Rare Typed Letter Signed, 4to, np but likely New York, Dec. 27, 1937
by WOLFE, THOMAS
Wolfe writes a remarkable letter to Tennessee author, Anne Armstrong, whom he first met in 1937, the year of our letter. He discusses an important turning point in his career and uses his most famous phrase, "You can't go home again." Wolfe had by this date published, "Look Homeward, Angel" and "Of Time and the River, " both of which had been edited by Maxwell Perkins, legendary editor at Charles Scribner's Sons. In 1937, Wolfe made the difficult decision to break off his long-standing relationship with Perkins, and shortly before he wrote this letter, he opted for Edward Aswell at Harper & Brothers as his new editor and publisher. Aswell would have a crucial role in shaping and editing all of Wolfe's subsequent books. Wolfe writes about the reasons behind his choice of Aswell and Harpers. "I am so glad you spoke as you did about Harpers, because I gave them my answer a week ago," Wolfe states. "I am going to be with them, and I believe somehow, it is going to be one of the most fortunate and happy experiences of my life. They are giving me a great advance, if I want it. But really I was playing a personal hunch. They want me so much, they believe in me so utterly, and there is no doubt they meant everything they said...." He explains why he thinks his new editor, Aswell, who was apparently his own age, will work out. "I am playing this hunch, too: I think it is going to turn out to be a wonderful experience - I feel that the man is quiet, but very deep and true: and he thinks that I am the best writer there is, but if anyone feels that way, you are going to do your utmost to try to live up to it, aren't you...." He describes spending Christmas with Aswell, his family and others. "I have never seen a higher group of people...." He reveals his feelings about leaving Perkins and Scribners. "I am still a little sad thinking about the past - Scribners, all of that - but you can't go home again, can you? Now I am facing toward a New Year and a new, I hope, greater piece of work...." He signs, "Tom Wolfe." The letter has some light toning and mat burn from prior framing. A few small stains show along the blank top margin. The letter has been profrssionally deacidified and is now in sound and very good condition. Wolfe ends this letter with the title of his novel, "You Can't Go Home Again," published posthumously by Edward Aswell. Wolfe had come upon the phrase that would become the novel's title a few weeks before he penned this letter. He was describing to Ella Winter the problems with his recent trip, the first in man years, to his home town of Asheville, North Carolina. Ella responded, "But don't you know you can't go home again?" The phrase had immediate resonance for Wolfe who asked if he could use it since it captured exactly what he had been feeling. In the following weeks, he used the phrase repeatedly in conversation, notes and letters, even suggesting it as a title for a future book in a letter to Aswell. Following Wolfe's early death in September 1938, Aswell was able to produce three books from the manuscripts Wolfe had left with him, and one would be titled, "You Can't Go Home Again" published in 1940. The letter is published in Elizabeth Nowell, ed., "The Letters of Thomas Wolfe," (pp. 694-95). (Inventory #: 4286)
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