This Day In Writing History
On March 8th, 1935, Of Time and the River, the second novel by the legendary American writer Thomas Wolfe, was published. The book was Wolfe's sequel to his highly acclaimed classic debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel. (1929)
Of Time and the River, subtitled A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth, was a semi-autobiographical novel that picked up where Look Homeward, Angel left off. The novel opens with Wolfe's protagonist, 22-year-old Eugene Gant, leaving North Carolina to do graduate studies at Harvard University.
An aspiring writer, Gant studies play writing and strikes up a close friendship with Francis Starwick, his professor's assistant. Starwick, a Midwesterner and cultured, fastidious scholar, enjoys getting drunk with Gant and talking about writing and philosophy. Feeling little support for his literary aspirations from his professors and his family, Gant finds a kindred spirit in Starwick.
After his father dies, Gant returns to North Carolina, but having tasted life outside his stifling Southern home town, he determines to become a writer. He goes off with Francis Starwick to Europe, where he embarks on an existentialist odyssey as he and Starwick try find happiness and enlightenment as they live the lives of artists. Ultimately, Gant returns to the United States.
That's just a threadbare outline of the plot. Of Time and the River is a huge epic novel that originally clocked in at over 300,000 words. It took Thomas Wolfe and his editor at Scribner's a few years just to edit the finished manuscript down to a publishable length, which turned out to be just over 800 pages of Wolfe's dazzling, richly descriptive, philosophical prose.
Unfortunately, the cuts included numerous important passages pertaining to the friendship of Eugene Gant and Francis Starwick, including the revelation of Starwick's homosexuality, which was only briefly mentioned in Of Time and the River. In the cut material, which would be published later as The Starwick Episodes, Starwick's homosexuality is given an open and honest treatment, as he is depicted as a tormented gay man who longs to find acceptance and escape the closet.
Gant's reaction is also honest - he is initially shocked and repulsed. Yet, when he and Starwick engage in soul-baring conversations about sexuality, Gant begins to lose his homophobia. The character of Starwick was based on Wolfe's college friend, playwright Kenneth Raisback, a gay man who was murdered - a crime that would never be solved.
Sadly, Thomas Wolfe died suddenly from tuberculosis of the brain in 1938. He was 38 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"The modern picture of the artist began to form: the poor, but free spirit, plebeian but aspiring only to be classless, to cut himself forever free from the bonds of the greedy bourgeoisie, to be whatever the fat burghers feared most, to cross the line wherever they drew it, to look at the world in a way they couldn't see, to be high, live low, stay young forever - in short, to be the bohemian." - Thomas Wolfe
Today's video features a reading from Thomas Wolfe's classic debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Enjoy!