Look Homeward, Angel

22 Aug 2004 /

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a
leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart?
Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly, we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.

— Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

Right . . .

Look Homeward, Angel cover

I just finished reading this book. It’s an incredibly rich, detailed work . . . you could spend a lifetime reading it over and over and still not appreciate every nuance.

The sense of pain and loss is intense. When the narrator’s brother died, I had to set the book down so my son wouldn’t see me weeping.

It’s also highly autobiographical, and a lot of people in Wolfe’s hometown of Asheville, N.C., were pretty unhappy about the way they were portrayed.

To give you an idea, here’s an excerpt from a letter Wolfe wrote to his sister Mabel shortly after the novel was published:

Apparently you can rob banks, be a crooked lawyer, swill corn whiskey, commit adultery with your neighbor’s wife — and be considered a fine, lovable, misunderstood fellow; but if you try to make something true and beautiful you are “viciously insane” and your “big overgrown body” ought to be dragged through the streets by a lynching mob.


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