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.”
Reading Group Guide
Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel of American hope and perseverance during the Great Depression takes on new relevance in our time.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
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