As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part two
I think Mr Carmen's discussion or comment upon the appeal which will has for the Germans was certainly an interesting and significant one. And perhaps this next question may lead to Mr. Guyse virtue a reply in the new free press. Vienna April 1936 we have this passage from a reviewer of our time and the river in Germany. We also have novels of similar scope of similar large scale and design. But a comparison shows that in our case the novel is almost always a novella with eloquent touches. We have hardly ever experienced an epic sweep like wolves not since Tolstoy and dusty esky. He has the strength the fervor the tireless energy the passion of a Homeric rhapsodize. He has the courage to express the unheard of to sing in the midst of a story. To introduce him was at the height of his fable to write poems at tense moments for the US almost half his book is a poem a song. Now this quote might raise the question as to whether the former critic is likely to
judge an American novel by different artistic values than those by which it has critically been judged in its own country. Has this been sought in the case of Welsh novels Mr Cox. Well I am impressed by these German reviews I see they're going to outdo us in this field to that epic sweep and tell us to end the fervor and tireless energy and that American Rhapsody Wow remember when before a mysterious miracle of all that is poetic. They sound very much like our on Sunday Book Review section. But in general I think that Europe is a very good thing for American writers. Some of our great books have been established there first. But it is also true that the European view in France and Italy as well as in Germany very often seizes on the traits in American writers that
appeal to a certain romantic notion of what this country is. Poet euro member was famous with a French symbolists for the morbid elements in his work. As far as today for his her tragedies of the Deep South as Hemingway was hardboiled exterior as Dashiell Hammett appealed to because of his gangsters who I assume were typical American citizens. As Nelson all grew and now appeals to the existentialist put Chicago under way. I think what Mr. Kleiman said about wealth is all very very interesting indeed. I think it was true of the early will the young writer who was starting out as a romantic egoist. I think that it is not true and not true.
The direction in which wolf was. Moving I believe that Wolf was a realist at heart with a poetic and romantic surface. I think the reasons he appeals to us and will keep his place in our fiction are very different actually from what the German audience sees in him exactly that they are responsive to their own German romantic tradition whereas many of the things are concealed beneath the surface. We should remember too that the English like Stephen Crane because he was a cowboy I thought he wrote cowboy stories of the Wild West. There is one important aspect here very much keep in mind that the image of America the German House is not founded on course he gets a good deal out of the literature but as a German Craig recently said that we Europeans have a
myth of America and we will not be private it will not enlarge on it. The nice thing that. Wolf does Hotham is that though he leaves them practically with all their prejudices that they have toward America he expands the view widens the horizon he injects. Modicum of optimism toward a greater future. Something they will not see and I'd say no Faulkner will see as they all do in for another great day just moralized almost sits there like a Greek god in chaps heads off. Wolf is much more sympathetic and yes I think there are but you remember very clearly that well himself was drawn towards Germany For these reason there is a close relationship here but that also in the wonderful section on Germany and the end of the web rock called the Dark Messiah that Wolf began
to realize what could come of this far darkness and these pagan impulses which were underneath the German romantic tradition. Thomas Mann made the same discovery after the First World War and all manly fights the same issue. Actually I thought all the drama The Good German romanticists its just the watered down Romanticists. Of the Hitler Elkan of that generation which overlooks this very important element that her constantly aware of the danger and wealth. Yes Wolf that he had just what he did in so many other issues including that of his anti-Semitism he put it all in the book pro and con. That's almost an argument that he's been accused of anti-Semitism because he says write out what other writers have been afraid. But then he will go on the next page an answer that argument. So his books are in a sense development of his own values through polarity.
That's argumentation that's very interesting I have a statement you make about his anti-Semitism because that again brings him rather close to the so-called good German if you read in modern German literature and I say not and not necessarily on the very top level you will find that the relation to that you find there is almost an innate difference Kassam They have its own bridgeable But then of course each one has his own home he knows and he finds other qualities very much as Thomas Wolfe did it was meeting an unknown world I mean the North Carolinian never encountered one I'm sure until they got to me you are and this is a puzzle to him and he has to come to grips with it and so does the German in that respect. But I just think there is a kinship I mean now since we have mentioned that if you had to boil remarks here there is a kinship to this mysticism of a of the nation the mysticism of the soil which would explain at least in part of the appeal that the wolf retained even after the
Nazis stopped printing his books because his last two books which reminds me I didn't answer your question meare statement before his last two books that not only appear in Germany and Switzerland. Actually I think they were. Yes but this sort of thing. I agree part but there are differences here because Whitman had the same sense of being a national poet not just German romantics but. English American kind of tradition very true I mean I'm not taking issue with that I mean the drama and see the drama lessons in it. We of course I don't know. And that's exactly why Whitman is practically as much a national poet is Shakespeare's a dramatist. So the very best Whitman translations appeared just before the First World War and one extremely influential in forming German expressionist I think German lyrical expression is unthinkable that way and I should point out that our national literature as always been highly self-critical.
