You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

Book v. Exile and Discovery

After four longyears in Brooklyn, George Webber came out of the wilderness, looked round him, and concluded he had had enough of it. During this period he had learned much, both about himself and about America, but now he was seized again with wanderlust. His life had always seemed to shift between the poles of anchored loneliness and foot-loose voyagings — between wandering for ever, and then the earth again — and now the old and restless urgings of “Where shall we go? And what shall we do?” again became insistent, would not down, and demanded of him a new answer.

Ever since his first book bad been published be had been looking for a way to form and shape his next. Now he thought that he had found it. It was not the way, perhaps, but it was a way. The hundreds and thousands of separate and disjointed notes that he had written down had fallen at last into a pattern in his mind. He needed only to weave them all together, and fill in the blanks, and he would have a book. He felt that be could do this final job of organisation and revision better if he made a clean break in the monotony ‘of his life. New scenes, new faces, and new atmospheres might clear his head and sharpen his perspective.

It would be a good thing, too, to get away from America for a while. Too much was happening here — it was too exciting and disturbing. The whole thing was in such a state of flux, in such a prophetic condition of becoming, that the sheer exhilaration of watching it made it hard to concentrate upon the immediate job he had to do. Perhaps in the older civilisation of Europe, where life was fixed and certain, moulded by the heritage of centuries, there would be fewer distractions to keep him from his work. He decided to go abroad, to England, and there drop anchor, there find even keel in placid waters — there complete his book.

So in the late summer of 1934 he sailed from New York, went straight to London, took a flat, and settled down to hard, intensive labour. All through the autumn and winter of that year he lived in London in his self-imposed exile. It was a memorable time for him, a time during which, as he was later to realise, he discovered an entire new world. All the events, the experiences, and the people that he met became engraved indelibly upon his life.

And the event which exercised the most profound influence upon him in that alien air was his meeting with the great American author, Mr. Lloyd McHarg. Everything seemed to lead up to that. And what made his meeting with Mr. McHarg so important to him was that now, for the first time, he met a living embodiment of his own dearest and most secret dream. For when Mr. Lloyd McHarg swept like a cyclone through his life, George knew that he was having his first encounter in the flesh with that fair Medusa, Fame herself Never before had he beheld the lady, or witnessed the effects of her sweet blandishments. Now he saw the whole thing for himself.

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