You Can't Go Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again

by Thomas Wolfe

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451650495
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 10/11/2011
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 217,401
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) was educated at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. He taught English at New York University and traveled extensively in Europe and America. Wolfe created his legacy as a classic American novelist with Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; A Stone, a Leaf, a Door; and From Death to Morning.

Date of Birth:

October 3, 1900

Date of Death:

September 15, 1938

Place of Birth:

Asheville, North Carolina

Place of Death:

Baltimore, Maryland

Education:

B.A., University of North Carolina, 1920; M.A., Harvard University, 1922; further graduate study, 1923

Read an Excerpt

You Can’t Go Home Again

1
The Drunken Beggar on Horseback


It was the hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of April in 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 rest of 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 voices of the people in the houses. He watched the cool, steep shadows, and saw how the evening light 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 little 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 light 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 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 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.

For he had learned some of the things that every man must find out for himself, and he had found out about them as one has to find out—through error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood and his own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and confused. As he lay there in the hospital he had gone back over his life, and, bit by bit, had extracted from it some of the hard lessons of experience. Each thing he learned was so simple and obvious, once he grasped it, that he wondered why he had not always known it. All together, they wove into a kind of leading thread, trailing backward through his past, and out into the future. And he thought that now, perhaps, he could begin to shape his life to mastery, for he felt a sense of new direction deep within him, but whither it would take him he could not say.

And what had he learned? A philosopher would not think it much, perhaps, yet in a simple human way it was a good deal. Just by living, by making the thousand little daily choices that his whole complex of heredity, environment, conscious thought, and deep emotion had driven him to make, and by taking the consequences, he had learned that he could not eat his cake and have it, too. He had learned that in spite of his strange body, so much off scale that it had often made him think himself a creature set apart, he was still the son and brother of all men living. He had learned that he could not devour the earth, that he must know and accept his limitations. He realized that much of his torment of the years past had been self-inflicted, and an inevitable part of growing up. And, most important of all for one who had taken so long to grow up, he thought he had learned not to be the slave of his emotions.

Most of the trouble he had brought upon himself, he saw, had come from leaping down the throat of things. Very well, he would look before he leaped hereafter. The trick was to get his reason and his emotions pulling together in double harness, instead of letting them fly off in opposite directions, tearing him apart between them. He would try to give his head command and see what happened: then if head said, “Leap!”—he’d leap with all his heart.

And that was where Esther came in, for he had really not meant to come back to her. His head had told him it was better to let their affair end as it had ended. But no sooner had he arrived in New York than his heart told him to call her up—and he had done it. Then they had met again, and after that things followed their own course.

So here he was, back with Esther—the one thing he had once been sure would never happen. Yes, and very happy to be back. That was the queerest part of it. It seemed, perversely, that he ought to be unhappy to be doing what his reason had told him not to do. But he was not. And that was why, as he leaned there musing on his window sill while the last light faded and the April night came on, a subtle worm was gnawing at his conscience and he wondered darkly at how great a lag there was between his thinking and his actions.

He was twenty-eight years old now, and wise enough to know that there are sometimes reasons of which the reason knows nothing, and that the emotional pattern of one’s life, formed and set by years of living, is not to be discarded quite as easily as one may throw away a battered hat or worn-out shoe. Well, he was not the first man to be caught on the horns of this dilemma. Had not even the philosophers themselves been similarly caught? Yes—and then written sage words about it:

“A foolish consistency,” Emerson had said, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And great Goethe, accepting the inevitable truth that human growth does not proceed in a straight line to its goal, had compared the development and progress of mankind to the reelings of a drunken beggar on horseback.

What was important, perhaps, was not that the beggar was drunk and reeling, but that he was mounted on his horse, and, however unsteadily, was going somewhere.

This thought was comforting to George, and he pondered it for some time, yet it did not altogether remove the edge of guilt that faintly tinged his contentment. There was still a possible flaw in the argument:

His inconsistency in coming back to Esther—was it wise or foolish? . . . Must the beggar on horseback forever reel?

