As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part one
This is the fifth of a series of programs untitled as others read us American fiction abroad produced and recorded by the Literary Society of the University of Massachusetts under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The subject of this hour's discussion is the foreign reputation of Thomas Wolfe. The two critics who will discuss the impact abroad of Wolfe's novels are Mr. outof Klarman and Mr. Maxwell Geismar. Mr. Kleiman who was born in Austria has been professor of German literature at the University of Pennsylvania for many years and is now also in charge of the comparative literature courses there. He's author of articles in the field of 19th and 20th century German literature and is the editor and literary executor of the great Austrian novelist poet and dramatist Francis variable. Mr guy's Maher a well-known critic and teacher has devoted much time to the
study of American literature. Three volumes of his projected five volume history of American fiction have already been published. Writers in crisis. The last of the provincials and rebels and ancestors. These deal with the American novel from 1890 to 1940. Mr. Guy's Mar has also edited the Viking portable edition of the works of Thomas Wolfe. Moderator of the discussion will be Mr. Richard Sipe age of the University of Massachusetts and police department. Mr. SAVAGE Thank you. In discussing representative American authors whose works have made an impact upon Europe one would find it difficult to overlook the name of Thomas will the enthusiastic reception his works have had in Germany and to a lesser degree in England Poland a list kind of even countries is worthy of consideration. Whatever the foreign influence of American authors is debate debated. Thomas will warn a national North Carolina in 1900 published his first novel Look Homeward Angel in 1929
the same year that saw the publication of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and William Faulkner of the sound and the Fury. The general reception of well first novels by critics and publishers alike was enthusiastic and in 1930 the royalties from the novel were sufficient to prevent his resignation from the. Staff of New York University where he had been instructor in English for several years thereafter he devoted all his time to writing in 1935 appear the second major work of time on the river. However lesser works by him appeared before this. Among them was a collection of short stories untitled from death to morning. When Thomas Wolfe died in 1988 he left behind manuscripts which were published as two novels. The Web and the rock and you can't go home again. In 1941 his literary executor published the last of the posthumous five hymns. The hills beyond a collection of short hitter to one printed stories studies and friends. The
central conflict in Will's four novels is the continual struggle of the young protagonist who is essentially the same in each of the novels to find release from the prison of loneliness in which he found himself locked by society and to quench the Follistim hunger to experience all of life. It was a hunger which drove him to want to read all the books in the Harvard library which sent him on wild odysseys of Europe in the south of the Pacific Coast and New England and of the great north west which made him proud in the night time the lonely asphalt labyrinth of cities seeking life everywhere in his attempt to know and feel all of life that he possibly could its depths and its heights. He strolled lowballed to probe and reveal the secret of the loneliness and fascination of America the struggles of Eugene Grant in the first two novels and of George Weber in the last two are in a real sense the struggles of will as an artist. Maxwell Perkins a great friend of Wolf an editor who gave him such valuable aid in preparing
his manuscripts for publication wrote this of the novelist. He knew to the uttermost the meaning the literatures of other lambs and that they were not the literature of America. He knew that the light and color of America were different that the smells and sounds its people and all the structure and dimensions of our continent were unlike anything before it was was this he was struggling and it was that struggle alone that in a large sense governed all he did keeping this comment in mind we may say that will struggles to create in his novels a literature that is truly American and the impact these novels had in the European world of literature is the subject of our discussion today. So in order to begin the discussion we would like to ask Mr. Geissler if he would talk for a moment about the standing of Will snowballs here in America. Well I think you have outlined the general structure of
Wolf's work. What is curious at the present time is that his reputation in the US is surprisingly low. That is for a major writer. I mean love among the fashionable critics today his critical reputation as not his real reputation. We are in a period of conservative thought or reaction shall we call it moderation. Let Richard too has moved away from the social cultural issues that created a time warp and that will deeply believed in realism. The tradition of social realism to which will belong to all his romantic individual as him is out of fashion at the moment. The critical emphasis today is on craft and technique. That well-plotted story the inevitable word. Technically too Wolf has been discounted or
even worse ignored. It was a brave student I think who will do a doctoral thesis on Wolf today in the universities Yet the fact remains that Will is a solid and most valuable writer. Fiction has always had this kind of writing. He is basic in our tradition. His popular audience remains large and faithful to him. I think he is very good Wolf. I think he would have become a better writer. But not perhaps for some of the reasons that the European audiences have seen in him. Do you think the clips that you speak of is just temporary. It's always time. All right his reputation is up and down today. Somebody better say like William March who is ignored in his life time is coming up very
strongly. A very good writer who was ignored well was a very good writer who is well received and very popular. Perhaps that element today. Don't you think that perhaps the greatest crime a contemporary author can commit is to die before his time and then he has to bide his time for several decades again until somebody digs a lot again and establishes every turn. Yes this whole matter of. Literary reputations is fluid and entertaining really because solid it is. I never lost. Really. And somebody like Wolf I assume that his books are selling. Just as much today perhaps as ever and that the readers who like him like him just as much and I know that if he is taught in the schools he always has a great impact on students. And he's made the paperback which is very important too I think.
