You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

Book iv. The Quest of the Fair Medusa

George took Randy’s advice and moved. He did not know where to go. All he wanted was to get away as far as possible from Park Avenue, from the aesthetic jungles of the lion hunters, from the half-life of wealth and fashion that had grown like a parasite upon the sound body of America. He went to live in Brooklyn.

He had made a little money from his book, so now he paid his debts and quit the job he held as a teacher at the School for Utility Cultures. From this time on, he earned his precarious living solely by what he wrote.

For four years he lived in Brooklyn, and four years in Brooklyn are a geologic age — a single stratum of grey time. They were years of poverty, of desperation, of loneliness unutterable. All about him were the poor, the outcast, the neglected and forsaken people of America, and he was one of them. But life is strong, and year after year it went on round him in all its manifold complexity, rich with its unnoticed and unrecorded little happenings. He saw it all, be took it all in hungrily as part of his experience, he recorded much of it, and in the end he squeezed it dry as he tried to extract its hidden meanings.

And what was he like inside while these grey years were slipping by? What was he up to, what was he doing, what did he want?

That’s rather hard to tell, because he wanted so many things, but the thing he wanted most was Fame. Those were the years of his concentrated quest of that fair Medusa. He had had his little taste of glory, and it was bitter in his mouth. He thought the reason was that he had not been good enough — and he had not been good enough. Therefore he thought that what be had had was not Fame at all, but only a moment’s notoriety. He had been a seven-day wonder — that was all.

Well, he had learned some things since he wrote his first book. He would try again.

So he lived and wrote, and wrote and lived, and lived there by himself in Brooklyn. And when he had worked for hours at a stretch, forgetting food and sleep and everything, he would rise from his desk at last and stagger forth into the night-time streets, reeling like a drunkard with his weariness. He would eat his supper at a restaurant, and then, because his mind was feverish and he knew he could not sleep, he would walk to Brooklyn Bridge and cross It to Manhattan, and ferret out the secret heart of darkness in all the city’s ways, and then at dawn come back across the Bridge once more, and so to bed in Brooklyn.

And in these nightly wanderings the old refusals dropped away, the old avowals stood. For then, somehow, it seemed to him that he who had been dead was risen, be who had been lost was found again, and be who in his brief day of glory bad sold the talent, the passion, and the belief of youth into the keeping of the fleshless dead, until his heart was corrupted and all hope gone, would win his life back bloodily, in solitude and darkness. And be felt then that things would be for him once more as they had been, and he saw again, as be bad once seen, the image of the shining city. Far-flung, and blazing into into tiers of jewelled light, it burned forever in his vision as he walked the Bridge, and strong tides were bound round it, and the great ships called. So he walked the Bridge, always be walked the Bridge.

And by his side was that stern friend, the only one to whom be spoke what in his secret heart he most desired. To Loneliness he whispered: “Fame!”— and Loneliness replied: “Aye, brother, wait and see.“

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