Literary ignoramus that I am, I had no idea there were two Thomas Wolfes.
I’m familiar with the American novelist, Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities, currently lurking on my TBR shelf.
But the other TW? I had no idea, until I watched the movie Genius, last night, featuring  talented Colin Firth as the editor Maxwell Perkins, he of saintly patience and forbearance, the brave editor who took a chance and published unknown novelist Thomas Wolfe’s first novel Look Homeward Angel : A story of a Buried Life. After a long and torturous editing process, Scribner published the novel in 1929, to wide acclaim.
Jude Law plays the part of the ebullient Thomas Wolfe, giving a vivid portrayal of a writer driven by the creative urge, in all its power and destructiveness. Having watched the film, I recognise the origins of the stereotype of writers as hard drinking, hard living, driven to excess both in life and in their work. Contemporary writers F Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway both appear in the movie.
Of course we all know about Hemingway’s larger than life macho posturing, but I now realise there were others in the same era, acting out their own considerable dramas. It seems to me that the 1920s/30s flamboyant writers are a now-extinct species. Watching, current writers being interviewed on BBC Hay Fest literary doccies, they’re all frightfully well behaved!


Colin Firth gives a marvellous, restrained performance as Maxwell Perkins . Despite bad reviews, which I read later on Wikipedia, I was spellbound. Because I’m a bookish viewer, I enjoyed the low key, semi-monotone style. I wonder if other bookish bloggers have seen the film and how they reacted to it?
Maybe later in the month I might get around to Tom Wolfe II and his Bonfire. I’m currently working through a doorstop of a book by another American writer, Johnathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am. More on this topic in another post.

7 thoughts on “A TALE OF TWO WOLFES

  1. We missed the movie when it came to our small town but sounds like one to watch. I found Bonfires by the other Wolfe hard to get into but worth it in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A good movie and yes, Thomas Wolfe had an unusual life. His fiction reflects his reality and if you go to Asheville and Chapel Hill, you can still find him. He is also in NYC and Rhinebeck, NY. Wolfe scholars are very devoted to keeping his work and memory alive.


  3. I also caught Genius recently. (Did you see it on the Roku channel?) I had read Look Homeward, Angel back in college, in the 1970s. I’ve always wanted to read more Thomas Wolfe, but then I’ve always wanted to read Proust too. Both wrote so much that I’m put off starting. However, I read a great deal of Jack Kerouac who is also the master of Roman à clef novels. Then I read a bunch of his biographies, to verify the fiction. That’s the thing about those kinds of writers if you get hooked it becomes a black hole of research. Their lives become too fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No – we don’t have access to the Roku channel here in South Africa. Early in my life I came across the Dharma Bums by Kerouac & was instantly smitten. I then read On the Road and many of the Beat Poets. I agree: Kerouac and his friends were fascinating, especially when I stumbled upon them in the late 50s, then later in the late 60s. Nothing short of miraculous, considering my geographic location.


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