Thomas Wolfe looks homeward

``Look Homeward, Angel'' (1929), Thomas Wolfe's first novel, is considered his best. An autobiographical work, it caused consternation in his hometown of Asheville, N.C. In his novel ``You Can't Go Home Again,'' an author goes home and meets resentment for what he has written about it. In a letter, Wolfe said no one can return to escapes of time and memory, but everyone's real home lies in the future. In this excerpt from ``Look Homeward, Angel'' Oliver, father of protagonist Eugene Gant, has his first look at Altamont. His destination was the little town of Altamont, twenty-four miles away beyond the rim of the great outer wall of the hills. As the horses strained slowly up the mountain road Oliver's spirit lifted a little. It was a gray-golden day in late October, bright and windy. There was a sharp bite and sparkle in the mountain air: the range soared above him, close, immense, clean, and barren. The trees rose gaunt and stark: they were almost leafless. The sky was full of windy white rags of cloud; a thick blade of mist washed slowly around the rampart of a mountain.

Below him a mountain stream foamed down its rocky bed, and he could see little dots of men laying the track that would coil across the hill toward Altamont. Then the sweating team lipped the gulch of the mountain, and, among soaring and lordly ranges that melted away in purple mist, they began the slow descent toward the high plateau on which the town of Altamont was built.

In the haunting eternity of these mountains, rimmed in their enormous cup, he found sprawled out on its hundred hills and hollows a town of four thousand people.

There were new lands. His heart lifted.

This town of Altamont had been settled soon after the Revolutionary War. It had been a convenient stopping-off place for cattledrovers and farmers in their swing eastward from Tennessee into South Carolina. And, for several decades before the Civil War, it had enjoyed the summer patronage of fashionable people from Charleston and the plantations of the hot South. When Oliver first came to it it had begun to get some reputation not only as a summer resort, but as a sanitarium for tuberculars. Several rich men from the North had established hunting lodges in the hills, and one of them had bought huge areas of mountain land and, with an army of imported architects, carpenters and masons, was planning the greatest country estate in America -- something in limestone, with pitched slate roofs, and one hundred and eighty-three rooms. It was modelled on the chateau at Blois. There was also a vast new hotel, a sumptuous wooden barn, rambling comfortably upon the summit of a commanding hill.

But most of the population was still native, recruited from the hill and country people in the surrounding districts. They were Scotch-Irish mountaineers, rugged, provincial, intelligent, and industrious. Thomas Wolfe, excerpted from ``Look Homeward, Angel.'' Copyright 1929 Charles Scribner's Sons; Copyright renewed 1957 Edward C. Aswell, Administrator, C.T.A. and/or Fred W. Wolfe. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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