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About The Book

The spectacular, history-making first novel about a young man’s coming of age by literary legend Thomas Wolfe, first published in 1929 and long considered a classic of twentieth century literature.

A legendary author on par with William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, his first novel, about a young man’s burning desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life, in 1929. It gave the world proof of his genius and launched a powerful legacy.

The novel follows the trajectory of Eugene Gant, a brilliant and restless young man whose wanderlust and passion shape his adolescent years in rural North Carolina. Wolfe said that Look Homeward, Angel is “a book made out of my life,” and his largely autobiographical story about the quest for a greater intellectual life has resonated with and influenced generations of readers, including some of today’s most important novelists. Rich with lyrical prose and vivid characterizations, this twentieth-century American classic will capture the hearts and imaginations of every reader.


Chapter 1


A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.

Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.

The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.

This is a moment:

An Englishman named Gilbert Gaunt, which he later changed to Gant (a concession probably to Yankee phonetics), having come to Baltimore from Bristol in 1837 on a sailing vessel, soon let the profits of a public house which he had purchased roll down his improvident gullet. He wandered westward into Pennsylvania, eking out a dangerous living by matching fighting cocks against the champions of country barnyards, and often escaping after a night spent in a village jail, with his champion dead on the field of battle, without the clink of a coin in his pocket, and sometimes with the print of a farmer's big knuckles on his reckless face. But he always escaped, and coming at length among the Dutch at harvest time he was so touched by the plenty of their land that he cast out his anchors there. Within a year he married a rugged young widow with a tidy farm who like all the other Dutch had been charmed by his air of travel, and his grandiose speech, particularly when he did Hamlet in the manner of the great Edmund Kean. Every one said he should have been an actor.

The Englishman begot children -- a daughter and four sons -- lived easily and carelessly and bore patiently the weight of his wife's harsh but honest tongue. The years passed, his bright somewhat staring eyes grew dull and bagged, the tall Englishman walked with a gouty shuffle: one morning when she came to nag him out of sleep she found him dead of an apoplexy. He left five children, a mortgage and -- in his strange dark eyes which now stared bright and open -- something that had not died: a passionate and obscure hunger for voyages.

So, with this legacy, we leave this Englishman and are concerned hereafter with the heir to whom he bequeathed it, his second son, a boy named Oliver. How this boy stood by the roadside near his mother's farm, and saw the dusty Rebels march past on their way to Gettysburg, how his cold eyes darkened when he heard the great name of Virginia, and how the year the war had ended, when he was still fifteen, he had walked along a street in Baltimore, and seen within a little shop smooth granite slabs of death, carved lambs and cherubim, and an angel poised upon cold phthisic feet, with a smile of soft stone idiocy -- this is a longer tale. But I know that his cold and shallow eyes had darkened with the obscure and passionate hunger that had lived in a dead man's eyes, and that had led from Fenchurch Street past Philadelphia. As the boy looked at the big angel with the carved stipe of lilystalk, a cold and nameless excitement possessed him. The long fingers of his big hands closed. He felt that he wanted, more than anything in the world, to carve delicately with a chisel. He wanted to wreak something dark and unspeakable in him into cold stone. He wanted to carve an angel's head.

Oliver entered the shop and asked a big bearded man with a wooden mallet for a job. He became the stone cutter's apprentice. He worked in that dusty yard five years. He became a stone cutter. When his apprenticeship was over he had become a man.

He never found it. He never learned to carve an angel's head. The dove, the lamb, the smooth joined marble hands of death, and letters fair and fine -- but not the angel. And of all the years of waste and loss -- the riotous years in Baltimore, of work and savage drunkenness, and the theatre of Booth and Salvini, which had a disastrous effect upon the stone cutter, who memorized each accent of the noble rant, and strode muttering through the streets, with rapid gestures of the enormous talking hands -- these are blind steps and gropings of our exile, the painting of our hunger as, remembering speechlessly, we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, a door. Where? When?

He never found it, and he reeled down across the continent into the Reconstruction South -- a strange wild form of six feet four with cold uneasy eyes, a great blade of nose, and a rolling tide of rhetoric, a preposterous and comic invective, as formalized as classical epithet, which he used seriously, but with a faint uneasy grin around the corners of his thin wailing mouth.

