a chapter heading in You Can't Go Home Again. In different forms, the work appeared as a novella in Scribner's Monthly and as part of the above-mentioned novel, but the editors have worked with manuscripts and letters to re-create it as they claim Wolfe intended. The central characters are the wealthy immigrant businessman Frederick Jack (note the play on the slang for money) and his Broadway show designer wife, Esther, both voluptuaries in their own way. Various "types" are satirized (the insipid "Piggy" London is a wonderful creation), and the party itself becomes the central character in a type of drawing-room comedy with a sharp edge. The editors offer an academic-style introduction to set the book in the context of Wolfe's life and work, though Wolfe's tale, replete with his especially lovely language, can stand on its own despite a few flaws. Highly recommended, especially for literary collections.-Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807849576
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 4/17/1995
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 0.63 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Wolfe

Suzanne Stutman is professor of English, American studies, and women's studies at Penn State Abington. She is editor of The Good Child's River, a Wolfe novel, and My Other Loneliness: Letters of Thomas Wolfe and Aline Bernstein. John L. Idol, Jr., is emeritus professor of English at Clemson University. His books include A Thomas Wolfe Companion.

John L. Idol, Jr., is emeritus professor of English at Clemson University. His books include A Thomas Wolfe Companion.

Biography

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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 9, 2013

    It is entirely possible for a book to be wonderfully-written and

    It is entirely possible for a book to be wonderfully-written and poorly-edited.  If you don't believe me, read this book. 
    It took me three days to read this 240-page novella.  I had to read some sentences, paragraphs, and even pages over a few times to gain clarity and understanding.  Repetition of phrases can be a useful device for emphasis or effect, however, if over-used, the effect became annoying.  I think the daughter's name was changed somewhere about a third of the way through the book, and then back again toward the end of the book, only for the daughter to disappear altogether by the close of the book.  The first few chapters, told from Mr. Jack's viewpoint, did not really fit with the rest of the book, told from Mrs. Jack's viewpoint.  It is fine to switch viewpoints, but I needed a bit of help to get from the fire to the return of Mr. Jack to his childhood home.
    I can't fault Thomas Wolfe; first of all, because he IS Thomas Wolfe, but more importantly, he hadn't finished writing this book before he died.  So, while I am happy the The Party at Jack's has seen the light of day, I would have preferred that someone with a stronger ear for Thomas Wolfe had edited it.

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