“It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life — the only thing that matters.”
“This is why I think I’m going to be an artist. The things that really mattered sunk in and left their mark. Sometimes only a word — sometimes a peculiar smile — sometimes death — sometimes the smell of dandelions in Spring — once Love. Most people have little more mind than brutes: they live from day to day. I will go everywhere and see everything. I will meet all the people I can. I will think all the thoughts, feel all the emotion I am able, and I will write, write, write.”
Thomas Wolfe’s Letters to His Mother
courtesy of brainpickings
Wolfe wrote four lengthy novels as well as many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas. He is known for mixing highly original, poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic prose with autobiographical writing. His books, written and published from the 1920s to the 1940s, vividly reflect on American culture and the mores of that period, filtered through Wolfe’s sensitive, sophisticated, and hyper-analytical perspective.
After Wolfe’s death, contemporary author William Faulkner said that Wolfe may have been the greatest talent of their generation for aiming higher than any other writer. Wolfe’s influence extends to the writings of Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, and of authors Ray Bradbury and Philip Roth, among others. He remains an important writer in modern American literature, as one of the first masters of autobiographical fiction, and is considered North Carolina’s most famous writer.
Thomas Wolfe feeding a chipmunk. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon June 20, 1938 (Thomas Wolfe Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, NC
Thomas Wolfe and his mother, Julia, sitting on the porch of his childhood home in Asheville, North Carolina.
One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.
Most of the time we think we’re sick, it’s all in the mind.
Look Homeward, Angel (1929)
His enemy was time. Or perhaps it was his friend. One never knows for sure.
I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us. I think the enemy is here before us, too. But I think we know the forms and faces of the enemy, and in the knowledge that we know him, and shall meet him, and eventually must conquer him is also our living hope. I think the enemy is here before us with a thousand faces, but I think we know that all his faces wear one mask. I think the enemy is single selfishness and compulsive greed. I think the enemy is blind, but has the brutal power of his blind grab. I do not think the enemy was born yesterday, or that he grew to manhood forty years ago, or that he suffered sickness and collapse in 1929, or that we began without the enemy, and that our vision faltered, that we lost the way, and suddenly were in his camp. I think the enemy is old as Time, and evil as Hell, and that he has been here with us from the beginning. I think he stole our earth from us, destroyed our wealth, and ravaged and despoiled our land. I think he took our people and enslaved them, that he polluted the fountains of our life, took unto himself the rarest treasures of our own possession, took our bread and left us with a crust, and, not content, for the nature of the enemy is insatiate–tried finally to take from us the crust.
I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found. And this belief, which mounts now to the catharsis of knowledge and conviction, is for me — and I think for all of us — not only our own hope, but America’s everlasting, living dream.
You Can’t Go Home Again (1940)
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.
What Christ is saying always, what he never swerves from saying, what he says a thousand times and in a thousand different ways, but always with a central unity of belief, is this: “I am my Father’s son, and you are my brothers.” And the unity that binds us all together, that makes this earth a family, and all men brothers and the sons of God, is love.
And Christ himself, who preached the life of love, was yet as lonely as any man that ever lived. Yet I could not say that he was mistaken because he preached the life of love and fellowship, and lived and died in loneliness; nor would I dare assert his way was wrong because a billion men have since professed his way and never followed it.
The Anatomy of Loneliness (1941)
“There was within him an unspent energy, an untiring force, an unappeasable hunger for life and for expression which might have carried him to the heights and might equally have torn him down.”
New York Times (obit)