He set up business in Sydney, the little capital city of one of the middle Southern states, lived soberly and industriously under the attentive eye of a folk still raw with defeat and hostility and finally, his good name founded and admission won, he married a gaunt tubercular spin-stress, ten years his elder, but with a nest egg and an unshakable will to matrimony. Within eighteen months he was a howling maniac again, his little business went smash while his foot stayed on the polished rail, and Cynthia, his wife -- whose life, the natives said, he had not helped to prolong -- died suddenly one night after a hemorrhage.

So, all was gone again -- Cynthia, the shop, the hard-bought praise of soberness, the angel's head -- he walked through the streets at dark, yelling his pentameter curse at Rebel ways, and all their indolence; but sick with fear and loss and penitence, he wilted under the town's reproving stare, becoming convinced, as the flesh wasted on his own gaunt frame, that Cynthia's scourge was doing vengeance now on him.

He was only past thirty, but he looked much older. His face was yellow and sunken; the waxen blade of his nose looked like a beak. He had long brown mustaches that hung straight down mournfully.

His tremendous bouts of drinking had wrecked his health. He was thin as a rail and had a cough. He thought of Cynthia now, in the lonely and hostile town, and he became afraid. He thought he had tuberculosis and that he was going to die.

So, alone and lost again, having found neither order nor establishment in the world, and with the earth cut away from his feet, Oliver resumed his aimless drift along the continent. He turned westward toward the great fortress of the hills, knowing that behind them his evil fame would not be known, and hoping that he might find in them isolation, a new life, and recovered health.

The eyes of the gaunt spectre darkened again, as they had in his youth.

All day, under a wet gray sky of October, Oliver rode westward across the mighty state. As he stared mournfully out the window at the great raw land so sparsely tilled by the futile and occasional little farms, which seemed to have made only little grubbing patches in the wilderness, his heart went cold and leaden in him. He thought of the great barns of Pennsylvania, the ripe bending of golden grain, the plenty, the order, the clean thrift of the people. And he thought of how he had set out to get order and position for himself, and of the rioting confusion of his life, the blot and blur of years, and the red waste of his youth.

