“The rags of obedience, servility, reverential awe dropped in a belt around him.” Thomas Wolfe in Chapter 17

BrownBaggers discuss Look Homeward, Angel. Ok, so we didn’t have as large a group as usual and the majority of those attending were very underwhelmed by Thomas Wolfe’s fiction and had not finished the book.  None of this dampened the discussion.  We began by commenting on Wolfe’s writing style, and we concluded that it fell somewhere between Harold Bloom’s assessment, “We cannot discuss the literary merits of Thomas Wolfe; he has none,” and that of Dan Geddes in The Satirist online, “Everything is beautiful; the piece is so consistently good stylistically …” Now, his short stories are apparently written in a much more concise manner.

You can find a wonderful defense of Wolfe’s style in Pat Conroy’s recently published My Reading Life. You, too, may say after reading Angel as Conroy did: “The book’s impact on me was so visceral that I mark the reading of Look Homeward, Angel as one of the pivotal events of my life.”  Conroy also tells us that his English teacher, who introduced Conroy to Wolfe, worried that Conroy needed more balance after meeting Wolfe so he encouraged him to read Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, another title the BrownBaggers have read.  Hemingway’s succinct style could not grip Conroy the way Wolfe’s continues to do.

The characters, who represent Wolfe’s actual family members, are a mixed bag of complicated individuals.  Their personalities were developed well and were mostly unlovable with only one exception – gotta read it to find out.  Eliza, the protagonist’s mother, was overwhelmingly the least favorite although I found that she is somewhat redeemed by the end of the book.

Asheville NC was Wolfe’s hometown and is presented as Altamont here.  We talked of sense of place in “Look Homeward, Angel” and tended to agree that Wolfe did a passable job flushing out a growing mountain top town.  Some felt that this town could be anywhere USA rather than a southern place.  We seemed to agree that Wolfe was not a quintessential Southern writer like Faulkner or Eudora Welty.  He left Ashville for places North only to “look homeward.”

As has happened in our group many times, the discussion encouraged those who had not finished Look Homeward, Angel to persevere.  Continue that discussion here if you wish or read more:

~The Reluctant Blogger


  1. I have to say 2 things in Wolfe’s defense-
    1. He was a huge stylistic influence on the early development of Jack Kerouac. Kerouac’s first novel, “The Town and the City,” was actually considered a little too derivative of Wolfe’s style and voice by some critics (and eventually as he found his own voice-JK himself)
    2. There is a moving passage in Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” that has remained with me, wherein Cleaver recalls the efforts of a prison English/Writing teacher who used to cry as he read passages of “Look Homeward, Angel” to his students.


  2. Great to have your comment. In my readings about Wolfe’s book and other writers’ responses to it, I read many comments about his writing style and subject matter. He definitely is well loved by many writers and has influenced as many. The “stream of consciousness” writing style seems to stir up passion pro and con so that may be the main problem for many readers as well as the seemingly unedited quality of the writing.

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