Issue 155, Summer 2000
1. I also enclose a brief statement of some of the facts of Mr. Wolfe's life, which will complete the answer to this question. He began to write for publication about three years before the publication of "Look Homeward Angel" which appeared in 1929. Before that he had written two plays but neither one was ever produced although those to whom they were submitted did discern the great talent of the man. Probably the play form is too precise and sharply limited for his sort of expansive genius.
2. The members of Mr. Wolfe's family have always been extraordinarily loyal to him. The book was based upon his own life, and the characters in "Look Homeward" though never literally transcribed, of course, were based upon the members of his family. So many intimate things, such as the death of his brother Ben, were in the book that it no doubt was painful reading for members of the family, but there was never any rift between him and them. They rejoiced in the great success of the book. He is in touch with them all the time, even though they live at a distance, and often goes to see them, or sees them when they come to New York. They are a most loyal family, and an affectionate one.
3. Mr. Wolfe is about six feet six, and proportionately broad and strong. He is so striking in appearance that people look at him wherever he goes. When he is troubled or indignant his brow resembles that in the popular picture of Beethoven, clouded and frowning. His face is very mobile and expressive more often of humorous penetration than anything else. He talks almost in the way in which he writes-most eloquently and humorously, using much less slang or profanity than most conventionally educated men.
He dresses conservatively but has trouble on account of his size, in getting fitted and he is careless about his appearance so that his waistcoat and the tops of his trousers do not always meet. He invariably wears a black felt hat. He smokes cigarettes and as his books indicate, enjoys eating and drinking, and all of what is known of the good things of life. He writes voluminously, and with great rapidity. He keeps many notebooks. Going abroad, he left four crates of manuscript books as large as a large office desk in the keeping of his publishers.
4. "Look Homeward Angel" was brought to Scribners by an agent who exacted the promise that every word of it would be read. It was about 500,0001 words long. It had been declined by a number of other publishers, and the author had given up all hope of its publication. It immediately excited the Scribner editorial staff. Mr. Wolfe was in Europe. As soon as he returned, the work of reducing its size was begun. The list of the books which he plans, as well as the ones which he has published, is given in the front of the book.2 The next book will be presumably approximately as long as this one which runs to 500,0001 words. After that there are three others in prospect, the length of which cannot now be estimated.