Esther awoke as quick and sudden as a bird. She lay upon her back and stared up at the ceiling straight and wide. This was her body and her flesh, she was alive and ready in a moment.

She thought at once of George. Their reunion had been a joyous rediscovery of love, and all things were made new again. They had taken up the broken fragments of their life and joined them together with all the intensity and beauty that they had known in the best days before he went away. The madness that had nearly wrecked them both had now gone out of him entirely. He was still full of his unpredictable moods and fancies, but she had not seen a trace of the old black fury that used to make him lash about and beat his knuckles bloody against the wall. Since he returned he had seemed quieter, surer, in better control of himself, and in everything he did he acted as if he wanted to show her that he loved her. She had never known such perfect happiness. Life was good.

Outside, on Park Avenue, the people had begun to move along the sidewalks once more, the streets of the city began to fill and thicken. Upon the table by her bed the little clock ticked eagerly its pulse of time as if it hurried forward forever like a child toward some imagined joy, and a clock struck slowly in the house with a measured, solemn chime. The morning sun steeped each object in her room with casual light, and in her heart she said, “It is now.”

Nora brought coffee and hot rolls, and Esther read the paper. She read the gossip of the theatre, and she read the names of the cast that had been engaged for the new German play that the Community Guild was going to do in the fall, and she read that “Miss Esther Jack has been engaged to design the show.” She laughed because they called her “Miss,” and because she could see the horrified look on his face when he read it, and because she remembered his expression when the little tailor thought she was his wife, and because it gave her so much pleasure to see her name in the paper—“Miss Esther Jack, whose work has won her recognition as one of the foremost modern designers.”

She was feeling gay and happy and pleased with herself, so she put the paper in her bag, together with some other clippings she had saved, and took them with her when she went downtown to Twelfth Street for her daily visit to George. She handed them to him, and sat opposite to watch his face as he read them. She remembered all the things they had written about her work:

“. . . subtle, searching, and hushed, with a wry and rueful humor of its own. . . .”

“. . . made these old eyes shine by its deft, sure touch of whimsey as nothing else in this prodigal season of dramatic husks has done. . . .”

“. . . the gay insouciance of her unmannered settings, touched with those qualities which we have come to expect in all her ardent services to that sometimes too ungrateful jade, the drama . . . .”

“. . . the excellent fooling that is implicit in these droll sets, elvishly sly, mocking, and, need we add or make apology for adding, expert? . . .”

She could hardly keep from laughing at the scornful twist of his mouth and the mocking tone of his comment as he bit off the phrases.

“‘Elvishly sly!’ Now isn’t that too God-damned delightful!” he said with mincing precision. “‘Made these old eyes shine!’ Why, the quaint little bastard! . . . ‘That sometimes too ungrateful jade!’ Oh, deary me, now! . . . ‘And need we add—!’ I am swooning, sweetheart: pass the garlic!”

He threw the papers on the floor with an air of disgust and turned to her with a look of mock sternness that crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“Well,” he said, “do I get fed, or must I starve here while you wallow in this bilge?”

She could control herself no longer and shrieked with glee. “I didn’t do it!” she gasped. “I didn’t write it! I can’t help it if they write like that! Isn’t it awful?”

“Yes, and you hate it, don’t you?” he said. “You lap it up! You are sitting there licking your lips over it now, gloating on it, and on my hunger! Don’t you know, woman, that I haven’t had a bite to eat all day? Do I get fed, or not? Will you put your deft whimsey in a steak?”

“Yes,” she said. “Would you like a steak?”

“Will you make these old eyes shine with a chop and a delicate dressing of young onions?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”

He came over and put his arms about her, his eyes searching hers in a look of love and hunger. “Will you make me one of your sauces that is subtle, searching, and hushed?”

“Yes,” she said. “Whatever you like I will make it for you.”

“Why will you make it for me?” he asked.

It was like a ritual that both of them knew, and they fastened upon each word and answer because they were so eager to hear it from each other.

“Because I love you. Because I want to feed you and to love you.”

“Will it be good?” he said.

