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Am going to order Wolfe's novels on my next visit to amazon, as well. I love poetry, in particular Poe and Wordsworth, and as I am rather eclectic in my tastes, it seems like a good time to get excited about a novelist all over again.

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Judith: "Did you notice that much of his writing could be set as iambic pentameter if you wanted to break it up that way?"

And what's remarkable is that it wasn't planned; it simply was the way his experiences remained with him.

Dragonfly: "Now I know for sure that I'll never want to read a book by Wolfe."

Wasn't it thoughtful of me to warn you by posting excerpts?

Barbara

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Prefatory comment: I signed on to post this, having already written it, without having seen Barbara's remark (just above) to Dragonfly. Way to respond, BB!!

Now I know for sure that I'll never want to read a book by Wolfe. I find this purple prose really suffocating. Help! Help! I need some fresh air!

"Tell us how you really feel," as Chris Grieb sometimes says. You couldn't have employed a little finesse, considering how much Barbara likes Thomas Wolfe?

I admit to not that much liking his work myself, although I do very much like another novelist to whose style Dragonfly didn't resonate (Mervyn Peake, who wrote the Gormanghast series which I quoted from in an early thread -- the name of which thread I've forgotten) and also to especially liking a Southern writer whom Barbara much dislikes, Faulkner.

Still, I feel that I well understand why Barbara so much loves Thomas Wolfe, and that I see the similarities in her own writing to his. And I've felt deep sympathy for years over the early experience of Ayn Rand's decrying Thomas Wolfe.

Also, I'm rather horrified at reading that several people have thought the writer Barbara meant was Tom Wolfe, the satirist. No, no; even anachronistic. Tom Wolfe, the satirist, is a more recent writer than someone Barbara would have read and fallen in love with in her early years.

Despite my own not being a big Thomas Wolfe fan, one of the paragraphs Barbara quoted has stayed in my mind and haunted me and evoked image after image and surfaced on many occasions ever since I myself read Look Homeward, Angel when I was a freshman in college:

"...a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."

Ellen

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Edited by Ellen Stuttle
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Dear Ellen -- thank you.

You wrote: "I see the similarities in her own writing to his." That fascinates me, because I see them, but no one else ever has. Of course, practically no one today reads Wolfe. Do you care to say what you see?

Apropos of the lines that haunted you: Years ago, when I first began giving talks after my break with Rand, I gave a breakfast talk (I can't recall to whom) -- but now that I think of it, I believe you said you were there, Ellen -- and I mentioned my difficullties with Rand over Thomas Wolfe. During the question period, a young man I didn't know stood up and said: "'O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost' -- welcome home!" Tears spurted to my eyes -- and that young man became my friend for life.

Barbara

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Also, I'm rather horrified at reading that several people have thought the writer Barbara meant was Tom Wolfe, the satirist. No, no; even anachronistic. Tom Wolfe, the satirist, is a more recent writer than someone Barbara would have read and fallen in love with in her early years.

Ellen,

Hmmmmm...

That detail used to bother me too.

Seriously.

(scratching head...)

It sounds dumb now, but since everything I had read in Objectivism up to that point had been bombarded on the reader in a "certainty" preachy type voice that bordered on dogma, and of course I agreed with practically all of it, I knew I needed to learn more and think more to properly digest that business about Wolfe. Remember that I had nobody to talk to about Objectivism back then when I was in Brazil. It was impossible to imagine Wolfe being what he was and also being in Barbara's life the way she had written. (I had tried to read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test back then to get a feel for Wolfe, and that book had only complicated things further in my head...) But it was equally impossible for Barbara Branden to be mistaken. At least I could understand Rand not liking him...

Between that and reading Breaking Free, thinking that this was the new direction Rand was headed (I was unaware of the break at the time), I thought that I had missed a lot down in Brazil. These things sure sounded strange to me (but only to me, obviously, since I knew that everybody else understood them perfectly), but I would never admit that to anyone. I obviously did not fathom the subtleties of great thinkers and needed to study harder and think more. I had no doubt that these mysteries would become more than obvious once I got more familiar with the situation...

OF COURSE!!! Tom Wolfe was really 150 years old and only recently started writing social satire... OF COURSE!!! Ayn Rand was going to write a new novel centered on psychological introspection and overcoming inner demons from poor self-esteem...

I should have known!...

I look back in wonder at how many other insights had been revealed to me with such clarity back then.

:)

Michael

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These things sure sounded strange to me (but only to me, obviously, since I knew that everybody else understood them perfectly), but I would never admit that to anyone. I obviously did not fathom the subtleties of great thinkers and needed to study harder and think more.

