Looking homeward with Thomas Wolfe and Eugene

This was from last weekend’s Sunday Salon as posted on my “reading” blog: Just A (Reading) Fool. As of today, I still have a little under 200 pages to go before I finish it. In other “Thirsty Thursday” news, I’m soon going to be reading this book as part of an online book club of which I’m a member. Now if only my local library has a copy available. And, oh, I have yet to get any of the books listed in the links below or listen to the John Humphrys program. Procrastination is like that.

The Sunday Salon.comToday’s Sunday Salon has been more productive than other Sunday Salons in which I’ve participated, in that I’m actually reading. I’ve read about 100 pages in Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe and up to Part III where the lead character, Eugene Gant, is off to university at the age of 16.

I thought I might highlight some of my favorite sections within those last 100 pages for you to give you a flavor of Wolfe’s writing if you’ve never encountered it.

In this section, as a teenager, Eugene has just taken as a job as a newspaper carrier:

He dressed and descended the stairs gently to the back porch. The cool air, charged with blue starlight, shocked his body into wakefulness, but as he walked townward up the silent streets, the strange ringing in his ears persisted. He listened like his own ghost, heard from afar the winking flicker of the street-lamps, saw, from sea-sunk eyes, the town.

There sounded in his heart a solemn music. It filled the earth, the air, the universe; it was not loud, but it was omnipresent, and it spoke to him of death and darkness, and of the focal march of all who lived or had lived, converging on a plain. The world was filled with silent marching men: no word was spoken, but in the heart of each there was a common knowledge, the word that all men knew and had forgotten, the lost key opening the prison gates, the lane-end into heaven, and as the music stared and filled him, he cried, “I will remember. When I come to the place, I shall know.”

In another section, Eugene wanders down the streets and crosses paths with various people including William Jennings Bryan and a Confederate veteran. World War I is impending and is everywhere, including at the private school he attends:

As the war developed, and the literature of war-enchantment began to appear, Margaret Leonard gave him book after book to read. They were the books of the yong men–the young men who fought to blot out the evil of the world with their blood. In their trembling voices, she read to him Rupert Brooke’s sonnet–“If I should die, think only this of me.” and she put a copy of Donald Hankey’s A Student In Arms into his hand saying:

“Read this boy. It will stir you as you’ve never been stirred before. Those boys have seen the vision.”

He read it. He read many others. He saw the vision. He became a member of this chivalry–young Galahad-Eugene–a spearhead of righteousness. He had gone a-Grailing. He composed dozens of personal memoirs into which quietly humorously with fine-tempered English restraint, he poured the full measure of his crusading heart. Sometimes, he came through to the piping times of peace minus an arm, a leg, or an eye, diminished but ennobled; sometimes his last radiant words were penned on the eve of the attack that took his life. With glistening eyes, he read his own epilogue, enjoyed his post-mortem glory, as his last words were recorded and explained by his editor. Then, witness of his own martyrdom, he dropped two smoking tears upon his young slain body. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

In this final section I’ll share, he travels with friends on a trip to Charleston, S.C.:

The weariness of the night wwore in upon their jaded nevers, lay upon their dry hot eyeballs. They flattened noses against the dirty windows, and watched the vast structure of the earth sweep past–clumped woodlands, the bending sweep of the fields, the huge flowing lift of the earth-waves, cyclic intersections bewildering–the American earth–rude, immeasurable, formless, mighty.

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Off-topic:

This past week and today in my reading of Sunday Salon posts, I have come across a few books I wanted to read and a radio program (or programme) to which I wanted to listen (hopefully later today, perhaps tomorrow). Here, they are:

Don’t ask me why I included the full link, but I did and now that I have, I’m not going back to change it.

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