Wolfe, Thomas: Of Time and the River
(researched by Stuart Ginn)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Charles Scribner's Sons New York, NY The First edition went into publication on March 8, 1935. Copyright 1935 by Charles Scribner's Sons

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The First Edition was published in black cloth with gold Lettering on green panel, covered by a paper dust jacket.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

465 leaves. [9], 3-912 Pages measure 8 3/10" by 5 Ω" (21cm by 15cm) 39 lines per page.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

This edition was neither edited nor introduced.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

This edition was not illustrated.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The text is of suitable size and is clearly printed. Although the specific font was not identified, the letters are clear and concise. There is no tendency to smudge or fade, and the printing is even and sharp.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper is yellowing, but generally in good physical condition. Pages are not torn in either the preserved copy or in a copy found in general circulation. Considering the book's advancing age, the original quality of the paper must have been exceptional

11 Description of binding(s)

The book is bound in black cloth with gilt (gold) lettering written across green blocks. Cover reads: OF TIME AND THE RIVER/THOMAS WOLFE. Spine reads: OF TIME AND/THE RIVER/THOMAS WOLFE/SCRIBNER'S

12 Transcription of title page

OF TIME AND THE RIVER/A LEGEND OF MAN'S HUNGER/IN HIS YOUTH/ By/THOMAS WOLFE/ "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and/ the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?"/ Ovular design (publisher's device)/CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS/NEW YORK/1935

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Manuscripts for selected sections of Of Time and the River are held at the University of Virginia Library, Special Collections Department, Alderman Library, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Wolfe has dedicated this novel to Maxwell Evarts Perkins, who was one of his editors and a great encouragement. Additionally, the novel is divided into eight books. The titles and pagination of each is as follows: BOOK ONE: Orestes: Flight Before Fury; 1-86. BOOK TWO: Young Faustus; 87-324. BOOK THREE: Telemachus; 325-404. BOOK FOUR: Proteus: The City; 405-598. BOOK FIVE: Jason's Voyage; 599-794. BOOK SIX: Antaeus: Earth Again; 795-850. BOOK SEVEN: Kronos and Rhea: The Dream of Time; 851-900. BOOK EIGHT: Faust and Helen; 901-912.

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A


2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

Scribner's ran the first edition in two printings, the first in February and the second in March of 1935.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

1) August 19,1935; William Heinemann Ltd., London. A cheap edition was reprinted by this publisher in 1937. 2) 1939; Grosset and Dunlap reprint. Slightly larger format than original. 3) 1943; Armed Services Editions, Incorporated. This edition was paper bound, 512 pages, 11.5 by 16.5cm, with a yellow and red cover. 4) 1944; Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. 5) 1944: Blue Ribbon Press, Toronto.

6 Last date in print?

The latest edition indicated was issued in December of 1952 by Roman, Rowohlt Verlag Hamburg (in German).

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

No information was located concerning the total number of copies sold.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

Sales figures unavailible.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

The following advertisements were found in Publisher's Weekly magazine in the February and March 1935 issues, consecutively:
Ad #1: March 8th is the Day (Picture of First Edition) Certain to be the most talked-about novel of the Spring -- and later. $3.00 Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
Ad #2: Bound to be a Best Seller OF TIME AND (Picture of First Edition Appears Here) THE RIVER by Thomas Wolfe Second big printing before publica- tion already on the way to exhaus- tion. Coming March 8th. $3.00 Charles Scribner's Sons, New York

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

Data on Other promotions unavailible.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A


13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

German: Von Zeit Und Strom. tr. Hans Schiebelhuth. Rowohlt, Berlin, 1936. A German reprint edition was issued under the same title and by the same publisher in December of 1952. In addition, a German partial edition containing selections from the novel was issued in 1939 under the title "So beginnt Thomas Wolfes Von Zeit und Strom".
Norwegian: I Drift Pa Livets Elv. tr. Trygve Width. Steenske Forlag, Oslo, 1937. (This edition contains the first three books of OTATR.)
Byen Reisen Og Drommen. tr. Trygve Width. Steenske Forlag, Oslo, 1937. (This edition contains the last five books of OTATR.)
Dutch: Het Leven Schroeit. (no translator given). N.V. Servire, Den Haag, 1935. (This edition only contains the first three books. The final five were never published in Dutch.)
Argentine: Del Tiempo y Del Rio. tr. Sara Kurlat de Lajamamovich. Emece Editores, S.A., Buenos Aires, 1948.
French: Au Fil Du Temps. tr. (no translator given). Stock, Paris, 1951.