:) One of the two or three most breathtakingly intelligent people I've ever met in my life was a professor I had in grad school. He'd go to seminars and ask questions shamelessly on subjects outside of his field of expertise, because he wanted to understand. He never once feared looking stupid. I really admired that.

Judith

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Dear Ellen -- thank you.

You wrote: "I see the similarities in her own writing to his." That fascinates me, because I see them, but no one else ever has. Of course, practically no one today reads Wolfe. Do you care to say what you see?

Barbara,

I'm so surprised at your saying that "no one else ever has." No one else? To me, it seems so obvious, the sense of rhythm, of image, of cadence of words, and of the searching...for that ineffable something, that delicate flame glimpsed in the caverns of a beckoning wind... Thomas Wolfe has a striving for just those words, just that image, evanescent, poignant. So often in reading your biography of Rand, I thought of Thomas Wolfe "...a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. [....] Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again." It seemed to me that AR herself and the whole sense of what it all really was up close was a kind of "wind-grieved ghost" (changing the punctuation) the spirit of which you sought, attempting to make it all live again as it was. As I said, I'm not near so keen on Wolfe himself as you are. But your own writing seems to me to convey a kind of distilled essence of what does remain a forever-haunting feeling from Look Homeward, Angel (even the title of which strikes me like tones from a delicate harp in a lost cathedral).

Apropos of the lines that haunted you: Years ago, when I first began giving talks after my break with Rand, I gave a breakfast talk (I can't recall to whom) -- but now that I think of it, I believe you said you were there, Ellen -- and I mentioned my difficullties with Rand over Thomas Wolfe. During the question period, a young man I didn't know stood up and said: "'O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost' -- welcome home!" Tears spurted to my eyes -- and that young man became my friend for life.

Yes, I was there. It was the breakfast talk at the 1983 Libertarian Party Convention in New York City. Both Larry and I were there. Chris Grieb has recently on OL said that he was also. And I remember the young man standing at the back of the room -- Larry and I were at a table near the podium, so we turned to hear the remark -- and reciting that line. I remember that there was applause of such a warm kind, I think the first time I heard applause with that "tone of voice" in a remotely Objectivist gathering. I felt tears forming, too. It's a treasured memory.

Ellen

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle
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"Tell us how you really feel," as Chris Grieb sometimes says. You couldn't have employed a little finesse, considering how much Barbara likes Thomas Wolfe?

Come on Ellen, Barbara isn't that fragile, after all I didn't give her the third degree as some well-known writer once did for her appreciation of Wolfe. I don't think that she'll lose any sleep over the fact that I can't stand that kind of writing. De gustibus non est disputandum!

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Wasn't it thoughtful of me to warn you by posting excerpts?

Yes, I'm really grateful, as I might have ordered one of his books based on your enthusiastic endorsement, and now I'm sure I'd have put it away after reading a few pages, which would be a shame.

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I'm going to try Wolfe, but for me the best stylist is Beryl Markham and her "West with the Night." I am aware that her authorship is controversial. Like Dragonfly, though, it's very hard for me to get my brain into "purple prose." Also, antique prose. I cannot read Zane Grey.

--Brant

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I can already see that I'll need to read the man very slowly or I'll never really experience the contexts he is writing out of.

I can also see why Rand could be so antagonistic to Wolfe, because to embrace him is to reject her--that is, her way of writing and seeing things. It is one thing to like Wagner for Rand wasn't a composer, but to be passionate about Wolfe? Everything AR was devolved into her writing and how she wrote.

--Brant

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I'm so surprised at your saying that "no one else ever has." No one else? To me, it seems so obvious, the sense of rhythm, of image, of cadence of words, and of the searching...for that ineffable something, that delicate flame glimpsed in the caverns of a beckoning wind... Thomas Wolfe has a striving for just those words, just that image, evanescent, poignant. So often in reading your biography of Rand, I thought of Thomas Wolfe "...a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. [....] Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."

Strange, I see no resemblance at all. In my opinion Barbara is a much better writer than Wolfe, her writing is much more focused, it's not purple and she doesn't use 200-word sentences (except perhaps in the Epilogue, but then it concerns simple lists of examples separated by semicolons).

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I'm so surprised at your saying that "no one else ever has." No one else? To me, it seems so obvious [...].

Strange, I see no resemblance at all. In my opinion Barbara is a much better writer than Wolfe, her writing is much more focused, it's not purple and she doesn't use 200-word sentences (except perhaps in the Epilogue, but then it concerns simple lists of examples separated by semicolons).

