Though neither a Tar Heel born nor a Tar Heel bred, Tom Wolfe managed quite a number of Miscellany appearances — often juxtaposed with native sons Thomas Wolfe (here, here and here) and Junior Johnson (here and here).
From his acceptance note, handwritten atop the letter from professor William L. Andrews:
“I’m one of my namesake’s greatest fans. When I was just old enough to read, I noticed that there were two books on the shelves at home with my name on them, Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. My parents had a hard time convincing me that the author was no kin to me. He had to be. And sure enough, I’m ‘a putter-inner’ too….”
The “putter-inner” reference is from Thomas Wolfe’s response to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s criticism of his “unselective” approach to writing: “You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in….”
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….”
“The writer [Thomas Wolfe] spent the last years of his life at the Chelsea. In Room 829, he was known to have produced the manuscript for the novels ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ and ‘The Web and the Rock,’ which were published after he died in 1938.
“After accepting an invitation to speak at Purdue University, she wrote, he spent his last few days at the hotel writing his speech, about his belief that, amid the Depression and the rise of Nazism in Germany, he had a responsibility to society to inspire hope. He called the speech ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’
“[I am] pained at the implication in your letter that I was ashamed of North Carolina — only what is N.C. willing to do for me? I don’t think there is a place there now for anyone who cares for anything besides Rotary and Lions and Boosters Clubs, real-estate speculation, ‘heap much’ money, social fawning, good roads, new mills — what, in a word, they choose to call ‘Progress, Progress, Progress.’.…
“N.C. needs honest criticism — rather than the false, shallow ‘we-are-the-finest-state-and-greatest-people-in-the-country’ kind of thing. An artist who refuses to accept fair criticism of his work will never go far. What of a state?.…”
Thanks to Joe Elliott of Asheville for this response to my query about the fate of the aluminum house conceived and built (circa 1951) by his father-in-law, Thomas Edison Westall of Marion:
“Ed built onto the structure later, converting part of it into a popular local restaurant called the Pilot House. Sometime after the restaurant was sold, it suffered fire damage and eventually was torn down.
“Ed Westall was a truly remarkable man; one who, had he been more materially ambitious, might have become a rich man. However, his real passion was for design and invention. It was something that brought him great joy. In addition to the restaurant, Ed worked for many years as a mechanical engineer for American Thread, during which time he patented several inventions. He was also a licensed small-engine pilot.
“Ed was a quiet man with a mind that never stopped. He was, I think, most alive & at peace in the wide open spaces. Maybe that’s why he loved Emerson so much. He was a generalist in the best since of the word: he loved learning about everything.
“Someone once told my wife, ‘Your dad was the smartest man I ever knew’…. “Ed’s family, the Westalls, were from the mountainous Toe River region of North Carolina. Thomas Wolfe’s mother’s maiden name was Westall, and she belonged to the same extended clan. Ed sometimes talked about his great Uncle Bacchus (BACK-US). I believe Wolfe incorporated Bacchus into some of his stories. When I told my old English professor Frank Hulme (who won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award back in the 1970s) that I was marrying a Westall, Frank (whose sister also married a Westall) raised his hand to stop me. ‘Say no more!’ he declared. ‘Say not a word more!’ Frank had been acquainted with Wolfe in Asheville back in the 1930s.
“Like Wolfe’s mother, the Westall clan is an interesting lot….”
“[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.’”
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.”
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.”
“We have had a few folks get to the end of our 50-minute tour of the old boardinghouse before they realize we are not talking about the guy in the white suit…. As a tour guide it is rewarding for us anytime we see the light bulb going on and someone finally making connections… but you do have to wonder where they were over the last 45 minutes.”