“It will be so good that there will be no words to tell its goodness,” she said. “It will be good because I am so good and beautiful, and because I can do everything better than any other woman you will ever know, and because I love you with all my heart and soul, and want to be a part of you.”

“Will this great love get into the food you cook for me?”

“It will be in every morsel that you eat. It will feed your hunger as you’ve never been fed before. It will be like a living miracle, and will make you better and richer as long as you live. You will never forget it. It will be a glory and a triumph.”

“Then this will be such food as no one ever ate before,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “It will be.”

And it was so. There was never anything like it in the world before April had come back again.

So now they were together. But things were not quite the same between them as they had once been. Even on the surface they were different. No longer now for them was there a single tenement and dwelling place. From the first day of his return he had flatly refused to go back to the house on Waverly Place which the two of them had previously shared for work and love and living. Instead, he had taken these two large rooms on Twelfth Street, which occupied the whole second floor of the house and could be made into one enormous room by opening the sliding doors between them. There was also a tiny kitchen, just big enough to turn around in. The whole arrangement suited George perfectly because it gave him both space and privacy. Here Esther could come and go as she liked; here they could be alone together whenever they wished; here they could feed at the heart of love.

The most important thing about it, however, was that this was his place, not theirs, and that fact reestablished their relations on a different level. Henceforth he was determined not to let his life and love be one. She had her world of the theatre and of her rich friends which he did not want to belong to, and he had his world of writing which he would have to manage alone. He would keep love a thing apart, and safeguard to himself the mastery of his life, his separate soul, his own integrity.

Would she accept this compromise? Would she take his love, but leave him free to live his life and do his work? That was the way he told her it must be, and she said yes, she understood. But could she do it? Was it in a woman’s nature to be content with all that a man could give her, and not forever want what was not his to give? Already there were little portents that made him begin to doubt it.

One morning when she came to see him and was telling him with spirit and great good humor about a little comedy she had witnessed in the street, suddenly she stopped short in the middle of it, a cloud passed over her face, her eyes became troubled, and she turned to him and said:

“You do love me, don’t you, George?”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course. You know I do.”

“Will you never leave me again?” she asked, a little breathless. “Will you go on loving me forever?”

Her abrupt change of mood and her easy assumption that he or any human being could honestly pledge himself to anyone or anything forever struck him as ludicrous, and he laughed.

She made an impatient gesture with her hand. “Don’t laugh, George,” she said. “I need to know. Tell me. Will you go on loving me forever?”

Her seriousness, and the impossibility of giving her an answer annoyed him now, and he rose from his chair, stared down blankly at her for a moment, and then began pacing back and forth across the room. He paused once or twice and turned to her as if to speak, but, finding it hard to say what he wanted to say, he resumed his nervous pacing.

Esther followed him with her eyes; their expression betraying her mixed feelings, in which amusement and exasperation were giving way to alarm.

“What have I done now?” she thought. “God, was there ever anybody like him! You never can tell what he’ll do! All I did was ask him a simple question and he acts like this! Still, it’s better than the way he used to act. He used to blow up and call me vile names. Now he just stews in his own juice and I can’t tell what he’s thinking. Look at him—pacing like a wild animal in a cage, like a temperamental and introspective monkey!”

As a matter of fact, in moments of excitement George did look rather like a monkey. Barrel-chested, with broad, heavy shoulders, he walked with a slight stoop, letting his arms swing loosely, and they were so long that they dangled almost to the knees, the big hands and spatulate fingers curving deeply in like paws. His head, set down solidly upon a short neck, was carried somewhat forward with a thrusting movement, so that his whole figure had a prowling and half-crouching posture. He looked even shorter than he was, for, although he was an inch or two above the middle height, around five feet nine or ten, his legs were not quite proportionate to the upper part of his body. Moreover, his features were small—somewhat pug-nosed, the eyes set very deep in beneath heavy brows, the forehead rather low, the hair beginning not far above the brows. And when he was agitated or interested in something, he had the trick of peering upward with a kind of packed attentiveness, and this, together with his general posture, the head thrust forward, the body prowling downward, gave him a distinctly simian appearance. It was easy to see why some of his friends called him Monk.