Her writing is more focused, but it does have "purple" shadings; her use of adjectives and her rhythms have a similarity to Wolfe's; and most of all her sense of word magic and of searching through prose. I was not in the least surprised when I learned how much Barbara loves Thomas Wolfe -- and this was before Passion was finished; there was something even in her earlier "Who Is Ayn Rand?" essay which had echoes of Wolfe to my ear.

Ellen

PS: Keep in mind that I've read the whole book, not just the excerpts Barbara posted. There's the tale he's telling of that family, the search for meaning in their experiences. Barbara is similarly searching, and with a similar emotion, I feel, in PAR.

___

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Barbara,

Have you ever read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier?

("They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days." One of du Maurier's masterful opening lines. Equal to "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.")

My Cousin Rachel is the other novel which gives me that feeling of a haunting search for the evanescent reality of a person (and/or a past). A different style from Thomas Wolfe's, but du Maurier weaves magic. If you haven't read My Cousin Rachel, I recommend it to you. It isn't terribly long, 288 pages in the old hardcover edition I have; and it's a masterpiece of writing, maybe du Maurier's best both in character delineation and in precision of word use to keep the spell active from line one to the end.

Ellen

PS: Du Maurier is the writer I would most like to sound like if I were writing fiction. And I think that My Cousin Rachel is my model of the novel, my "archetype," as it were, of the novel form.

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I can also see why Rand could be so antagonistic to Wolfe, because to embrace him is to reject her--that is, her way of writing and seeing things. It is one thing to like Wagner for Rand wasn't a composer, but to be passionate about Wolfe? Everything AR was devolved into her writing and how she wrote.

I agree that that's how Rand would have seen it; but I strongly disagree that that way of seeing it is accurate. This links to the kind of objections I've been making on several threads to Rand's theories of aesthetics. It simply is not the case that one's responses in literature, or any other art form, so thoroughly map to one's essential being (and "metaphysical" view of existence) that for one person to respond to an artist whose work another dislikes is equivalent to being out of gear in a fundamental way with that other person, even in a case where the other person is herself an artist with exceedingly strong aesthetic preferences.

An example from music. Stravinsky and Richard Strauss hated each other's music. And not hard to "hear" why, I think; very different approaches. I like both of their work, and I think each of them would have been wrong, had I known both of them and had they known I liked both of their work, to feel that I was rejecting all that each, respectively, was. In Rand's case, I think she caused untold grief and pain, to herself and to everyone around her, with her need to have her associates be convinced that their aesthetic responses should be what hers were. It's true that she'd have felt threatened, betrayed by Barbara's loving both Thomas Wolfe and her, AR's, writing. But this was Rand's mistake, not in fact an indication of contradictions in Barbara's psyche.

Ellen

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PS: Du Maurier is the writer I would most like to sound like if I were writing fiction. And I think that My Cousin Rachel is my model of the novel, my "archetype," as it were, of the novel form.

I used to be a fan of Du Maurier and I think I've read all her books long ago, but when I reread some of them recently I was somewhat disappointed. But the story The Blue Lenses is nice, and The House on the Strand was one of my favorites, so I'll reread that one of these days. I have also read Cousin Rachel once, but I hardly remember anything about it, so I'm afraid it didn't impress me very much.

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I have also read Cousin Rachel once, but I hardly remember anything about it, so I'm afraid it didn't impress me very much.

How old were you when you read it? You might be more interested, were you to read it now, by the dynamics of the relationship between Philip and Rachel, and by Philip's question, Was she a devil; was she an angel? A similar question to the one I had about my own mother, was she crazy, was she not? (My father, I learned at mother's funeral, had the same question. It was open casket and looking down at her, he said to me, "I never knew if she was crazy.") Thus the tale has personal connections which make for a special power in my case, but I think I would like it very well even without those connections. It is especially finely crafted.

The House on the Strand I, too, liked a lot, and want to reread; long time since I did read it but I remember parts of it. Another one I liked was The King's General, which is an odd story in that the heroine is a cripple. And du Maurier was the author of Jamaica Inn, which was made into a spooky sort of motion picture with Charles Laughton as a featured star.

Ellen

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I can also see why Rand could be so antagonistic to Wolfe, because to embrace him is to reject her--that is, her way of writing and seeing things. It is one thing to like Wagner for Rand wasn't a composer, but to be passionate about Wolfe? Everything AR was devolved into her writing and how she wrote.

