Thomas Wolfe's Civil War / Edition 2

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Overview

An anthology of Thomas Wolfe’s short stories, novel excerpts, and plays illuminating the Civil War.

This collection of Thomas Wolfe’s writings demonstrates the centrality of the Civil War to Wolfe’s literary concerns and identity. From Look Homeward, Angel to The Hill Beyond and The Web and the Rock, Wolfe perpetually returned to the themes of loss, dissolution, sorrow, and romance engendered in the minds of many southerners by the Civil War and its lingering aftermath. His characters reflect time and again on Civil War heroes and dwell on ghostlike memories handed down by their mothers, fathers, and grandfathers. Wolfe and his protagonists compare their contemporary southern landscape to visions they have conjured of its appearance before and during the war, thereby merging the past with the present in an intense way. Ultimately, Wolfe’s prose style—incantatory and rhapsodic—is designed to evoke the national tragedy on an emotional level.

Selections of Wolfe’s writings in this collection include short stories ("Chickamauga," "Four Lost Men," "The Plumed Knight"), excerpts from his novels (O Lost, the restored version of Look Homeward, Angel, The Hills Beyond, and Of Time and the River) and a play, Mannerhouse, edited and introduced by David Madden. Madden, who makes the provocative claim that everything a southern writer writes derives from the Civil War experience, also highlights many issues essential to understanding Wolfe’s absorption with the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wolfe’s perspective of seeing the Civil War and its aftermath from the eyes of his Tar Heel mother and his Pennsylvania father gives a special coloring and tone to his treatment of that terrible period in American history. . . . Madden serves Wolfe well here as he is both a skilled writer and a knowledgeable Civil War historian."--John Idol, author of A Thomas Wolfe Companion and Literary Masters: Thomas Wolfe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817350949
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Series: Fire Ant Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Wolfe

David Madden is Founding Director of the United States Civil War Center and Donald and Velvia Crumbley Professor of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University. Founder of the Civil War Book Review, he has authored or edited more than forty books, including Classics of Civil War Fiction, and The Suicide’s Wife, which was made into a CBS movie.

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

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 From O lost 56
2 From The web of earth 84
3 From Mannerhouse : prologue and act 4 88
4 From Of time and the river 112
5 The four lost men 122
6 From The good child's river 144
7 His father's earth 161
8 Chickamauga 173
9 The plumed knight 203
The works of Thomas Wolfe included in this collection 215
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