(Thomas Wolfe 1935)
Thomas Wolfe's short story "The Far and the Near" was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1935 and was reprinted later that year in Wolfe's first short-story collection, From Death to Morning. For a writer known by his long, sprawling novels such as Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life and Of Time and the River, this ultra-short short story is a rare occurrence. While Wolfe's novels have often fallen under criticism for their excessive autobiographical sources, the influence of their editors, and Wolfe's wordy style, many critics in the last half of the twentieth century began to praise Wolfe for his short fiction. "The Far and the Near" details the story of a railroad engineer in the 1930s who
passes a certain cottage every day for more than twenty years, waving to the women who live there but never actually
meeting them or seeing them up close. Upon his retirement, he goes to see the women, but they treat him badly and destroy
the idyllic vision that he has built up around them. Within its few pages, Wolfe's short story emphasizes the potentially
devastating effects on a person who is forced to confront the reality behind a vision. Since the work was written during the
Great Depression, the loss of hope that takes place in the story would have been extremely familiar to Wolfe's audience.
The story can be found in the paperback edition of The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, which was published by
Collier Books in 1989.
Thomas Wolfe was born on October 3, 1900, in Asheville, North Carolina, a resort community. Wolfe was a good student at the local elementary school, and in 1912, he was sent to a private school. At the ripe age of fifteen, he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1919, one of Wolfe's plays, The Return of Buck Gavin: the Carolina Playmakers, with Wolfe playing the lead role, staged The Tragedy of a Mountain Outlaw. Wolfe graduated in 1920,
and, emboldened by his initial success in the theater, he entered Harvard University the same year, where he studied playwriting. In 1922, Wolfe graduated from Harvard with his master's degree, although he remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts, writing plays and unsuccessfully trying to sell them. In 1924, he started teaching English at Washington Square College of New York University, a position that he held on and off until 1930. In 1924, he also traveled to Europe, returning the next year. On his voyage home, he met Aline Bernstein, a married woman nineteen years his senior, with whom he started a long affair. The two stayed together in England during Wolfe's 1926 trip and shared a New York apartment when they both returned to the United States. His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, was published in 1929. For this first publication, Wolfe and Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, worked closely together. In 1930, Wolfe gave up his teaching post, ended his affair with Mrs. Bernstein, and traveled to Europe again. In 1935, he published his second novel, Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth. The same year, he published his first short-story collection, From Death to Morning, which included the story "The Far and the Near." In 1935, Wolfe published The Story of a Novel, an essay detailing his writing methods and theories. In a review of the essay, Bernard DeVoto attacked all of Wolfe's work, stating that Wolfe depended upon the heavy editing of Perkins. As a result, Wolfe eventually left Scribner's, signing with Harper's in 1937. However, he was unable to publish any more works before he died of tubercular meningitis in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 15,1938. Following his death, Wolfe's editor at Harper's, Edward C. Aswell, set about creating distinct volumes out of the massive amount of manuscripts, notes, and outlines that Wolfe had left with him. From this assortment, Aswell created several works,...
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