Not to be confused with Tom Wolfe
, another great American novelist.
Thomas Wolfe was born in 1900 in Ashville, North Carolina, to provincial but loving parents. His mother dabbled in real estate, and his father was an alcoholic tombstone maker who had a penchant for verbal abuse.
He was a very bright student, and went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the young age of sixteen. Though he initially wanted to go to a more prestigious school, namely Princeton or the University of Virginia, he quickly fell in love with the campus. During his undergraduate career, he won many impressive distinctions, such as editing the school newspaper, acting in his own plays, and serving as an orator for the Dialectic Society.
At age twenty, he left to study playwriting at Harvard, completing his Master's Degree in two years, and staying a third to continue his work. Despite his clearly apparent talent, he had difficulty getting his plays produced, and subsequently moved to New York City to teach English at NYU.
Wanderlust soon set in, and when he had saved enough money, he sailed to Europe and continued his writing. On his return voyage home in August 1925, he met Aline Bernstein, a successful set and costume designer in the New York theater. They soon began a love affair, but physical attraction and shared artistic temperament were not enough to bridge the twenty-year gap that separated them. In The Web and the Rock, a later novel of Wolfe's, he describes their relationship with great tenderness and admiration.
In 1929, Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, the work that would make him famous. Literary critics of the time often placed him above William Faulkner, who published The Sound and the Fury at almost the same time as Look Homeward, Angel. Like many of his other novels, the work was very autobiographical. The author chose not to soften the often harsh truths of his past, and as such, angered many people from his hometown. Other publications include Of Time and the River and You Can't go Home Again.
Wolfe died of tubercular meningitis when he was only 38 years of age. He left two books unfinished, and countless others that never took shape. One can only dream of how his genius would have taken shape in the years to come.
"If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men can ever know."
-You Can't Go Home Again
"Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: "To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth- -Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending-a wind is rising, and the rivers flow."
-You Can't Go Home Again