Esther watched him a minute or two, feeling disappointed and hurt that he had not answered her. He stopped by the front window and stood looking out, and she went over and quietly put her arm through his. She saw the vein swell in his temple, and knew there was no use in speaking.

Outside, the little Jewish tailors were coming from the office of their union next door and were standing in the street. They were pale, dirty, and greasy, and very much alive. They shouted and gesticulated at one another, they stroked each other gently on the cheek in mounting fury, saying tenderly in a throttled voice: “Nah! Nah! Nah!” Then, still smiling in their rage, they began to slap each other gently in the face with itching finger tips. At length they screamed and dealt each other stinging slaps. Others cursed and shouted, some laughed, and a few said nothing, but stood darkly, somberly apart, feeding upon their entrails.

Then the young Irish cops charged in among them. There was something bought and corrupt about their look. They had brutal and brainless faces, full of pride. Their jaws were loose and coarse, they chewed gum constantly as they shoved and thrust their way along, and they kept saying:

“Break it up, now! Break it up! All right! Keep movin’!”

The motors roared by like projectiles, and people were passing along the pavement. There were the faces George and Esther had never seen before, and there were the faces they had always seen, everywhere: always different, they never changed; they welled up from the sourceless springs of life with unending fecundity, with limitless variety, with incessant movement, and with the monotony of everlasting repetition. There were the three girl-friends who pass along the streets of life forever. One had a cruel and sensual face, she wore glasses, and her mouth was hard and vulgar. Another had the great nose and the little bony features of a rat. The face of the third was full and loose, jeering with fat rouged lips and oily volutes of the nostrils. And when they laughed, there was no warmth or joy in the sound: high, shrill, ugly, and hysterical, their laughter only asked the earth to notice them.

In the street the children played. They were dark and strong and violent, aping talk and toughness from their elders. They leaped on one another and hurled the weakest to the pavement. The policemen herded the noisy little tailors along before them, and they went away. The sky was blue and young and vital, there were no clouds in it; the trees were budding into leaf; the sunlight fell into the street, upon all the people there, with an innocent and fearless life.

Esther glanced at George and saw his face grow twisted as he looked. He wanted to say to her that we are all savage, foolish, violent, and mistaken; that, full of our fear and confusion, we walk in ignorance upon the living and beautiful earth, breathing young, vital air and bathing in the light of morning, seeing it not because of the murder in our hearts.

But he did not say these things. Wearily he turned away from the window.

“There’s forever,” he said. “There’s your forever.”