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

Of Time and the River was written as a sequel to Wolfe's first novel, Look Homeward Angel. This sequence is known as the "Eugene Gant Series".

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Thomas Clayton Wolfe was born in Asheville, North Carolina on October 3, 1900. Born to Mr. WIlliam Oliver Wolfe, a stonecutter from Pennsylvania, and Mrs. Julia E. Wolfe, a native North Carolinean and a savvy bus
iness woman, Thomas was the youngest of eight children. His formal education began at the age of five, when in 1905 he started at the Orange Street Public School in Ashville. By 1912, Wolfe transfered into the North State Fitting School, also in Ashevil
le and operated by Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Roberts, who would spurn his creative interests and talents early on in his life. At the age of 16, Wolfe enetered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied drama and playrighting under Profess
or Frederick Koch. After four years, Wolfe was graduated from the University with a Bachelor's Degree in Arts in English Literature. Thereafter he pursued graduate studies at Harvard University. While studying for his Master's degree, Wolfe worked cl
osely with Professor George Pierce Baker in the distinguished "47 Workshop", which venue saw the production of several of Wolfe's plays. Leaving Harvard after three years, he attempted to make a name as a playright. Unable to gain any recognition or su
ccess, however, Wolfe took a job as an Enlish instructor at the Washington Square campus of New York University in 1924, where he worked intermitently until 1930. During his tenure at NYU, in 1925, Wolfe took his first trip to Europe, where he met Aline
Berbstein, a wealthy -- and married -- costume designer from New York City. In 1926, while on vacation with Aline in Europe, Wolfe began writing what was eventually to be published as Look Homeward, Angel, whick was released in October of 1929 by Scribne
r's Sons publishers. Maxwell Perkins, a notable editor for Scribner's, became Wolfe's mentor and surrogate father and an inspiration for the blossoming novelist. In 1930, Wolfe's long standing and rocky affair with Aline Bernstien came to an end, the same year that Wolfe gave up teaching to become a full time writer. His contract with Scribner's lasted until 1937, when he signed with Harpers, and included the
publishing of Of Time and the River in 1935. His departure from Scribner's included a falling out of sorts with Perkins, who Wolfe felt was too constricting and played too much of a role in the writing and editing of his novels. His new editor at Harpe
rs was to be Edward Aswell. But while on tour in the Western United States in 1937 and 1938, Wolfe sickened and was eventually admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he underwent brain surgery on September 12, 1938. Diagnosed with tuber
culosis of the brain, Wolfe died on the 15th of September. Wolfe's manuscripts, which are voluminous in number, are held at Harvard Univertity's Houghton Library. His childhood home in Asheville, at 92 Woodfin Street, is an historical landmark.