You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

Book ii. The World that Jack Built

Back in New York the autumn term at the School for Utility cultures had begun, and George Webber took up again the old routine of academic chores. He hated teaching worse than ever, and found that even in his classes he was thinking about his new book and looking forward eagerly to his free hours when he could work upon it. It was hardly more than just begun, but for some reason the writing was going well, and George knew from past experience that he’d better take advantage of every moment while the frenzy of creation was upon him. He felt, too, almost desperately, that he ought to get as much of the new book written as he could before the first was published. That event, at once so desired and dreaded, now loomed before him imminently. He hoped the critics would be kind, or at least would treat his novel with respect. Fox Edwards said it ought to have a good critical reception, but that you couldn’t tell anything about sales: better not think too much about it.

George was seeing Esther Jack every day, just as always, but in his excitement over the approaching publication of Home to Our Mountains and his feverish absorption in the new writing he was doing, she no longer occupied the forefront of his thoughts and feelings. She was aware of this and resented it, as women always do. Perhaps that’s why she invited him to the party, believing that in such a setting she would seem more desirable to him and that thus she could recapture the major share of his attention. At any rate, she did invite him. It was to be an elaborate affair. Her family and all her richest and most brilliant friends were to be there, and she begged him to come.

He refused. He told her he had his work to do. He said he had his world and she had hers, and the two could never be the same. He reminded her of their compromise. He repeated that he did not want to belong to her world, that he had seen enough of it already, and that if she insisted on trying to absorb him in her life she was going to destroy the foundation on which their whole relationship had rested since he had come back to her.

But she kept after him and brushed his arguments aside. “Sometimes you sound just like a fool, George!” she said impatiently. “Once you get an idea in your head, you cling to it in the face of reason itself Really, you ought to go out more. You spend too much time cooped up here in your rooms,” she said. “It’s unhealthy! And how can you expect to be a writer if you don’t take part in the life round you? I know what I’m talking about,” she said, her face flushed with eager seriousness. “And, besides, what has all this nonsense about your world and my world got to do with us? Words, words, words! Stop being silly, and listen to me. I don’t ask much of you. Do as I say this once, just to please me.”

In the end she beat him down and he yielded. “All right,” he muttered at last, defeated, without enthusiasm. “I’ll go.”

So September slid into October, and now the day of the great party had dawned. Later, as George looked back upon it, the date took on an ominous significance, for the brilliant party was staged exactly a week before the thunderous crash in the Stock Market which marked the end of an era.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30