Table of Contents

BOOK ONE THE NATIVE'S RETURN 3(138)
1. THE DRUNKEN BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK
3(12)
2. FAME'S FIRST WOOING
15(12)
3. THE MICROSCOPIC GENTLEMAN FROM JAPAN
27(8)
4. SOME THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE
35(8)
5. THE HIDDEN TERROR
43(42)
6. THE HOME-COMING
85(18)
7. BOOM TOWN
103(18)
8. THE COMPANY
121(11)
9. THE CITY OF LOST MEN
132(9)
BOOK TWO THE WORLD THAT JACK BUILT 141(168)
10. JACK AT MORN
141(12)
11. MRS. JACK AWAKE
153(24)
12. DOWNTOWN
177(8)
13. SERVICE ENTRANCE
185(14)
14. ZERO HOUR
199(18)
15. THE PARTY AT JACK'S
217(23)
16. A MOMENT OF DECISION
240(9)
17. MR. HIRSCH COULD WAIT
249(8)
18. PIGGY LOGAN'S CIRCUS
257(10)
19. UNSCHEDULED CLIMAX
267(18)
20. OUT OF CONTROL
285(9)
21. LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH
294(15)
BOOK THREE AN END AND A BEGINNING 309(68)
22. A QUESTION OF GUILT
309(14)
23. THE LION HUNTERS
323(9)
24. MAN-CREATING AND MAN-ALIVE
332(7)
25. THE CATASTROPHE
339(13)
26. THE WOUNDED FAUN
352(25)
BOOK FOUR THE QUEST OF THE FAIR MEDUSA 377(104)
27. THE LOCUSTS HAVE NO KING
377(35)
28. THE FOX
412(21)
29. "THE HOLLOW MEN"
433(21)
30. THE ANODYNE
454(15)
31. THE PROMISE OF AMERICA
469(12)
BOOK FIVE EXILE AND DISCOVERY 481(104)
32. THE UNIVERSE OF DAISY PURVIS
481(24)
33. ENTER MR. LLOYD MCHARG
505(15)
34. THE TWO VISITORS
520(14)
35. A GUEST IN SPITE OF HIMSELF
534(25)
36. THE HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY
559(18)
37. THE MORNING AFTER
577(8)
BOOK SIX "I HAVE A THING TO TELL YOU" 585(84)
38. THE DARK MESSIAH
585(12)
39. "ONE BIG FOOL"
597(19)
40. LAST FAREWELL
616(11)
41. FIVE PASSENGERS FOR PARIS
627(14)
42. THE FAMILY OF EARTH
641(10)
43. THE CAPTURE
651(9)
44. THE WAY OF NO RETURN
660(9)
BOOK SEVEN A WIND IS RISING, AND THE RIVERS FLOW 669
45. YOUNG ICARUS
669(15)
46. EVEN TWO ANGELS NOT ENOUGH
684(8)
47. ECCLESIASTICUS
692(8)
48. CREDO
700

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for You Can't Go Home Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel of American hope and perseverance during the Great Depression takes on new relevance in our time.


TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. Discuss the opening chapter, "The Drunken Beggar on Horseback," when twenty-eight-year-old George Webber relaxes in his New York City apartment with his lover, Esther Jack. Why has George returned to New York and to Esther after his travels in Europe? What causes him to wonder, "Must the beggar on horseback forever reel?" (p. 7) What changes in George and Esther’s relationship does this first chapter foretell?

2. When George wrote his first novel, Home to Our Mountains, "He had distilled every line of it out of his own experience of life. . . . Of course it was fiction, but it was made as all honest fiction must be, from the stuff of human life." (pp. 16–17) What are the consequences of George’s use of autobiographical material in his novel? Do you agree that all great fiction comes from personal experience? Do you think today’s writers have a similar or different view of the use of autobiographical elements? Explain.

3. George takes two long journeys by train in You Can’t Go Home Again: from New York City to Libya Hill, and from Berlin to Paris. Discuss the fellow passengers George encounters on each trip. What does George learn from them during each of these train rides?

4. Discuss the depiction of working-class characters in the novel. What tensions simmer between the workers in the Jacks’ building in the chapter "Service Entrance?" What do the fatalities in the building fire suggest about the differences between the workers and the tenants of the building? How do the workers in the Jacks’ building compare to Daisy Purvis, the British charwoman who works for George in his London flat?

5. Consider the role of women in You Can’t Go Home Again. What do Esther Jack, Margaret, and Else mean to George at various points in his life? How are these female characters depicted?

6. Discuss the character of Fox Edwards, George’s editor and "the father of his spirit." (p. 23) Describe the bond between George and Fox. What qualities does George admire in his editor? How are their worldviews different and ultimately incompatible? Why does George decide to break from his "great editor and father-confessor and true friend" in the end? (p. 374)

7. Analyze a scene that is written from another perspective besides George’s, such as Mr. or Mrs. Jack’s, Stephen Hook’s, or Fox Edwards’. How does the world look different through another character’s eyes?

8. Compare George’s impressions of his two homes during the 1930s: America during the Great Depression and Nazi Germany. What forms of suffering and cultural stagnation does George witness in each of these countries? George writes in his letter to Fox, "I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found." (p. 637) Why does George have greater hope for America than for Europe?

9. At the end of the novel, George concludes, "Fame, like Love, was not enough." (p. 622) Discuss George’s encounters with love and fame. Why are they insufficient for him? Which characters help him discover the emptiness of these goals? What does George come to value over fame and love?