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Of Time and the River met with mixed criticism when it entered publication in March of 1935. Most immediate reactions were generally favorable, but Wolfe was often harshly criticised for the book's propensity to autobiography and for it's voluminous length. "Cut down by half," writes Malcom Cowley in The New Republic, "it would be twice as good." The novel's legnth and the enormous range of experiences and characters it envoloves were also targets of harsh criticism. According to Leo Gurko, "if read as a standard novel, Of Time and the River is a busted-up, every-which-way sort of book, quite awful." But regardless of these less than favorable reviews, Wolfe's new work was received as nothing if not an indication of his brilliance and his future as a great american novelist. To quote Seymore Kantor of the Washington Square Critic, Wolfe is "the most prodigious talent that America has yet produced." Other favorable reviews included Henry S. Canby's, which praises Wolfe's prolific talents and the novel's "richness in detail...passion,...poetry, and...intense realism." Among the novel's most lauded aspects is WOlfe's ability to capture the great breadth of emotional energy among his characters. As Peter Monro Jack describes it in The New York Times Book Reveiw, "all this is an overflowing spring of life, as ungovernable as it is enriching. Mr. Wolfe's characterisic material is continuous and dynamic where so much in contemporary fiction is static; it expands where so much else contracts into a poverty of spirit." But despite the novel's overwhelming public success, the book was generally considered something of a dichotomy; at once an expression of brilliance and a muttled and over-written display of naivite. "Thomas Wolfe at his best" writes Crowley, "is the only contemporary American writer who can be mentioned in the same breath with [Charles] Dickens and [Fyodor] Dostoevsky...But the trouble is that the best passages are scattered, that they occur without logic or pattern, except the biographical pattern of thte hero's life, and they lack the cumulative effect, the slow tightening of emotions to an intolerable pitch, that one finds in great novels."
"The Forty Days of Thomas Wolfe." by Malcom Crowley. in The New Republic, 03-20-35, pp. 163-164.
"Of Time and the River." by Seymour Kantor. in Washington Square Critic, 05-35, pp.15,16.
"The River of Youth." by Henry Seidel Canby. in Seven Years' Harvest. 1936, pp. 163-70.
"Thomas Wolfe." by Charles I. Glicksberg. in Canadian Form, 01-36, pp. 24,25.
Essay by Robert Penn Warren. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, 1935, pp. 507.
Essay by John Peale Bishop. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, 1939, pp. 511-513.
"Mr. Wolfe's Pilgrim Progress." by Peter Monro Jack. in The New York TImes Book Review, 03-10-35, pp. 1, 14.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Although references were found indicating the existence of more recent criticism (mostly academic), I was unable to locate physical copies of any. Two readers' reviews on amazon.com seem to point to the author's abilities in the art of prose and story telling; for Wolfe is described by one as "a wonderfully expressive writer--a true wordsmith from the North Carolina Hills whose emotional intensity explodes in every well-turned phrase."
"Wolfe's Of Time and the River." by Irving Halperin. in The Explicator, 11-59, pp. 217-219.
Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River: A Critical Commentary. by Terence Dewsnap. Monarch Study Notes and Study Guides Series. New York: Monarch Press, 1965.
Thomas WOlfe's Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River (A Critical Commentary). by Maria M. Gillan. New York: Barrister Publishing Co. 1966.
"An Echo of Poe in Of Time and the River." by Larry Rubin. in Poe Newsletter, 12-70, pp. 38-39.