I agree that that's how Rand would have seen it; but I strongly disagree that that way of seeing it is accurate. This links to the kind of objections I've been making on several threads to Rand's theories of aesthetics. It simply is not the case that one's responses in literature, or any other art form, so thoroughly map to one's essential being (and "metaphysical" view of existence) that for one person to respond to an artist whose work another dislikes is equivalent to being out of gear in a fundamental way with that other person, even in a case where the other person is herself an artist with exceedingly strong aesthetic preferences.

An example from music. Stravinsky and Richard Strauss hated each other's music. And not hard to "hear" why, I think; very different approaches. I like both of their work, and I think each of them would have been wrong, had I known both of them and had they known I liked both of their work, to feel that I was rejecting all that each, respectively, was. In Rand's case, I think she caused untold grief and pain, to herself and to everyone around her, with her need to have her associates be convinced that their aesthetic responses should be what hers were. It's true that she'd have felt threatened, betrayed by Barbara's loving both Thomas Wolfe and her, AR's, writing. But this was Rand's mistake, not in fact an indication of contradictions in Barbara's psyche.

Ellen

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I agree. I was only writing from what I imagined Rand's perspective would have been, for I've never heard of Barbara, for instance, being put off by Rand's style of writing.

--Brant

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Ellen, "I'm so surprised at your saying that 'no one else ever has.' No one else? To me, it seems so obvious, the sense of rhythm, of image, of cadence of words, and of the searching...for that ineffable something, that delicate flame glimpsed in the caverns of a beckoning wind... Thomas Wolfe has a striving for just those words, just that image, evanescent, poignant. So often in reading your biography of Rand, I thought of Thomas Wolfe '...a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. [....] Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.' It seemed to me that AR herself and the whole sense of what it all really was up close was a kind of 'wind-grieved ghost' (changing the punctuation) the spirit of which you sought, attempting to make it all live again as it was. As I said, I'm not near so keen on Wolfe himself as you are. But your own writing seems to me to convey a kind of distilled essence of what does remain a forever-haunting feeling from Look Homeward, Angel (even the title of which strikes me like tones from a delicate harp in a lost cathedral)."

I can't begin to tell you how delighted and moved I am by your remarks. You've made me feel visible as a writer to an extent that I never have experienced before. It means a great deal to me.

Barbara

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Dragonfly: "I don't think that she'll lose any sleep over the fact that I can't stand that kind of writing."

No, but of course you understand that because you do not share my esthetic preference, it is clear that you are mired in an unspeakable and unalterable depravity, and you should be shunned by all decent people. You have passed that point of evil at which spiritual redemption is possible.

Barbara

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Ellen, I haven't read My Cousin Rachel , but I'll read it. I would kill to have written an opening line like "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." And I'm interested to read more of the writer you would most like to sound like if you wrote fiction. I remember that du Maurier does cast a powerful and lasting spell, but it has been many years since I've read anything of hers.

Barbara

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Though my post has fallen by the wayside, some here have addressed it. I appreciate the comments from Michael directly, and Barbara indirectly. At this point I'll quote Thomas Hardy:

The Impercipient

(At a Cathedral Service)

That with this bright believing band

I have no claim to be,

That faiths by which my comrades stand

Seem fantasies to me,

And mirage-mists their Shining Land,

Is a stange destiny.

Why thus my soul should be consigned

To infelicity,

Why always I must feel as blind

To sights my brethren see,

Why joys they've found I cannot find,

Abides a mystery.

I'll admit, that I have no sense of music. I am always blind to sights that my brethren see. I have always been a lyrics man. Words are what make or break a song to me. Not sure what side of the noggin that stems from, but that's how I am. Ergo, I admit that I can't judge Wagner's music with any accuracy. I've always known about how reprehensible Wagner was/is philosophically, and for this reason, I refuse to give him sanction. Philosophy I know; music I do not know. I have the honesty to admit this. I judge based upon what I am qualified to judge. My comments were not made to vitiate the qualified judgements of those who know music, but rather to express my abhorrence of Wagner as an individual. I certainly defer to, and envy those who can appreciate the music. My judgement is of the individual: not the musical abilities of said individual.

I want those who know me to understand that I am not following any party-line, but merely following my own judgement, and my disgust with an individual's philosophy. As for his music, I admit I am despairingly ignorant about the quality of it.

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Jody: "My judgement is of the individual: not the musical abilities of said individual. I want those who know me to understand that I am not following any party-line, but merely following my own judgement, and my disgust with an individual's philosophy."

Fair enough, Jody. And it would never occur to me that you were following a party line. It's very clear that that's not how you arrive at your judgments.

Barbara

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