You Can't Go Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again

With an Introduction by Gail Godwin

A twentieth-century classic, Thomas Wolfe’s magnificent novel is both the story of a young writer longing to make his mark upon the world and a sweeping portrait of America and Europe from the Great Depression through the years leading up to World War II. Upon the publication of You Can’t Go Home Again in 1940, two years after Wolfe’s death, The New York Times Book Review declared that it “will stand apart from everything else that he wrote because this is the book of a man who had come to terms with himself, who was on his way to mastery of his art, who had something profoundly important to say.”

Driven by dreams of literary success, George Webber has left his provincial hometown to make his name as a writer in New York City. When his first novel is published, it brings him the fame he has sought, but it also brings the censure of his neighbors back home, who are outraged by his depiction of them. Unsettled by their reaction and unsure of himself and his future, Webber begins a search for a greater understanding of his artistic identity that takes him deep into New York’s hectic social whirl; to London with an uninhibited group of expatriates; and to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler’s shadow. He discovers a world plagued by political uncertainty and on the brink of transformation, yet he finds within himself the capacity to meet it with optimism and a renewed love for his birthplace. He is a changed man yet a hopeful one, awake to the knowledge that one can never fully “go back home to your family, back home to your childhood . . . away from all the strife and conflict of the world . . . back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.”
  • Scribner | 
  • 656 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451650495 | 
  • October 2011

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for You Can't Go Home Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel of American hope and perseverance during the Great Depression takes on new relevance in our time.


1. Discuss the opening chapter, "The Drunken Beggar on Horseback," when twenty-eight-year-old George Webber relaxes in his New York City apartment with his lover, Esther Jack. Why has George returned to New York and to Esther after his travels in Europe? What causes him to wonder, "Must the beggar on horseback forever reel?" (p. 7) What changes in George and Esther’s relationship does this first chapter foretell?

2. When George wrote his first novel, Home to Our Mountains, "He had distilled every line of it out of his own experience of life. . . . Of course it was fiction, but it was made as all honest fiction must be, from the stuff of human life." (pp. 16–17) What are the consequences of George’s use of autobiographical material in his novel? Do you agree that all great fiction comes from personal experience? Do you think today’s writers h see more

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About the Author

Thomas Wolfe
Courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, NC

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe 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 indelible legacy as a classic American novelist with works including Of Time and the River; A Stone, a Leaf, a Door; and From Death to Morning. He died in 1938.