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

When Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and The River was released in 1935, it was met both with generous praise and searing criticism. On the one hand, the novel was instantly recognized as an early indication of Wolfe's myriad talents and prolific genius, the ne
xt logical step in a career that had already produced the likes of Look Homeward, Angel. On the other, it was a novel described by many critics as something of a delinquent, rambling, unstructured failure that felt too much like a cheap autobiography and
which by no means brought to bear the full aspect of it's author's latent abilities. But it was surrounded by controversy from every angle; disagreements between Wolfe and his first editor, Maxwell Perkins, concerning the book's structure, length, sub
ject matter, and focus crippled their relationship and fueled Wolfe's own disappointment with the published product; the author's frustration with his inability to accomplish in the novel that which he had set out to produce alienated Wolfe and was a so
urce of constant pressure on the young novelist. Still, the novel was an instant success in American popular culture, especially since Wolfe's work had become greatly anticipated and highly lauded following the release and popularity of Look Homeward, A
ngel. Of Time and The River, wrought with struggles and strains on its long journey to publication, emerged into an American culture which, in 1935, wanted and needed a story of the American condition. Nestled in the throes of the Great Depression that
1929 had unleashed on the unwary nation, in an era plagued by international unrest and the encroaching threat of eminent war, it was a story that fell on eager ears in the United States; a story of home and hearth and exploration and frustration; a story
close to the hearts and minds of its ready audience. It was a novel perfectly congruous with its time, and it enjoyed rampant public success as a result.
For Wolfe, Of Time and The River was a struggle from its very conception. What he had originally envisioned for the novel and what it turned out to be, however, were two very different things. Wolfe's vision for his second novel was nothing if not ambi
tious. The thing that had consumed his thoughts for so long, it seems, was the strange dichotomy of existence; the "hunger" that had mystified him for most of his intellectual life. It was this dichotomy - and specifically the role it played in the live
s of Americans in particular - which was to be the central theme of his new novel. In Wolfe's own words, his condition was one of constant struggle "between a hunger for isolation, for getting away, for seeking new lands - and a desire for home, for per
manence, for a piece of this earth fenced in and lived on and private to oneself, and for a person or persons to love and possess" (Donald, 239). Desperate to get a hand on his own vision, Wolfe reached for some tangible means of effectively portraying h
is immense project. His original idea was in effect to catalogue the vast American experience by creating "a portrait of America made up of numerous vignettes linked only through theme or leitmotifs" (Donald, 278). It was to become a struggle that he wo
uld never fully comprehend or conquer, and it mangled him psychologically and physically: "I am aching with a new one - it's got to come out of me. I loath the idea of not writing it, and I loath the idea of writing it - I am lazy, and doing a book is a
gony - 60 cigarettes a day, 20 cups of coffee, miles of walking and flinging about, nightmares, nerves, madness - there are better ways, but this, God help me, is mine" (Nowell, 196). Only through the controversial influence of Maxwell Perkins, an editor
for Charles Scribner's Sons, was the novel ever publishable.
Perkins was Wolfe's first editor, and he played a significant role throughout the young author's career. Theirs was a rocky relationship, one of mixed emotions that alternated between mutual respect and sharp criticism. Early on, Perkins had recognize
d Wolfe as a superb writer with unbounded potential, and Wolfe came to consider Perkins to be the most brilliant of all editors, although he scarcely knew another one. As the two worked to finish Of Time and The River, their relationship grew to include
those more personal aspects that often characterize the affection felt between a father and a son. "For Perkins," says Donald, "Wolfe became in a sense the son he never had - a son more dear because he exhibited the extravagant impulses, the excessive ap
petites, the torrential loquacity in which Perkins would never allow himself to indulge" (Donald, 204-5). And the editor's respect and affections for Wolfe were certainly requited. Perkins's ability as an editor - his unwavering support, generosity, a
nd helpfulness towards Wolfe - made his seem, to Wolfe, "almost like a father." In a letter to Perkins Wolfe wrote, "young men sometimes believe in the existence of heroic figures, stronger and wiser that themselves, to whom they can turn for an answer t
o all their vexation and grief?You are for me such a figure: you are one of the rocks to which my life is anchored" (Donald, 205). But the details concerning the publication of this second novel were cause for serious tremors in the otherwise affectionat
e relationship. Wolfe's original vision continued to elude him as the frustration of writing the momentous text mounted, and Perkins, who knew all too well the pitfalls that often accompany such indecisiveness, urged the young writer to make some import
ant changes. First off, he reasoned, Wolfe's idea for the "series of vignettes" was not feasible, especially considering the author's apparent inability to provide any sort of coherent connection among the stories. If this novel was going to work, Per
kins reasoned, it would need to be more conventional. But for Wolfe, such a fundamental change in the work's structure and composition amounted to nothing short of complete annihilation of his vision, and his attitude towards Perkins began to verge on m
