O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life

by Thomas Wolfe

Other authorsMatthew J. Bruccoli (Editor), Arlyn Bruccoli (Editor)
Hardcover, 2000




University of South Carolina Press, (2000)


"The editing of Thomas Wolfe's first novel, originally titled "O Lost," has been the subject of literary argument since its 1929 publication in abridged form as Look Homeward, Angel. This powerful coming-of-age novel tells the rich story of Eugene Gant, a young North Carolina man who longs to escape the confines of his small-town life and his tumultuous family. At the insistence of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, Wolfe cut the typescript by 22 percent. Sixty-six thousand words were omitted for reasons of propriety and publishing economics, as well as to remove material deemed expendable by Perkins. Published for the first time on October 3, 2000 - the centenary of Wolfe's birth - O Lost presents the complete text of the novel's manuscript." "For seventy years Wolfe scholars have speculated about the merits of the unpublished complete work and about the editorial process - particularly the reputed collaboration of Perkins and Wolfe. In order to present this classic novel in its original form as Wolfe wrote it, Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli have established the text from the carbon copy of the typescript and from Wolfe's pencil manuscript. In addition to restoring passages omitted from Look Homeward, Angel, the editors have corrected errors introduced by the typist and other mistakes in the original text and have explicated problematic readings. An introduction and appendices - including textual, bibliographical, and explanatory notes - reconstruct Wolfe's process of creation and place it in the context of the publishing process."--Jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Vinculus
While I didn't read this in long sittings, I don't think I would have wanted to. It turned out to be more of a slog than I anticipated. Some interesting moments, but over all just not what I'd hoped for.
LibraryThing member datrappert
It is easy to see why an editor would be tempted to take this--the original version of what came to be Look Homeward Angel--and cut it, rearrange it, and smooth it out to be more of a normal novel, as if anything written in Wolfe's luxuriant prose could be normal. I read Look Homeward Angel many
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years ago, and it left a great impression on me through its poetry, so I was fascinated these many years later to read this original version. Of course, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you what had changed without the editors' introductions. The nature of Look Homeward Angel had stayed with me, but not its story.

In any case, O Lost is very much worth reading and is not some sort of mess that takes a genius to read. Yes, Wolfe digresses. Yes, he goes on for pages about people waking up in the morning. Yes, he spends lots of time providing critiques of other authors through his characters. Yes, he adds pastiches of children's fiction. But, while the book loses a bit of focus in the middle part, it all hangs together for a powerful, moving climax (that is somewhat offset by the several chapters that follow!) The relationship between Eugene Gant, who is the author's alter ego, and his brother Ben is the emotional center of the book, and it is unforgettable. Mr. Gant, Eugene's father, is one of the most memorable fathers in fiction, and his mother, Julia, with her obsession for investing in real estate, is a larger than life presence as well. Of course, this is largely autobiographical. Eugene's brothers and sisters in the book have the same names as Wolfe's own brothers and sisters. Altamont is Asheville. Pulpit Hill is Chapel Hill, and so on. How much is actually fictional, I don't know. What matters, however, is how Wolfe tells the story and what it is ultimately trying to say, which, I think, is "What's it all about?" That's pretty much what brother Ben wants to know, and its something Eugene struggles with. What is the point of living, when so much of what we are is foretold in the fate of our parents and siblings. Can we escape it? Certainly that is Eugene's intent as he goes off to the University of North Carolina and prepares to leave for Harvard at the end of the book. Of course, when Look Homeward Angel was published, Wolfe himself had less than 10 years to live, dying at age 38 in 1938. Perhaps he had a premonition even as writing this.

The book will jar you with its descriptions of race and ethnicity. Maybe that is why Look Homeward Angel has fallen out of favor in recent years compared to contemporary works by Faulkner, Hemingway, and others. But these are just the unvarnished thoughts of the narrator, who himself doesn't seem particularly racist or anti-semitic or anything else; his observations of others are usually very clear--it is just his language that has fallen into disrepute. One thing I can say is that Wolfe is much more readable than most of Faulkner and much deeper than most of Hemingway. Apparently Wolfe's later novels, both before and after his death, as published were even more edited and "constructed" versions of the massive manuscripts they began as, which the editor here compares to Proust's magnum opus. After reading this original version, I would love to see the rest of Wolfe published as he wrote it, warts and all. Unfortunately, that is probably not going to happen soon. O Lost doesn't seem to be available new any more. I had to purchase a used copy for over $35, and the copies I see now on Amazon, abebooks, etc. are even more expensive. I hope someone will bring this back out in a paperback edition and that we will be able to read even more of Wolfe's original work in the future. In the meantime, find a copy of this--perhaps at your library--and prepare to be absorbed for more than a few days.
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LibraryThing member BeauxArts79
It's clear Wolfe is a genius of prose though not, I would suggest, of narrative.


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