You Can't Go Home Again

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Overview

George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town he is shaken by the force of the outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and friends feel naked and exposed by the truths they have seen in his book, and their fury drives him from his home. He begins a search for his own identity that takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. At last Webber ...

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You Can't Go Home Again

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Overview

George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town he is shaken by the force of the outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and friends feel naked and exposed by the truths they have seen in his book, and their fury drives him from his home. He begins a search for his own identity that takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. At last Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope.

"If there stills lingers and doubt as to Wolfe's right to a place among the immortals of American letters, this work should dispel it."
Cleveland News

"Wolfe wrote as one inspired. No one of his generation had his command of language, his passion, his energy."
The New Yorker

"You Can't Go Home Again will stand apart from everything else that he wrote because this is the book of a man who had come to terms with himself, who has something profoundly important to say."
New York Times Book Review

Thomas Wolfe's famous last novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Donald Adams
It is also one of the finest pieves of writing that Wolfe ever accomplished. It is a fitting conclution to a book which has the air of nobility about it. This is the story of a man who found himself, in relation to life, in relation to his time.-- Books of the Century; New York Times review, September 1940
From the Publisher
“Wolfe wrote as one inspired. No one in his generation had his command of language, his passion, his energy.” —Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker

You Can’t Go Home Again will stand apart from everthing else that [Wolfe] wrote because this is the book of a man who had come to terms with himself, who was on his wa to mastery of his art, who had something profoundly important to say.” –New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060930059
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1998
  • Series: Perennial Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 720
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Wolfe

One of the most important American writers of his generation, Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) was born in Asheville, North Carolina. His other novels include Of Time and the River and Look Homeward, Angel.

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

Read an Excerpt

0

The Drunken Beggar on Horseback

It was the hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of Aprilin the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York. His eye took in the towering mass of the new hospital at the end of the block, its upper floors set back in terraces, the soaring walls salmon colored in the evening light. This side of the hospital, and directly opposite, was the lower structure of the annex, where the nurses and the waitresses lived. In the restof the block half a dozen old brick houses, squeezed together in a solid row, leaned wearily against each other and showed their backsides to him.

The air was strangely quiet. All the noises of the city were muted here into a distant hum, so unceasing that it seemed to belong to silence. Suddenly, through the open windows at the front of the house came the raucous splutter of a truck starting up at the loading platform of the warehouse across the street. The heavy motor warmed up with a full-throated roar, then there was a grinding clash of gears, and George felt the old house tremble under him as the truck swung out into the street and thundered off. The noise receded, grew fainter,then faded into the general hum, and all was quiet as before.

As George leaned looking out of his back window a nameless happiness welled within him and he shouted over to the waitresses in the hospital annex, who were ironing out as usual their two pairs of drawers and their flimsy little dresses. He heard, as from a great distance, the faint shouts of children playing in the streets, and, near at hand, the low voicesof the people in the houses. He watched the cool, steep shadows, and saw how the evening fight was moving in the little squares of yards, each of which had in it something intimate, familiar, and revealing -- a patch of earth in which a pretty woman had been setting out flowers, working earnestly for hours and wearing a big straw hat and canvas gloves; a little plot of new-sown grass, solemnly watered every evening by a man with a square red face and a bald head; a tittle shed or playhouse or workshop for some business man's spare-time hobby; or a gay-painted table, some easy lounging chairs, and a huge bright-striped garden parasol to cover it, and a good-looking girl who had been sitting there all afternoon reading, with a coat thrown over her shoulders and a tall drink at her side.

Through some enchantment of the quiet and the westering fight and the smell of April in the air, it seemed to George that he knew these people all around him. He loved this old house on Twelfth Street, its red brick walls, its rooms of noble height and spaciousness, its old dark woods and floors that creaked; and in the magic of the moment it seemed to be enriched and given a profound and lonely dignity by all the human beings it had sheltered in its ninety years. The house became like a living presence. Every object seemed to have an animate vitality of its own -- walls, rooms, chairs, tables, even a half wet bath towel hanging from the shower ring above the tub, a coat thrown down upon a chair, and his papers, manuscripts, and books scattered about the room in wild confusion.

The simple joy he felt at being once more a part of such familiar things also contained an element of strangeness and unreality. With a sharp stab of wonder he reminded himself, as he had done a hundred times in the last few weeks, that he had really come home again-home to America, home to Manhattan's swarming rock, and home again to love; and his happiness was faintly edged with guilt when he remembered that less than a year before he had gone abroad in anger and despair, seeking to escape what now he had returned to.

