This Day In Literary 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 a sequel to Wolfe's highly acclaimed 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.
In 2016, the acclaimed feature film Genius was released. It told the story of the close yet tumultuous relationship between Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and Max Perkins (Colin Firth), his editor at Scribner's.
Perkins had previously discovered legendary writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and edited their work for publication. He was also the only editor to recognize the genius of Thomas Wolfe and sign him to a book contract.
Colin Firth and Jude Law give excellent performances as Perkins and Wolfe, as they battle over editing down Wolfe's impossibly long novels for publication, the brilliant writer's lack of discipline, fondness for whiskey, and burgeoning ego taking a toll on their relationship.
Directed by Michael Grandage, working from a great screenplay by John Logan, Genius is a film not to be missed.
Quote Of The Day
"This is Man: a writer of books, a putter-down of words, a painter of pictures, a maker of ten thousand philosophies. He grows passionate over ideas, he hurls scorn and mockery at another's work, he finds the one way, the true way, for himself, and calls all others false - yet in the billion books upon the shelves there is not one that can tell him how to draw a single fleeting breath in peace and comfort. He makes histories of the universe, he directs the destiny of the nations, but he does not know his own history, and he cannot direct his own destiny with dignity or wisdom for ten consecutive minutes." - Thomas Wolfe
Today's video features a presentation on the writings of Thomas Wolfe. Enjoy!