In reference to Wolf's reputation abroad since it was Germany which first gave the novels of Thomas Walcott foothold on the continent of Europe perhaps Mr. Carmen you can tell us one how the German reading public was first introduced to well I suppose speaking chronologically as Sinclair Lewis's acceptance speech when he received the Nobel Prize is the actual beginning of it was his introduction to you know that was in 1930 of memory serves me right his very enterprising German publisher and still hopeful it picked up very soon after that the first novel was actually ready for publication. Early in 1932 maybe 1931 Homewood angel did not appear until 1930 to install Voigt has never been known to pick up an author and drop them again. One one reason why not important but one reason why. A vote spread in Germany itself as US is very consistent effort on the part of US
publisher to keep them in front of the public all the time and to get everybody who is anybody to a human to say things about him. Where that works. What do you think introduced 20 other European countries by virtue of this popularity in Germany. I rather think so German literature was usually the entrance gate let's say to Scandinavia and to other countries to the east and I'm certain that the early translations into Danish and Norwegian followed very quickly upon the German translations that were translations made in Sweden but Sweden fencing thems as it were fencing itself as the Friends of the North didn't take too kindly. In contrast to to Denmark and Norway took kindly to a wall. He was very popular with us Labick countries with objects in the skulls and he spread way down to Balkan and I think that is probably largely due to the German reception because it certainly couldn't of been the French reception which was extremely cool. It was there was a reception of these works and any other country comparable
to what it was in Germany. I would doubt that. I would doubt that and I think the reasons will come out in the course of our discussion I think he's probably the most German author America has ever produced if I may use that term in the same sense as the great late philologist Prakash at the University of Texas Colt Shakespeare the great just German dramatist he answered the German spirit in a way. There's a interesting connection between Shakespeare Wolf that I was thinking about to draw it out that the English are also rather cool about. Yes. Which we can take up later I suppose if you would. We might mention I think one of the most enthusiastic critical biographies of will power has been written by an English novelist. Hunger goal. I want to I wonder how much this is critical while he speaks on the critical
reception. My impression is that well I know that my portable you can buy very cheaply all because it could be a remainder for a great many places so I assume this is one in the US. And with that I think this is true. Well I think in general probably I may return to my original statement of the great luxury a contemporary author cannot afford that's dying and says in part this question because even in Germany I think his reading public is receding. That was like his academic public in contrast to what Mr Geismar said about America is growing by leaps and bounds their dissipations galore about him I have a whole list anybody here on titles of right up to 1950 55 and 56 as a matter of fact he still being publicized a great deal of the radial I have reference here to a long radio talk on walls and excerpts from as late as February 1956.
