Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth (Scribner Classics)

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9780684867854: Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth (Scribner Classics)

The sequel to Thomas Wolfe's remarkable first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River is one of the great classics of American literature. The book chronicles the maturing of Wolfe's autobiographical character, Eugene Gant, in his desperate search for fulfillment, making his way from small-town North Carolina to the wider world of Harvard University, New York City, and Europe. In a massive, ambitious, and boldly passionate novel, Wolfe examines the passing of time and the nature of the creative process, as Gant slowly but ecstatically embraces the urban life, recognizing it as a necessary ordeal for the birth of his creative genius as a writer.
The work of an exceptionally expressive writer of fertile imagination and startling emotional intensity, Of Time and the River illuminates universal truths about art and life, city and country, past and present. It is a novel that is majestic and enduring. As P. M. Jack observed in The New York Times, "It is a triumphant demonstration that Thomas Wolfe has the stamina to produce a magnificent epic of American life."
This edition, published in celebration of Wolfe's centennial anniversary, contains a new introduction by Pat Conroy.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938) was born in Asheville, North Carolina, and educated at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. He taught English at New York University and traveled extensively in Europe and America. Wolfe created his legacy as a classic American novelist with Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; A Stone, a Leaf, a Door; and From Death to Morning.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapeter One

About fifteen years ago, at the end of the second decade of this century, four people were standing together on the platform of the railway station of a town in the hills of western Catawba. This little station, really just a suburban adjunct of the larger town which, behind the concealing barrier of a rising ground, swept away a mile or two to the west and north, had become in recent years the popular point of arrival and departure for travellers to and from the cities of the east, and now, in fact, accommodated a much larger traffic than did the central station of the town, which was situated two miles westward around the powerful bend of the rails. For this reason a considerable number of people were now assembled here, and from their words and gestures, a quietly suppressed excitement that somehow seemed to infuse the drowsy mid-October afternoon with an electric vitality, it was possible to feel the thrill and menace of the coming train.

An observer would have felt in the complexion of this gathering a somewhat mixed quality -- a quality that was at once strange and familiar, alien and native, cosmopolitan and provincial. It was not the single native quality of the usual crowd that one saw on the station platforms of the typical Catawba town as the trains passed through. This crowd was more mixed and varied, and it had a strong coloring of worldly smartness, the element of fashionable sophistication that one sometimes finds in a place where a native and alien population have come together. And such an inference was here warranted: the town of Altamont a mile or so away was a well-known resort and the mixed gathering on the station platform was fairly representative of its population. But all of these people, both strange and native, had been drawn here by a common experience, an event which has always been of first interest in the lives of all Americans. This event is the coming of the train.

It would have been evident to an observer that of the four people who were standing together at one end of the platform three -- the two women and the boy -- were connected by the relationship of blood. A stranger would have known instantly that the boy and the young woman were brother and sister and that the woman was their mother. The relationship was somehow one of tone, texture, time, and energy, and of the grain and temper of the spirit. The mother was a woman of small but strong and solid figure. Although she was near her sixtieth year, her hair was jet black and her face, full of energy and power, was almost as smooth and unlined as the face of a girl. Her hair was brushed back from a forehead which was high, white, full, and naked-looking, and which, together with the expression of her eyes, which were brown, and rather worn and weak, but constantly thoughtful, constantly reflective, gave her face the expression of straight grave innocence that children have, and also of strong native intelligence and integrity. Her skin was milk white, soft of texture, completely colorless save for the nose, which was red, broad and fleshy at the base, and curiously masculine.

A stranger seeing her for the first time would have known somehow that the woman was a member of a numerous family, and that her face had the tribal look. He would somehow have felt certain that the woman had brothers and that if he could see them, they would look like her. Yet, this masculine quality was not a quality of sex, for the woman, save for the broad manlike nose, was as thoroughly female as a woman could be. It was rather a quality of tribe and character -- a tribe and character that was decisively masculine.

The final impression of the woman might have been this: -- that her life was somehow above and beyond a moral judgment, that no matter what the course or chronicle of her life may have been, no matter what crimes of error, avarice, ignorance, or thoughtlessness might be charged to her, no matter what suffering or evil consequences may have resulted to other people through any act of hers, her life was somehow beyond these accidents of time, training, and occasion, and the woman was as guiltless as a child, a river, an avalanche, or any force of nature whatsoever.

The younger of the two women was about thirty years old. She was a big woman, nearly six feet tall, large, and loose of bone and limb, almost gaunt. Both women were evidently creatures of tremendous energy, but where the mother suggested a constant, calm, and almost tireless force, the daughter was plainly one of those big, impulsive creatures of the earth who possess a terrific but undisciplined vitality, which they are ready to expend with a whole-souled and almost frenzied prodigality on any person, enterprise, or object which appeals to their grand affections.