It's a tradition of social criticism a social set. Take the case of Sinclair Lewis It has been there in the sense of holding up our thoughts and wanting us to be better or wanting us to develop the promises that will. Talks about that saying across the line do you think that specifically American reason that all the universe love all good literature I mean just yes good tax Russia there's a lot of taglines and good on who did it and it should attack the Germans and the law not takes the Italians I think every responsible author who has the mission in him to be the conscience of his country will be aware of that. Yes but this is not true of the German tradition as it were the cheap romantic tradition. Yes and that is all that is very true of the German romantic tradition because the German romances was extremely ironical of luxury. In the 19th century and later on to a new norm and so you might develop out of it. Yes
I think the US and European writers instead of German medics well even when they remained German romantics or even the best sense of the word as they still have that attitude of. But we are a conscience we have the voice of reason this is very strong in American tradition is very strong. Exactly. I really you know. Well you go back to Emma said it works all the way up through through Dreiser had this Whitman who felt that the the bods would replace the priests as a conscience of against this that that could be a German code but it's already we're saying that in literate literature the best literature exists it in the national It knows no national boundaries Act which is true. Sharp time ago most Carmen you spoke about the fact that Wolfe novels do not destroy any of the prejudices which Europeans
had of Americans but that he expounds upon the scene more I wonder perhaps both of you could perhaps comment upon the picture which America will say novels given your paintings of America how it differs from the picture formed by other American writers. Well if I may pick those up first. He gives he confirmed as the average European idea of America goes as the paradise of materialism as the paradigms of extreme Contras greatest poverty and greatest wealth the sort of barbarism of which he speaks about he doesn't doesn't let it go at that in contrast let's say even to look at the picture the drama gets from saying it will always I'm not saying that St. Louis is giving that picture of us the picture would say that the average European will get from him because wherever he mentions that sooner or later it will become sort of an interjection of
a prism where through this appearance of materialism and barbarism there is the constant surge in the American view. You are waiting on the corners drugstore corners of a bleak Sunday afternoon for something to happen for some vision to come for some vision to hit him to realize that the life that he has is not the final answer this is not paradise as it was decreed by a good Puritan God but that is I think he says that to his editors someplace. It is necessary for the author to accept the reality as he is but yet at the same time to constantly to maintain that this is not the inescapable web in which he is caught. There is a vision a projection of a greater more just more socially minded America in the future. I think it was moving this way as I keep saying and this part of him has been neglected it's become he became famous with his first book and
that book had the romantic coloring Surely that was a very young writer at that point he did mature which many critics do not see in his work. I think it's a picture of this country is a particularly good one who is both significant and representative. But all of the extremes he was actually a middle road in his artistic values he stayed very close to the common life. He was not betrayed either bias Thetic pretensions or commercial carriage by the Kenyon review by Hollywood. It was never involved in partisan politics. And yet he was concerned overwhelmingly with the condition and the destiny of his country. A curious thing here is that so many of our writers are angular. Limited in some curious way though they're reacting against
civilization by becoming perfect individualists but individualists with a range of perspective. They tend to be very highly personalized very unique and often they seem to lose the common roots This is a strictly modern tradition not in the 19th century. They lose the common roots and cultural traditions that the European authors do keep. This is too many of our modern writers of the Europeans to be curious why I never did although he flayed the time of the month wasn't he was very unhappy when they didn't like it he couldn't understand this because he belonged to that town and he wanted to belong to it he did not lose his ties. I think its picture of New York society during the Depression years from the upper brackets of park to the Brooklyn slums where the boys stand on the corner and nothing happens. This is awfully good really and this is a very
different kind of writer friendly romantic of a first novel. Done nothing really is just what I think I try to call a political realist before this is not a contradiction in terms. I was also a social satirist of how a picture like that of Mr. Jack at morning is a great better social set. Really what was the some of the existentialist critics Drama Critics see in him. Tremendous innovators. It's very revealing that as important a man in German letters as you know what it definitely caught world in a long and flattering role of experimental novelist as he calls them and the XX the experimental novel is not only experiment in form but an experiment in new ethical values and only very recently in the very last three months ago there was a review in which in which Wolf is mention in the same breath with with my whole with cough God with Thomas money with him
on parole and various others of that of that group. I wonder how we could make a comparison between the picture of Altamont and Gopher Prairie. Main Street I think Wolf was much better. I think Babbitt happens to be a great book a really good book because it is a nightmare vision of what might happen against helical American. Well as Wolf really tells us what did exist for all is exaggeration. It isn't. He doesn't slandered too much he has quite a sense of the ordinary texture of life. I really do think. Well there's a touch of course constantly in which we might call a make a realistic torch it is realism but it isn't the realism of a sword that reminds me to think of something that you caught in your portable wells on his car sponsors for that.