Now my impression is just the opposite here. The readers who come to will somehow read him out of the blue are very much taken by him he has a great effect on them but when you talk I think you gentlemen will correct me if I'm wrong when you talk with most members of the English department through the country. They are very scornful of wealth he seems to be an outworn number. I don't believe this because there's this impression that this I'm the thread I cannot answer that I know certainly that the text is included. I've seen the text of time on the river and Look Homeward Angel included in modern novel courses out to Minnesota University in North Carolina and here at the University of Massachusetts. I think perhaps he will always be included in these courses because of us not because of the liking or admiration of the
youth not because of the admiration of the instructors because this is something that appeals to the students themselves. Yeah I believe he's always included He can't be left out but usually the instructors the ones that the few I've talked to really have been very patronising they say he's good for the students. That's rather marvellous I mean it's a rather sad fate to be reduced to an arbitrary need of freshman English things or someone somewhere in a class or feeling in Milton I suppose that you must include who is going to read their reasons for what has happened is that another branch of Southern criticism has become very dominant. But Faulkner which is opposed to war the deep south has come into power as Wolf was more or less the middle and their values are very different from wars and war has said some rather sharp things about themselves they did not subscribe to the
legends and the myths of the old Just as Ellen Glasgow out of Virginia did not. But when you get below a line when you come down to Mississippi. There is a new set of values. And these critics many of them today put in the field because it is early days as a boy he would have been closer to the tradition of which we are talking and we'll probably later on discuss manor house but there he definitely speaks of that myth to soften the preference. Yes we'll cut through all that nonsense so that Ellen Glasgow before him but for now I must say I was revived and Faulkner was a dominant influence. Carmen before we go on to the next question of speak of the appeals which both novels had for the Germans You mentioned something about the coolness of the re reception of works well works in France. I want to say any make any comment on that. Well there is a. And American teachers of that
subject. Where he where the author speaks definitely of the fact that. A partial explanation of of the dislike of a wolf is duals dislike of the French. I don't know how pertinent that statement is one of the very radical and scathing reviewers of the works of wealth the French went on to be called the American a man searching for his soul behind each great name in American literature can be placed the name of a great European history asking Joyce behind will for instance. Then he says a few other rather deprecatory statements which I don't think are fit for this type of audience. But this is pretty much the reception that he received in France. And as a result of that I think the reception that he had in Sweden was perhaps a little more polite but very much along the same line doesn't mean that there is a matter of temperament here or personality that is.
Partly due to the cause of the cause of the reception. Yes I just like of the author himself or the people or the people who like this type of government. I think it's much more the dislike of the Frenchmen to the style of the world rather than and I don't think they knew enough about love and I don't think Wolf himself was that hostile to the French at least there is no evidence in his novels that maybe in his personal records he said far worse things about everybody else that he's exactly right. Now it's curious I agree with most of the French and not too favorable and yet they are very excited about Walt Whitman and they should like well for somewhat the same reasons that they like Whitman but they've done for some odd reason. Well I think Whitman was careful enough to to to dub his writing as a lyric as poetry of course. Thomas Wolfe did an awful lot of poetry in his novels and it wasn't like he didn't carry that label of French and approval of that in general you know very
specific in their definitions of the John ors. That's right. In the German review is a wolf first two novels we find such an abundance of superlatives as will surprise and please the most devoted it will for readers in this country. We find many such eulogistic phrases as these voiced by the German critics the mysterious miracle of all that is poetic the greatest epic novelist of his country the greatest living incorporation of American genius. And to this chorus of praise from the critics were out of the voices of some one of Germany's most eminent men of letters such as Nobel Prize winning novelist Hermann Hesse who acclaimed Welse writing as the most poetical work from present day America Carmen I wonder if you can explain what those qualities those particular qualities are in Will's novels which appeal so strongly to the Germans. Mr. Savage is a tall order but I'll try to do some justice to it. And I'm afraid I'll rouse a bit of hostility across the table from
me. I think I don't think so. Maybe I disagree with you. OK but the most important thing that would strike a German reading all is here's a very pronounced romantic spirit. As a matter of fact if you take any number of the definitions of 19th century German Romanticism you will find that you can quote and prove German romanticism as easily are out of time as well as out of any of the German Romanticists. His. Uncontrolled and disciplined concept of the genre of the novel is specifically German the concept of the of the romantic universe icons universal art is almost literally what Thomas is trying to do he speaks. I think in the story I was not all about jerky or a style which actually has to give articulation to a whole country to its
thoughts to its yearnings to it to it so hopes very much like the Romanticists that also the Romanticists never finished an hour and in that way Thomas off never finished a novel that I don't know what Tom's would have done if we didn't have such devoted editors. He just produced prodigious Lee on paper and dropped it in the lap of his editors. The tremendous amount of an expansive eagle that tries to embrace the whole world and swallow it within himself. It was great hard seeing experiencing living America through his own sensitive heart. All these are very romantic and very German aspects. Here's a love for the earth for emoting. Here's a guy was interested enough to call him egomania enough to call it occasionally megalomania. All these are are part and parcel of German Romanticism. One of the recent critics an American by the way who writes a book on American writers and a