This difference between the two women was also reflected in their faces. The face of the mother, for all its amazing flexibility, the startled animal-like intentness with which her glance darted from one object to another, and the mobility of her powerful and delicate mouth, which she pursed and convolved with astonishing flexibility in such a way as to show the constant reflective effort of her mind, was nevertheless the face of a woman whose spirit had an almost elemental quality of patience, fortitude and calm.

The face of the younger woman was large, high-boned, and generous and already marked by the frenzy and unrest of her own life. At moments it bore legibly and terribly the tortured strain of hysteria, of nerves stretched to the breaking point, of the furious impatience, unrest and dissonance of her own tormented spirit, and of impending exhaustion and collapse for her overwrought vitality. Yet, in an instant, this gaunt, strained, tortured, and almost hysterical face could be transformed by an expression of serenity, wisdom, and repose that would work unbelievably a miracle of calm and radiant beauty on the nervous, gaunt, and tortured features.

Now, each in her own way, the two women were surveying the other people on the platform and the new arrivals with a ravenous and absorptive interest, bestowing on each a wealth of information, comment, and speculation which suggested an encyclop?dic knowledge of the history of every one in the community.

" -- Why, yes, child," the mother was saying impatiently, as she turned her quick glance from a group of people who at the moment were the subject of discussion -- "that's what I'm telling you! -- Don't I know?...Didn't I grow up with all those people?...Wasn't Emma Smathers one of my girlhood friends?...That boy's not this woman's child at all. He's Emma Smathers' child by that first marriage."

"Well, that's news to me," the younger woman answered. "That's certainly news to me. I never knew Steve Randolph had been married more than once. I'd always thought that all that bunch were Mrs. Randolph's children."

"Why, of course not!" the mother cried impatiently. "She never had any of them except Lucille. All the rest of them were Emma's children. Steve Randolph was a man of forty-five when he married her. He'd been a widower for years -- poor Emma died in childbirth when Bernice was born -- nobody ever thought he'd marry again and nobody ever expected this woman to have any children of her own for she was almost as old as he was -- why, yes! -- hadn't she been married before, a widow, you know, when she met him, came here after her first husband's death from some place way out West -- oh, Wyoming, or Nevada or Idaho, one of those States, you know -- and had never had chick nor child, as the saying goes -- till she married Steve. And that woman was every day of forty-four years old when Lucille was born."

"Uh-huh!...Ah-hah!" the younger woman muttered absently, in a tone of rapt and fascinated interest, as she looked distantly at the people in the other group, and reflectively stroked her large chin with a big, bony hand. "So Lucille, then, is really John's half-sister?"

"Why, of course!" the mother cried. "I thought every one knew that. Lucille's the only one that this woman can lay claim to. The rest of them were Emma's."

" -- Well, that's certainly news to me," the younger woman said slowly as before. "It's the first I ever heard of it....And you say she was forty-four when Lucille was born?"

"Now, she was all of that," the mother said. "I know. And she may have been even older."

"Well," the younger woman said, and now she turned to her silent husband, Barton, with a hoarse snigger, "it just goes to show that while there's life there's hope, doesn't it? So cheer up, honey," she said to him, "we may have a chance yet." But despite her air of rough banter her clear eyes for a moment had a look of deep pain and sadness in them.

"Chance!" the mother cried strongly, with a little scornful pucker of the lips -- "why, of course there is! If I was your age again I'd have a dozen -- and never think a thing of it." For a moment she was silent, pursing her reflective lips. Suddenly a faint sly smile began to flicker at the edges of her lips, and turning to the boy, she addressed him with an air of sly and bantering mystery:

"Now, boy," she said -- "there's lots of things that you don't know...you always thought you were the last -- the youngest -- didn't you?"

"Well, wasn't I?" he said.

"H'm!" she said with a little scornful smile and an air of great mystery -- "There's lots that I could tell you -- -- "

"Oh, my God!" he groaned, turning towards his sister with an imploring face. "More mysteries!...The next thing I'll find that there were five sets of triplets after I was born -- Well, come on, Mama," he cried impatiently. "Don't hint around all day about it....What's the secret now -- how many were there?"

"H'm!" she said with a little bantering, scornful, and significant smile.

"O Lord!" he groaned again -- "Did she ever tell you what it was?" Again he turned imploringly to his sister.

She snickered hoarsely, a strange high-husky and derisive falsetto laugh, at the same time prodding him stiffly in the ribs with her big fingers:

"Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi," she laughed. "More spooky business, hey? You don't know the half of it. She'll be telling you next you were only the fourteenth."

