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Perhaps because of the close link between Wolfe and his protagonist-narrator, the narrative source of the emotional lyrical passages has often puzzled readers. C. Hugh Holman speculates that they are produced by "a person located in the time of writing rather than the time of action yet intimately bound up with the action of an intense emotional bondage," but he implies that this person is Wolfe, speaking through the veil of third-person narrative. Richard S. Kennedy suggests that in one instance, the apostrophe to Laura James in Chapter 30, Wolfe speaks unabashedly in his own voice: "You who were made for music, will hear music no more: in your dark house the winds are silent. Ghost, ghost, come back from that marriage that we did not foresee, return not into life, but into magic, where we have never died, into the enchanted wood, where we still lie, strewn on the grass." Kennedy believes these lines "refer to death and the grave. The marriage that we did not foresee is death. Since there is nothing in about Laura James' death, … it seems evident that Wolfe has reference to Clara Paul [his model for Laura James], who really did die in the influenza epidemic a year or so after young Tom Wolfe knew her." Professor Kennedy properly identifies the episode from Wolfe's life which exerted a major influence on the diction and intensity of the passage, but the novel's preoccupation with memory and the past suggests another interpretation: the narrator-Eugene is remembering his first romance. He recalls it as clearly as if it had just ended, but he realizes painfully that it belongs to the lost and dead past. Laura James is a "ghost," a ghost of his past, a memory. Her "marriage" is simply that—the marriage which ended her romance with Eugene. His wish to return "into magic, where we have never died, into the enchanted wood" is his desire to return to the past and resurrect the love affair dead for so long. Knowing that Clara Paul died a few years after her summer romance with Wolfe may enrich our appreciation of the episode, but in no way is that knowledge necessary: the episode makes complete sense without it. Narrative structure suggests a far more likely voice for the episode than Wolfe's—Eugene Gant's. Wolfe obviously used some of his own memories to write this chapter, but he did not grant them precedence over his primary interest in Eugene.
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Holman, C. Hugh, "'The Dark, Ruined Helen of His Blood': Thomas Wolfe and the South," in , edited by Leslie Field, University of London Press, 1969, pp. 17–36, originally published in , edited by Louis D. Rubin Jr. and Robert Jacobs, Doubleday, 1961.
The majority of criticism on Wolfe is strongly biographical; John Lane Idol Jr. writes in that the "tallest heap would be labelled 'The Life and Legend of Thomas Wolfe,' since it focuses on his reputation as a kind of American giant." Idol suggests that many critics are interested in psychoanalytical reading of Wolfe's works because his novels are only understood after "seeing him in his time and place." Critics such as Richard S. Kennedy, on the other hand, are interested in how Wolfe's life and its relation to art represent the early twentieth-century American experience.
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Wolfe is interested in portraying a representative American experience and an allegory of American youth in his novel. Although Wolfe is often associated with expatriate American writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and made several long trips to Europe while he was writing , the author saw himself within the American tradition. Wolfe would not have deemed his writings "modernist" in the international sense of the term. He is better classified as an American romantic.
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Wolfe lived in Europe for some time during the writing of , and he certainly employed some modernist ideas. But his interest in the American tradition of romanticism lay outside the mainstream goals of his contemporaries. Other American authors diverted from the course of modernism, but most either continued in the naturalist tradition of Edith Wharton or experimented in new forms entirely. Wolfe was somewhat unique in his desire to form a neo-romantic tradition.
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remains Wolfe's most popular and respected work, but it has gone through a significant decrease in critical attention. This is partly due to the novel's views on race and gender and partly due to what John Hagan calls "the still prevailing notion that Wolfe's first novel, though undeniably powerful in some respects, is mere 'formless autobiography,' the product of a who had no 'ideas' and only a rudimentary technique."
Henry Schulman, 94, died Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The book chronicles the Wolfe's life in hundreds of photographic portraits and snapshots of the author, his friends and family, and the places he visited.