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Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward, Angel

This long, somewhat messy novel – Wolfe’s first and best-known novel – tells the story of the Gant family. Oliver Gant has finally settled down, after years of wandering, in Altamont, North Carolina (based on Wolfe’s hometown of Asheville), and married Eliza. Eliza battles Oliver all their married life but wins through by thinking only of money and property. Her insistence on money has a profound effect on her seven children, particularly the sensitive Eugene (clearly based on Wolfe himself). Indeed, while the first part of the book is about the Gant family, the second part focuses primarily on Eugene, as he makes his way in the world.

This is a book you either love or hate. Frankly, I find it overdone and, despite the valiant attempts of Maxwell Perkins, still in need of a lot of editing. It is said that this is a book you should read before the age of twenty-five and this is probably the case. Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the book – the wonderful recreation of the early 20th century North Carolina, the superb portrait of the avaricious Eliza and her effect on all other family, the telling though often excessive symbolism of Wolfe’s writing and, of course, the self-portrait of the developing and sensitive Eugene. But try to read it before you are twenty-five.

Publishing history

First published 1929 by C. Scribner’s Sons