"H'm!" the older woman said, with a little scornful smile of her pursed lips. "Now I could tell him more than that! The fourteenth! Pshaw!" she said contemptuously -- "I could tell him -- -- "

"O God!" he groaned miserably. "I knew it!...I don't want to hear it."

"K, k, k, k, k," the younger woman snickered derisively, prodding him in the ribs again.

"No, sir," the older woman went on strongly -- "and that's not all either! -- Now, boy, I want to tell you something that you didn't know," and as she spoke she turned the strange and worn stare of her serious brown eyes on him, and levelled a half-clasped hand, fingers pointing, a gesture loose, casual, and instinctive and powerful as a man's. -- "There's a lot I could tell you that you never heard. Long years after you were born, child -- why, at the time I took you children to the Saint Louis Fair -- " here her face grew stern and sad, she pursed her lips strongly and shook her head with a short convulsive movement -- "oh, when I think of it -- to think what I went through -- oh, awful, awful, you know," she whispered ominously.

"Now, Mama, for God's sake, I don't want to hear it!" he fairly shouted, beside himself with exasperation and foreboding. "God-damn it, can we have no peace -- even when I go away!" he cried bitterly and illogically. "Always these damned gloomy hints and revelations -- this Pentland spooky stuff," he yelled -- "this damned I-could-if-I-wanted-to-tell-you air of mystery, horror, and damnation!" he shouted incoherently. "Who cares? What does it matter?" he cried, adding desperately, "I don't want to hear about it -- No one cares."

"Why, child, now, I was only saying -- " she began hastily and diplomatically.

"All right, all right, all right," he muttered. "I don't care -- -- "

"But, as I say, now," she resumed.

"I don't care!" he shouted. "Peace, peace, peace, peace, peace," he muttered in a crazy tone as he turned to his sister. "A moment's peace for all of us before we die. A moment of peace, peace, peace."

"Why, boy, I'll vow," the mother said in a vexed tone, fixing her reproving glance on him, "what on earth's come over you? You act like a regular crazy man. I'll vow you do."

"A moment's peace!" he muttered again, thrusting one hand wildly through his hair. "I beg and beseech you for a moment's peace before we perish!"

"K, k, k, k, k," the younger woman snickered derisively, as she poked him stiffly in the ribs -- "There's no peace for the weary. It's like that river that goes on forever," she said with a faint loose curving of lewd humor around the edges of her generous big mouth -- "Now you see, don't you?" she said, looking at him with this lewd and challenging look. "You see what it's like now, don't you?...You're the lucky one! You got away! You're smart enough to go way off somewhere to college -- to Boston -- Harvard -- anywhere -- but you're away from it. You get it for a short time when you come home. How do you think I stand it?" she said challengingly. "I have to hear it all the time....Oh, all the time, and all the time, and all the time!" she said with a kind of weary desperation. "If they'd only leave me alone for five minutes some time I think I'd be able to pull myself together, but it's this way all the time and all the time and all the time. You see, don't you?"

But now, having finished, in a tone of hoarse and panting exasperation, her frenzied protest, she relapsed immediately into a state of marked, weary, and dejected resignation.

"Well, I know, I know," she said in a weary and indifferent voice."...Forget about it....Talking does no good....Just try to make the best of it the little time you're here....I used to think something could be done about it...but I know different now," she muttered, although she would have been unable to explain the logical meaning of these incoherent and disjointed phrases.

"Hah?...What say?" the mother now cried sharply, darting her glances from one to another with the quick, startled, curiously puzzled intentness of an animal or a bird. "What say?" she cried sharply again, as no one answered. "I thought -- -- "

But fortunately, at this moment, this strange and disturbing flash in which had been revealed the blind and tangled purposes, the powerful and obscure impulses, the tormented nerves, the whole tragic perplexity of soul which was of the very fabric of their lives, was interrupted by a commotion in one of the groups upon the platform, and by a great guffaw of laughter which instantly roused these three people from this painful and perplexing scene, and directed their startled attention to the place from which the laughter came.

And now again they heard the great guffaw -- a solid "Haw! Haw! Haw!" which was full of such an infectious exuberance of animal good-nature that other people on the platform began to smile instinctively, and to look affectionately towards the owner of the laugh.

Already, at the sound of the laugh, the young woman had forgotten the weary and dejected resignation of the moment before, and with an absent and yet eager look of curiosity in her eyes, she was staring towards the group from which the laugh had come, and herself now laughing absently, she was stroking her big chin in a gesture of meditative curiosity, saying:

"Hah! Hah! Hah!...That's George Pentland....You can tell him anywhere by his laugh."...

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