German literature actually makes this spurious claim that the only influence on Thomas all of that amounts to anything is good. Of course he thinks primarily of good. The author of the end of my story and as spurious and far fetched as this claim undoubtedly is there are some semblances of justification to it if this. Faustine spirit that Mr. SAVAGE I mentioned in the beginning which by the way has very little to do with the good fast unit spirit it's just this insatiable intellectual and psychic appetite for experiences which distinguishes a Thomas world perhaps from his from his other American contemporaries which appeals tremendously to them so much so that one of the recent drama critics actually said that Thomas Wolfe is the most un-American of the contemporary American authors because refuses any standardization any any any stratification into any good academic system which would place
American authors according to labels. Also here's cult of the genius his gesture and Byron was of course a terrifically popular poet in Germany more so than anywhere else in the world partly due to good as a love for him. Here's interesting Hina will as you perhaps know or felt for a time that he was the drum an incarnation of Byron and all that helped to make the figure of Thomas Moore very much at home in Germany and the life of an uncompromising genius who will who will challenge society and challenge the world and pay the price that society exerts from the juniors without complaint and go to his doom. Unbending on Brogan is also with a vision and romantic vision of a German author. I would almost go on to the physical resemblance I mean if you look at pictures of hurdling on the valleys there is
a striking resemblance between them and Thomas Wolfe. There is of course also the fact that all three of them died at an early age before they were actually finished. I might at this juncture perhaps take slight exception to what Mr Geismar said that he may have matured if he had lived. I don't believe it is ever wrong. People always die at the right time and I think that was also the case of Thomas or I don't know that he would have developed an idea what he would have developed. As far as the more modern Germany in fact is concerned and the interest let's say of a man like him on his see in him. It again follows pretty much the same concept. It is the German the German your romantic interest the Baroque style in the Baroque spirit which appeals to a history which he himself has also the constant discourse. But Thomas will of hairs with certain important philosophical phenomena of the present I ever knew and the ever old discourse
on the concept of time and memory on the specific life that things have and the challenge of the things have upon the author to awaken them to life. All that of course is very much at home with a German All we need think of it. Hoffman started and read again. Of course both of them Austrians. However also similar phenomenon in prose then back so on and Joyce and of course with the two names Becks or JOYCE I think two very important phenomena have been mentioned. I don't understand their parents ethically why the French do not realize the close kinship between Thomas Wolfe and Proust but that's the situation that nobody in France seems to think of the two with even those similar denominators. One other and perhaps a final at this point. A final comparison with the drama and romantic spirit in the modern and in Thomas Wolfe is what I should for the lack of a better term at the moment
call poetic and naturalism which moves him very close to the world of such prominent authors as one has said but also a younger I'd hold my own. And last but not least an answer to it. Who were joined what the German likes to call the immigration within under the under year impact of Hitler and that is a form of experiencing reality with a projection with a sort of a crystalline projection through the naked wall of reality into the very essence of it into a definition of the so all of the things of the soul of the matter. And there is something to which the German aspires and that is something which the German seems to discover or rediscover in Thomas. Well I want to Mr. Hartman If you have a passage or two which you might read to illustrate any of these qualities from romanticism or verses from the passages from Wolf our
assignment representation and one of the two passages that will indicate the similarity of the drive and spirit will I couldn't if I tried find a better passage than the very introduction to the very first and I will look Homeward Angel which expresses this very holy nion yearning for a laugh and for a feed for a peace which is denied man. They stone a leaf and on found door of the stone and leave a door. And of all of forgotten faces naked and alone we came into exile. You know a dark room we did not know our mothers face from the prison of our flesh. Have we come into the unspeakable incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother and which of us has looked into his father's heart. Which of us has not remained forever present in which of us is not forever a stranger and alone. Always the loss in the heart mazes
Los them on bright stars on this most weary on bright cinder loss remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language the lost lane and into heaven a stone a leaf and on found door where we. All are lost and by the wind grief goals come back again. V great romantic musicality the counterpoint the real the allure Rees-Mogg the edge which is I think very symptomatic of wealth in very different from all others American contemporaries that I know of is perhaps best expressed in a another passage which I should like to read it wouldn't take very long. It's also for a Look Homeward Angel. Come up into the hills on my young love
- Thomas Wolfe, part one
- Producing Organization
- University of Massachusetts
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- In this program, the first of two parts, critics Adolf Klarmann and Maxwell Geismar discuss European opinions of the work of Thomas Wolfe.
- Series Description
- This series analyzes European views of the works of American authors.
- Broadcast Date
- American literature--Europe--History and criticism.
- Media type
Guest: Klarmann, Adolf D. (Adolf Donald), 1904-1975
Guest: Geismar, Maxwell David, 1909-
Moderator: Savage, Richard C.
Producing Organization: University of Massachusetts
Subject: Wolfe, Thomas, 1900-1938
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-22-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part one,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 7, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2z12s622.
- MLA: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part one.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 7, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2z12s622>.
- APA: As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2z12s622