On this day in 1929: Maxwell Perkins finishes editing Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” Number of words trimmed: 90,000.
From John Walsh in the Independent of London: “When a novel by the hopeless title ‘O Lost’ was discovered on the Scribner’s unsolicited manuscripts pile, Perkins was told to make something publishable out of it. He made thousands of notes, analysed every scene, suggested cuts and changes but delighted the author by insisting he retain the coarse, vulgar and obscene bits. ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ [as renamed by Perkins] was published and another channel of American writing was opened….”
“[A. Scott Berg, biographer of Maxwell Perkins] said that when [Thomas] Wolfe wrote a book that detailed how Perkins had hewn his novels from dense forests of Wolfean prose, ‘Perkins begged him, in vain, not to publish it. Max always said that if editors were too well known the public would lose faith in writers, and that, above all, writers would lose faith in themselves. And that is exactly what happened to Thomas Wolfe.’”
— From “Ghost Editor” by Tad Friend in the New Yorker (June 20)
Berg’s “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” (1978) underlies the new movie “Genius,” in which Perkins is played by Colin Firth and Wolfe by Jude Law.
A local aside from Mountain Xpress previewer Ken Hanke: “Now, you might want to know that, no, none of the film takes place in Asheville (apart from one brief bit that’s supposed to be Riverside Cemetery), but considering that it only covers 1929-1938 that’s hardly surprising. “
“P.S. There is a poor, desperate, unhappy man staying at the Grove Park Inn. He is a man of great talent but he is throwing it away on drink and worry over his misfortunes. [Maxwell] Perkins thought if Mama went to see him and talked to him, it might do some good — to tell him that at the age of forty he is at his prime and has nothing to worry about if he will just take hold again and begin to work.
“His name, I forgot to say, is Scott Fitzgerald, and a New York paper has just published a miserable interview with him — it was a lousy trick, a rotten…piece of journalism, going to see a man in that condition, gaining his confidence, and then betraying him. I myself have suffered at the hands of these rats, and I know what they can do. But I don’t know whether it’s a good idea for Mama to see him — in his condition, he might resent it and think we were sorry for him, etc .— so better wait until I write again.”
— From Thomas Wolfe’s letter to his brother Fred (Oct. 7, 1936)
On Fitzgerald’s 40th birthday two weeks earlier, a reporter from the New York Post had tracked down the drunken author in Asheville and brutally described him under the headline “On the other side of paradise… engulfed in despair.”