In his bitter resolution of that spring a year ago, he had wanted most of all to get away from the woman he loved. Esther Jack was much older than he, married and living with her husband and grown daughter. But she had given George her love, and given it so deeply, so exclusively, that he had come to feel himself caught as in a trap. It was from that he had wanted to escape-that and the shameful memory of their savage quarrels, and a growing madness in himself which had increased in violence as she had tried to hold him. So he had finally left her and fled to Europe. He had gone away to forget her, only to find that he could not; he had done nothing but think of her all the time. The memory of her rosy, jolly face, her essential goodness, her sure and certain talent, and all the hours that they had spent together returned to torture him with new desire and longing for her.

Thus, fleeing from a love that still pursued him, he had become a wanderer in strange countries. He had traveled through England, France, and Germany, had seen countless new sights and people, and-cursing, whoring, drinking, brawling his way across the continent-had had his head bashed in, some teeth knocked out, and his nose broken in a beer-hall fight. And then, in the solitude of convalescence in a Munich hospital, lying in bed upon his back with his ruined face turned upward toward the ceiling, he had nothing else to do but think. There, at last, he had learned a little sense. There his madness had gone out of him, and for the first time in many years he had felt at peace within himself...

You Can't Go Home Again. Copyright © by Thomas Wolfe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town, he is shaken by the force of outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and life-long friends feel naked and exposed by what they have seen in his books, and their fury drives him from his home.

Outcast, George Webber begins a search for his own identity. It takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of ex-patriots; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. The journey comes full circle when Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope.

Discussion Topics
1. Despite George Webber's belief that he was not influenced by his aunt's puritanical, mountain-clan upbringing, what effects do you think her "endless stories of death and sorrow" had on him? How was his character influenced by his father's abandonment of the family for another woman, and by his mother's death from a broken heart?

2. Of George's editor in the novel it is said, "Fox really has no hope that men will change, that life will ever get much better." What of George? Does he have hope? What does he see in the future for himself and America? How does George's attitude evolve over the course of the novel?

3. Discuss the author's use of the metaphor of the honeycomb throughout the novel and what the image symbolizes. Why do you think he says that "it seemed, then, not only entirely reasonable but even natural that the whole structure of society from top to bottom should be honeycombed with privilege and dishonesty?"

4. What does Wolfe mean when he says of Amy Carletonthat "she had slept with everybody. . . but she has never been promiscuous?" What does he mean when he says, "She had tried everything in life - except living?"

5. What is it about the party and ensuing fire at the Jacks' the causes George to conclude at the end of Book II that his love for Esther is not enough, that his aspirations for a life of wealth and privilege have been all wrong? Why is it that he concludes that privilege and truth - particularly for a writer - are incompatible? Moreover, is he right?

6. Consider the writing-school dictum of "write what you know" in terms of how it relates to George's - and Wolfe's - novel. Has George taken this advice too literally? Can you think of successful novels that have rung true to you, but which contained events that could not possibly have been drawn from the author's personal experience?

7. Within the world depicted in the novel, is social class and position more important than ethnic background and nationality in determining character? Is it true that, as Wolfe says, "one tells a good deal more about a man when one says he is a chemist than when one says he is an Englishman?" Would the same hold true today?

8. Is it possible for a person to eradicate his roots, a step that George deems necessary if, as he says, "a man was to win his ultimate freedom and not be plunged back into savagery and perish utterly from the earth?"

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2001

    A must reader!

    One of the all time best novels of the twentienth century, and definetely one of those books everyone should read. Wolfe digs deep into the character's minds and makes you feel like you konw them. The avid descriptions are like none other, and definetely keeps you hooked until the end. I have to admit, though, that there were soem parts that were too detailed and had no relevance to the novel itself but even with these parts, the book kept me interesting until the last page. It is of a writer, who is banned frome ever returning home again, and instead goes on a world wide journey in search of his identity. It makes you rethink your own life, and that of the people around you. This is definetely one of the all time best books ever written and you should read this without a doubt!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2010

    Content for Thought

    I read this years ago and am revisiting it because I am one that is pondering whether one CAN go home again or not. I have not gotten too far in this version yet, mainly because it is cumbersome. I wish the book was in the old, mass-market style. It's easier to manage and carry. But for content - a classic and a must-read for those who leave home!

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    Posted March 21, 2011

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    Posted January 21, 2010

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    Posted August 3, 2013

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    Posted January 4, 2013

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    Posted April 29, 2009

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    Posted November 7, 2008

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