Saturday, February 16, 2008

Look Homeward, Rejection

Here's a reported one-word rejection Thomas Wolfe got in 1929 for Look Homeward, Angel. Are you ready?


He died 9 years later of tuberculosis. Now that's terrible. But here's the first four paragraphs of LH,A, which is today considered an American classic. I think they are rather elegant, don't you?

"A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.

Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that eneded yesterday in Texas.

The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit fo forty thousand years. The minute -winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.

This is a moment:"


Anonymous said...

Look Homeward, Angel IS kind of terrible. It's embarrassing, like a grown man sobbing at your feet over his childhood teddy bear. It's also wonderful, if you want it to be and if you let it.

I happen to love the book, but I never recommend it to people.

Anonymous said...

I notice that the first commenter usually tends to agree with the rejection you are posting. Why is that, I wonder. Human nature? Editors crawling the blog? Or just easier.

Anonymous said...

A book like LHA would never get published today, and that's crazy because there would be a market for something big and lyrical and elegant like that. But it doesn't fit into a focus group. Agents hate it. Did you look at the first 50 manuscript pages of LHA (that's the first 25 pages of the print book)? What agent would take that partial and ask to read the rest (180 some thousand words)? It goes nowhere, no tension, no plot. It's flat and linear. Big words, long sentences, and you have to take your time and READ it. But it's great literature and there is NOTHING LIKE IT today. Nope, just read those partials Nathan Bransford has in his contest. You'll see nothing like this. And if you did, it would be rejected immediately.

Anonymous said...

I agree, anon, that a book like this would have a tough time today. (I mean Really! First time novelist with 200,000 word manuscript and no plot! I can't imagine William Morris or ICM out scouting for an author like this).

But to be fair, it was also quite tough for Wolfe. Some of the publishing houses refused to even look at it when they saw the size of the ms. Some started reading and said it was awful, all purple prose. Only John Hall Wheelock and readers at Scribners gave it a chance and knew it was great.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Wolfe sold this kind of writing to magazines like VOGUE, COSMOPOLITAN, VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW ... how many of these magazines today would buy anything like this at all, or are even looking?