10. Compare the 1929 stock market crash that the novel describes to the recent financial crisis in America. Does Wolfe’s depiction of America before and after the crash feel relevant to our time? Why or why not?

11. As a writer, George believes that "if he could only succeed in capturing a fragment of the truth about the life he knew, and make it known and felt by others, it would be a more glorious accomplishment than anything else he could imagine." (p. 426) Do you think that Wolfe has achieved this goal in writing You Can’t Go Home Again? Explain.

12. Discuss the various meanings of the title You Can’t Go Home Again. What are the various homes that George yearns for? Why can’t he return to each of them? What creative and spiritual alternatives to home does he discover?

13. Which writers do you think influenced Wolfe’s style? Which writers from the twentieth and twentieth-first century seem inspired by Wolfe?

14. Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again in the last two years of his life, and it took Edward C. Aswell three years to edit Wolfe’s enormous manuscript after he died. Imagine some of the difficulties in editing Wolfe’s expansive style for publication. What do you think of Aswell’s final result? Do you find the italicized sections that connect some of the chapters—added by Aswell in the editing stage—to be an important addition to the novel? Why or why not?

ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

1. Get inspired by Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical style and write a few character sketches based on people from your hometown. Assign fictional names to some of those memorable friends and neighbors, and write a sentence or two about each character’s features and behaviors. Consider sharing your character sketches with your group.

2. Party like it’s 1929! Dress up for your book club meeting like partygoers at the Jacks’ apartment in New York City. Check out these fashion drawings for inspiration: http://www.fashion-era.com/C20th_costume_history/1928_silhouettes_1.htm ?

3. Read all about Maxwell Perkins, Thomas Wolfe’s editor and the inspiration for the character Fox Edwards: http://www.nchistoricsites.org/wolfe/perkins.htm. Treat your book club to a movie night featuring another classic that Perkins edited, such as The Great Gatsby, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, or From Here to Eternity.

4. View an online exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where George and Else witnessed the rise of the Nazi regime in You Can’t Go Home Again: http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/olympics/?lang=en.

5. If your book club enjoyed You Can’t Go Home Again, choose Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, as your next book club selection.

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You Can't Go Home Again 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Hagelstein on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Thomas Wolfe¿s ¿You Can¿t Go Home Again¿ is the story of novelist George Webber in the 1920s and 30s. Webber leaves his home in the south to become a writer in New York. He returns home once just before the publication of his first novel, only to be dismayed by the entire town population¿s obsession with speculative real estate, having traded tradition and solidity for the empty promises of obscene profits. After publication, he doesn¿t return home because of the upheaval his novel has caused, with what the townspeople believe is its thinly veiled description of their weakest moments. Webber travels to Europe, and Wolfe similarly addresses the upheaval in Germany prior to WWII and how Webber will never be able to return to the same Germany he has grown to love. Webber also forces himself to leave Esther Jacks, his married lover in New York, and his longtime editor ¿ and friend ¿ Foxhall Edwards. Wolfe¿s writing meanders and flies away off on tangents ¿ most of which are worthy of stand-alone short story status on their own ¿ as he details social concerns in the U.S. and abroad, and ultimately what he sees as the loss of innocence of George Webber, and the world.
HankIII on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This was the very first Wolfe novel I read; at the time, I liked it, and even wrote a literary analysis for my Southern Lit class. It was the autobiographical aspect of the novel as well as the philosophical ramblings of alienation as an artist that appealed to me.It soon led me to read Look Homeward, Angel, which I found less appealing.
patience_crabstick on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I loved this book. It's long, yes, but Wolfe's writing is so rich. As with Look Homeward Angel, this is the sort of book you need to read twice to truly appreciate. My favorite chapter was the description of his British charwoman and her views of the world.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Wolfe's second novel is based on his experiences in New York after his fame of writing a tell all novel about his home town. Not as descriptive or compelling as Look Homeward, Angel but still a good read.
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thewrightstuff136 More than 1 year ago
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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Guest More than 1 year ago
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!