Fitzgerald definitely tells him you know we shouldn't be more so and I shouldn't be more flow be it we should be more ourselves MBM writers because although as a high romantic territory these terms are very hard to define I really think about that cause for a long discussion I don't have NEVER agree on that. There was one point way way back in this discussion the old argument that Wolf would never have written a novel if he had not had such an editor as Max Perkins Max Perkins never would admit that was true. Well well like to write when Perkins took out hundred pages Wolf would agree and come back with 200 pages but that didn't mean he enjoyed writing enjoyed building this. But he was the writer and time any editor would have simply sent the book to press and it might have been a little more so a little less formless but there is the myth really that well without Perkins would be nothing. I think makes
Perkins was a first. But to deny that I didn't mean to suggest that I don't think it was all I was saying at this moment was what I wanted to say is that what probably would have never stopped long enough to stop and just submit a manuscript in a way that's good. Yes of course I mean that's what had his last two novels he never separated and it would have gone on and on and on for but this is also a very American a very native trait Dreiser did the same thing he wrote 900 pages and the financier and then he let somebody cut it was he just wanted to bill. It wasn't particularly interested in the editing as long as he felt that the book would have peers but their tendency to overwrite is part of our national tradition and the romantic tradition at the same time. Well I would yes I would agree with that in this picture of American life which our novels have given to Europe aims. I wonder if there's any novelist which who said explicitly or
implicitly did well that we are lost here in America. It was not a new a new side of the picture. Mr. CARRO for Mr. PRICE. The idea that we are lost whereas Babatunde dogs were pictured us safely but because you know it wasn't but I didn't live longer we were much more alone. Where much money Bush is whining and the writers of the 20s were much more lost and prudent in their subsequent careers as Lois did then worthless simply because Wolf grew up in the 30s where right it could attach himself to his own culture and see hope we are lost but we shall be found. Whereas Lois to Scott Fitzgerald to Hemingway very very much so far has never had a kind word for the new South who lives in the revolutionary epoch. They were really lost because the vogue in the tradition in which they grew up was one of contempt for their country actually.
And Spain and expatriate X patriotism and in the formative years of a writer's career this can be a very damaging thing. They tried to come back later but it was almost too late in many cases. You know I would almost say looking at Thomas Well strictly from the European angle that he in modern letters is perhaps the only optimistic novelist that America has given to Europe and the only one that has any vision any view of the future as far as that could be something if I were to give if I had to give one book to explain the texture of American life to a European I would probably pick Wolf because it is more about that as both elements. Yes I think that you think on the quality of the picture is that it is one of fullness more than other options. He kills him more than any other although it's let me just look with a jaundiced eye on things neither neither here nor abroad I mean even really finds him so it's a wonderful definition of it I
think that Babbitt gives in his book on the sword which is of which the contrary is true of wealth and romanticism is constantly running away from himself and his home. But just just the opposite will has to go to England and France to find America has yet lost it here this comes very much in the story. Yeah. He tries to bring back his whole American Life which incidentally don't you think is a very good book I like excellent I think the the story of the hour is probably the best that he has written so far for my money and very revealing about war is that it was very much to that it has never been published in Germany in its complete form to my knowledge of US publishing except that I think with all these great enthusiastic critical paeans of praise they should publish this matter. That doesn't mean too much in Germany. Geismar I don't think it means too much you know the German reviewer is either very ass and are very sad. Well there's just two of them daily insulin
and particularly the more recent critics if you just follow the you know the journals through rather consecutively within a week or a month you'll find that the same reviewer reviews a book in 15 newspapers with practically no changes. It's become hack writing the review so I don't think we should put too terribly much stock nothing is much more important that young gentleman is writing very serious the cetaceans and Thomas often and really coming to grips with Will theme problems and does begin to see the new age of America Rising. Well I'm sure in terms what I said earlier that wealth also will come back critically in this country. I notice that Dreiser has come back. People are beginning to mention Dreiser for a period of 10 years it was forbidden to used Rice's name somehow something happened it was slipped and now when I see Robert Penn Warren mentions dry said on this program I said Rice is coming back in a dry succumbs will cure Big Pharma.