istrust and frustration. Since their relationship had by this time developed on a personal level, the two often had difficulty separating fondness from professional disagreement. In his letters to Perkins, Wolfe echoed his intense despair at the forces
that were driving the two apart. "Are you - the man I trusted and reverenced above all else in the world - trying?to destroy me?" (Austin, 187) But Wolfe's most earnest concern was that the novel was being crafted, against him wishes and his better jud
gement, in terms of its value to Scribner's as a publishable - and sellable - entity. Vast sections were being cut by Perkins and Scribner's, sections that Wolfe had taken particular care in writing and which he thought were crucial to the books overar
ching themes, and Wolfe thought that his novel would be, if nothing else, discombobulated. Which it was, according to many of its critics, and which the author had specifically tried to avoid, considering the great pains he had endured to organize his th
oughts in the first place. On a professional level, Wolfe and Perkins were quickly parting company; yet they maintained that personal intimacy that had bound them for so long, so much so that even while Wolfe eventually refused to work with Perkins - or
Scribner's - after the publication of Of Time and The River, he was adamant about maintaining his friendship with Perkins and his family. "He refused to stop by Perkins' office in the afternoons," says Austin, "but he was still a frequent visitor in hi
s home" (Austin, 186).
The finished product, as it turned out, was for Wolfe a marked departure from his early hopes for Of Time and The River. His most poignant complaint was that it was indeed unfinished when Perkins insisted on publishing, although Wolfe knew that six more
months of writing, added to the already voluminous text of over 500,000 words, would yield a book that would literally be to large to publish. But Perkins had effectively taken the unfinished manuscript out of the author's unwilling hands, and Wolfe, de
spite encouraging early sales figures, was keenly disappointed in his novel. As Donald puts it "though every word of that book was his, he knew that it bore astonishingly little resemblance to the book that he had planned. He could not repress his unhap
piness that Perkins had insisted on taking the manuscript from him in December 1933" (Donald, 307). It was, according to Wolfe, "written too fast, with frenzied maddened haste, under a terrible sense of pressure" (Donald, 317). And while the author did
believe that this was the best work he'd yet done, he also worried that the tremendous rush that accompanied its publication may have shirked some of the novel's true value. "I would be troubled by it," he wrote in a letter to Perkins, "to know I had
written a best seller, was a best-seller kind of writer: I would worry then to know what was wrong with my book, whether you and I had done something to cheapen it and make it popular" (Nowell, 437). Prophetic words, as it turned out; for when he returne
d from Europe in late 1935, Wolfe found Of Time and The River an impressive success.
Of the myriad changes the novel underwent on its path to publication, the most fundamental - and the most disturbing for Wolfe - was its eventual transformation into something more like an autobiography than an original text. In the end, Of Time and The
River more or less picked up where Look Homeward, Angel had left off; it had become a sequel, an addendum to a novel that Wolfe had written as a barely fictional account of his coming of age in America. Early critics of the novel dwelled upon this aspect
of its composition, citing Wolfe's inability to produce anything truly original without sacrificing power and meaning. "Tom's problem," says Austin, "was not a lack of inventiveness which made autobiography necessary. Part of the problem was that he
could not resist mining the rich ore of his own experience" (Austin, 153). But once he had settled on what he knew - at the stringent behest of his publishers - would ultimately be an autobiographical novel, Wolfe was insistent that his plan was not an e
asy way out, but rather an important method of developing his novel in terms of the American perspective. He had an "increasing tendency to identify himself with all American experience" (Austin, 153), and Wolfe defended his mode of writing to the last.
As the author wrote in his "statement of purpose" before the novel's publication, "he [the author herein refers to himself in the third person] intends for this to be the most objective book that he has ever written?He has constructed a fable, invented
a story and a legend; out of his experience he has derived some new characters who are now compacted not so much from specific recollection as from the whole amalgam and consonance of seeing, feeling, thinking, living, and knowing many people" (Field, 36)
. Wolfe was obstinate: this was a novel about being an American; about how experience shapes us and how the hunger never disappears. And as it turned out, it was a novel for which America was hungry.
For whatever reasons, Of Time and The River was famously successful, almost an instant bestseller. Said one Scribner's executive, "I do not recall any book during my quarter of a century with the House [of Scribner's] which has been greeted with such o
verwhelming admiration, enthusiasm, and excitement" (Donald, 317). If nothing else, the book was published at the most appropriate time; for the mid 1930s in America was a torrential historical moment. As the Great Depression laid waste to the nation's
economy, so did the earliest murmurings of World War Two begin to threaten the dilapidated nation. What the country needed in terms of an artist was one willing and able to produce an accurate portrayal of the American condition, and Thomas Wolfe was mo
re than equipped for that task. He could capture - he did capture - the odd dichotomy between a longing for exploration and experience and an ever present yearning for home. Of Time and The River was a novel keenly aware of its moment and intricately fa
shioned in American terms.

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