You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

Book vi. “I have a Thing to Tell You”

(“Nun Will Ich Ihnen ‘Was Sagen”)

By spring, when George returned to New York, it seemed to him that he had his new book almost finished. He took a small apartment near Stuyvesant Square and buckled down to a steady daily grind to wind it up. He thought two months more would surely see him through, but he always fooled himself about time, and it was not till six months later that he had a manuscript that satisfied him. That is to say, he had a manuscript that he was willing to turn over to his publisher, for he was never really satisfied with anything he wrote. There was always that seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the thing imagined and the thing accomplished, and he wondered if any writer had ever been able to look calmly at something he had done and honestly say:

“This conveys precisely the ideas and feelings I wanted it to convey — no more, no less. The thing is just right, and cannot be improved.”

In that sense he was not at all satisfied with his new book. He knew its faults, knew all the places where it fell short of his intentions. But he’ also knew that he had put into it everything he had at that stage of his development, and for this reason he was not ashamed of it. He delivered the bulky manuscript to Fox Edwards, and as its weight passed from his hands to Fox’s he felt as if a load that he had been carrying for years had been lifted from his mind and conscience. He was done with it, and he wished to God he could forget it and never have to see a line of it again.

That, however, was too much to hope for. Fox read it, told him in his shy, straight way that it was good, and then made a few suggestions — for cutting it here, for adding something there, for rearranging some of the material. George argued hotly with Fox, then took the manuscript home and went to work on it again and did the things Fox wanted — not because Fox wanted them, but because he saw that Fox was right. Two more months went into that. Then there were proofs to read and correct, and by the time this was done another six weeks had gone. The better part of a year had passed since his return from England, but now the job was really finished and he was free at last.

Publication was scheduled for the spring of 1936, and as the time approached he became increasingly apprehensive. When his first book had come out, wild horses could not have dragged him from New York; he had wanted to be on hand so he could be sure not to miss anything. He had waited around, and read all the reviews, and almost camped out in Fox’s office, and had expected from day to day some impossible fulfilment that never came. Instead, there had been the letters from Libya Hill and his sickening adventures with the lion hunters. So now he was gun-shy of publication dates, and he made up his mind to go away this time — as far as possible away. Although he did not believe there would be an exact repetition of those earlier experiences, just the same he was prepared for the worst, and when it happened he was determined not to be there.

Suddenly he thought of Germany, and thought of it with intense longing. Of all the countries he had ever seen, that was the one, after America, which he like the best, and in which he felt most at home, and with whose people he had the most natural, instant, and instinctive sympathy and understanding. It was also the country above all others whose mystery and magic haunted him. He had been there several times, and each time its spell over him had been the same. And now, after the years of labour and exhaustion, the very thought of Germany meant peace to his soul, and release, and happiness, and the old magic again.

So in March, two weeks before the publication of his book, with Fox at the pier to see him off and reassure him that everything was going to be all right, he sailed again for Europe.

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