Well of course there's one advantage it will have a drug I say he's not politically tainted so I think his soul can be saved. Yes well it wasn't really a joy and I believe it was the Quakers the same day join the Communist Party. Well far be it from us to ask a consequential line from an author. Otherwise I don't yes I don't take office politics too seriously lest they influence the literature. That's right and then they stop being good authors Yes that's right then they stop being entirely exclusive terms. That's right. We know that well spend much time in Germany Mr. Carr but I wonder if you can say anything about Wolf's personal personal parents in Germany and his own feeling for the Germans are they significant factors in accounting for the popularity of his books. We the parents of the manly yet I'll be had for them. Yes I think so I think Sawyer Thomas Thomas will head to Germany at the proper
time I think is his first important with a visit to Germany wasn't 35. There were two or three other this is before but in 35 he really came there as the successful author of Look Homeward Angel. And he just answered the German idea of what a genius should look like. Very tall very handsome flowing here not too clean and not too considerate of other people very much in love with love and in love with women and that certainly appealed to the Germans. He also was a breath of fresh air from the outside. Germany was pretty much in a doghouse by fate. And here comes that great American author bringing their represent representative voice of the world we can be saved we can be redeemed. Thomas Wolfe is not forgotten. This year he's received with open arms and he's lionized there. And also of course the American Embassy did all it could to make Thomas all very palatable as Miss Dodd says in her book.
He yes I think I think the interesting thing with all this I'm with that terrific quest for fame that was right that he came to realize at the end of the U.S. and Germany which is a wonderful section I think that he came to realize quite clearly what had happened to Germany and quite clearly how he had what had how he had gone on his mood and emotions about this. So they were really into that yes that only happened after his first visit in 35 years completely thrown off his feet but 36 he had his second thoughts very serious second thoughts. I may mention parenthetically that I met him on a boat coming back from Europe and making a fall of 36. He was fairly anybody who did most of the time and at first it was a very public nations. He would say how wonderful Germany is compared to America. Well that same evening when he sobered up a little bit and he gave me pretty much this horrible view of what he found drawn me to be turning to. Yeah he was I suppose one of the first American authors who gave us the texture
of what you know that's an experience that really experienced him and the Germans really asked him not to. Not to betray Germany and not to write against Germany but yet he did. Yes there's much more I'm sure that can be said but we have before the program poses another important question I think to consider and that is Will's present reputation in Germany. It is interesting to note that during the last year and a half of posthumously published playable some titles matter House has had a successful run in Germany. Although the players never had a professional production in the United States one German critic in reviewing the play made this remark. It is one of the best arguments for our subsidised theatres that it was a German theatre double doors playhouse rather than American theater concerned with US dollars that ventured to present the world premier of manor house which is more than three decades after the play had been written and another critic also referring to the fact that the players had no professional production in America. You heard firmly that the play quote should not only be given a chance to be produced
but it fairly cries out to be produced. Mr. Kushner I wonder if you can tell us a little something about the play this little known play in America and what it appealed to the Germans for basically the same reasons as those mystic Carmen has given us for the appeal of Will's novel. Yes I think it was I think it is a terrible play. It's always possible error room. But I still think it's a terrible play was written well was it has been that flame famous playwright and cause that he later said is it. It seems to me a violent and adolescent play he writes a good deal about it to his mother. The only thing that's more extreme in the play is what he says the play is going to be this was the play which was going to make him famous. It has I think the worst world of adolescent violence in it. I don't I.
I don't know why it particularly would appeal to the Germans except in the sense that the French still like to see Indians over here and maybe this kind of violent rebellious play appeals to something again and there it is again of us yes again the appeal to the to the romantic I mean when he says for instance the necessity of defending a living not for truth but for divine falshood he in explaining the purpose of the play he is he is hitting home pretty hard as far as the German chancellor is concerned. And I mean that the argument about the theater in in Germany of course it's an ancient one about the subsidised theatre in a private theater. We just don't have subsidized theaters in Europe has in Europe is the better for it. But our our time is up now and I certainly wish to thank both of you for appearing Mr. Parmalee Mr. Geismar for appearing on the program. The discussion you just heard on the foreign reputation of Thomas Wolfe is the fifth of a series of programs and titled 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. This program is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters and it is the Radio Network.
- Thomas Wolfe, part two
- Producing Organization
- University of Massachusetts
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- In this program, the second 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
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part two,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 9, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-hh6c6h68.
- MLA: “As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part two.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-hh6c6h68>.
- APA: As others read us: American fiction abroad; Thomas Wolfe, part two. 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-hh6c6h68