Copyright © 1929 by Charles Scribner's Sons

Reading Group Guide


Look Homeward, Angel is the epic coming-of-age story of Eugene Gant, a brilliant and restless young man whose passion for a greater intellectual life shapes his adolescent years in rural North Carolina. Wolfe's vivid characterization of the incomparable Gants -- including Eugene's charismatic and alcoholic father and his miserly real estate tycoon mother -- and his detailed observations of small town life form the foundation for this classic work of American literature. The most famous novel from one of our greatest authors, Look Homeward, Angel is a truly unforgettable masterpiece.
Discussion Questions for Robert Morgan's Introduction
1. In his introduction to Look Homeward, Angel, Robert Morgan quotes Harold Bloom as saying of Wolfe's work, "One cannot discuss the literary merits of Thomas Wolfe; he has none." Yet he also discredits Bloom by noting that Wolfe has had one of the biggest influences on contemporary fiction after Hemingway and Faulkner. Why do you think the work of Faulkner and Hemingway has remained extremely popular with critics and readers while Wolfe's work has floated under the radar? What elements of Wolfe's work do you find more accessible to you as a reader? What are the major differences between Wolfe's work and the work of Faulkner, Hemingway, and his other contemporaries?
2. Part of Wolfe's great legacy is that he has captured the imagination of young readers for decades. In his introduction Morgan says that when he read Wolfe's work as an older reader "the choral sections, the rhapsodic passages, seemed less interesting than the realism and satire." What other elements of Look Homeward, Angel do you think enhance its appeal for younger readers? What elements of the novel can you relate to at this point in your life? Who would you recommend this novel to? Discuss the ways that Wolfe's work might appeal to readers of many ages and backgrounds.
3. Robert Morgan says in his introduction that he has been heavily influenced by Wolfe's work. If you have read the work of Robert Morgan (his most well known book is the Oprah Book Club pick Gap Creek) discuss the influence of Wolfe's work on his writing. Which Southern writers has Wolfe influenced the most? What qualities do Southern novels have that make them so appealing to wide audiences?
4. Which other contemporary writers do you think have been influenced by Wolfe? What do you consider Wolfe's greatest achievement in writing Look Homeward, Angel?
Discussion Questions for Look Homeward, Angel
1. In the years since Look Homeward, Angel was first published literary critics have argued over whether Wolfe's style is brilliantly experimental or undisciplined and unstructured. How would you describe Wolfe's style? What do you think of it? How would you compare it to the styles of his contemporaries, such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce and Dorothy Parker?
2. From the time Eugene is a baby, Wolfe writes, "He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know any one...." (p. 31). This idea comes up many times throughout the novel. Do you agree with Eugene? How do the events of Eugene's life reinforce his initial feeling that this is true?
3. From Gant's drunkenness to Steve's abusive behavior to Eliza's self-centeredness, many of Eugene's family members have unlikable qualities. Knowing that Look Homeward, Angel is heavily autobiographical; how objective would you imagine Wolfe has been in retelling the story of his family? Which of Eugene's family members do you find most sympathetic, and why? Are you sympathetic to Eugene?
4. What do you think of the way race and race relations are handled in the novel? Think about the way Wolfe depicts Jews and African-Americans. How do you think Wolfe's attitude toward race compares to the attitudes of his contemporaries?
5. What different meanings does the title hold? Think of Gant's stone angels, Ben's conversation with "his angel", and Eugene's feelings toward Margaret Leonard, whom he also considers "his angel."
6. The Leonards become something of a second family for Eugene. How does their role compare with that of his biological family? What do the Leonards provide Eugene aside from his education?
7. What is Eugene's attitude toward women? Discuss the way women act as a catalyst in his life. Consider Eliza, Helen, Laura James, the woman Eugene encounters on his paper route, Mrs. Pert, and Margaret Leonard. What does Eugene want and expect from the various women in his life? How important is romantic love in Wolfe's world?
8. How does Eugene's struggle with his family and his birthplace parallel the struggle that all Americans face?
9. Near the end of the novel Gant tells Eliza, "You've had a hard life. If I'd acted different, we might have got along together" (p. 466). Discuss Eliza and Gant's relationship. How does their relationship influence their children's lives?
10. What effect does Ben's death have on the various members of his family? How does it change them? What does it symbolize to Eugene? What does Ben's death say about his life?
11. In a novel so concerned with realism, why do you think Wolfe chose to end the novel with a scene between Eugene and Ben's ghost? How does this scene relate to the novel's overarching themes?
12. At the end of Look Homeward, Angel Wolfe writes that Eugene "stood for the last time by the angels of his father's a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left, yet does not say 'The Town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges" (p. 522). What do you think this last passage means? What do you imagine happens to Eugene once he leaves for Harvard?
Enhance Your Book Club:
1. Check out for information on Asheville, North Carolina, the town where Thomas Wolfe grew up and the inspiration for the setting of Look Homeward, Angel. The site includes information on guided tours available at Wolfe's boyhood home, an old boardinghouse on which he based his descriptions of Dixieland. Sign up for a tour if you're in the area!
2. At your book club meeting, serve ice cream sodas or a pitcher of refreshing limeade, the childhood treats Eugene enjoyed with his father. Find recipes at and Or, host an entire potluck dinner of traditional Southern dishes such as fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits.
3. In Of Time and the River, Wolfe's sequel to Look Homeward, Angel, Eugene goes to Harvard and embarks upon his adult life. If your book club enjoyed Look Homeward, Angel, read the sequel and discuss the way Wolfe has evolved and changed as a writer.
4. For more information on Wolfe, visit and

About The Author

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

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.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 1, 1997)
  • Length: 544 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416542438

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Raves and Reviews

“In 1949, when I was sixteen, I stumbled on Thomas Wolfe, who died at thirty-eight in 1938, and who made numerous adolescents aside from me devotees of literature for life. In Wolfe, everything was heroically outsized, whether it was the voracious appetite for experience of Eugene Gant, the hero of his first two novels, or of George Webber, the hero of his last two. The hero's loneliness, his egocentrism, his sprawling consciousness gave rise to a tone of elegiac lyricism that was endlessly sustained by the raw yearning for an epic existence—for an epic American existence. And, in those postwar years, what imaginative young reader didn't yearn for that?”

– Philip Roth

"Language as rich and ambitious and intensely American as any of our novelists has ever accomplished." -- Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons

"Look Homeward, Angel is one of the most important novels of my life. . . . It's a wonderful story for any young person burning with literary ambition, but it also speaks to the longings of our whole lives; I'm still moved by Wolfe's ability to convey the human appetite for understanding and experience." -- Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian

"Wolfe made it possible to believe that the stuff of life, with all its awe and mystery and magic, could by some strange alchemy be transmuted to the page." -- William Gay, author of The Long Home

"As so many other American boys had before and have since, I discovered a version of myself in Look Homeward, Angel, and I became intoxicated with the elevated, poetic prose." -- Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek

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