I found this great short story by Thomas Wolfe in The American Tradition in Literature, Fourth Edition. “An Angel on the Porch” is the first major piece of fiction published by Wolfe. It first appeared as a short story in Scribner’s Magazine in August, 1929. This story later became Chapter 19 of Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. In this story, Gant, who is modeled after Wolfe’s father, is a stonecutter. He’s sixty-four and understands that much of his life is behind him and his abilities have diminished. As Wolfe describes, “He was getting on to sixty-five, his long, erect body had settled, he stooped a little. He spoke of old age often, and he wept in his tirades now because of his great right hand, stiffened by rheumatism which once had carved so cunningly the dove, the lamb, the cold joined hands of death (but never the soft stone face of an angel).”
Elizabeth, thirty-eight, runs a boarding house and comes into his shop to buy a memorial stone for a boarder, a young woman who has died. They speak of the death and Gant tells Elizabeth, “A pity, a pity. So young.” And then, Gant registers a “moment of triumph all men have when they hear some one has died. A moment, too, of grisly fear–sixty-four.”
Elizabeth wants the statue of the Angel on the Porch and they negotiate. But their talk is just at the surface of things. There’s something more between Gant and Elizabeth, both a history and an unspoken bond. “They had always know each other–since they first met…The world fell away from them,” Wolfe writes. As they walk outside, the world stops to see them, witnesses.
The story ends with Gant’s intense realization of how things are and he feels the pull of his own death. His questions about life’s uncertainty, “Where now? Where after? Where then?” say it all.
“An Angel on the Porch” is a great introduction to Thomas Wolfe’s writing style and his autobiographical fiction!
Thomas Wolfe (1900 – 1938)
Thomas Wolfe was a major American writer in the early twentieth century. He died young, at age thirty-eight, of a cerebral infection, and by then had published two large novels, Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1938) and a collection of short stories, From Death to Morning. Two more novels were waiting for publication at the time of his death. The Web and the Rock was published in 1939 and You Can’t Go Home Again was published in 1940. His novels and short stories are chiefly biographical, which initially caused a stir in his hometown of Ashville, North Carolina. Some family and friends were unhappy with his portrayals, but they were later disappointed when they didn’t appear in subsequent novels!
Here are some links you might enjoy, with some biographical information and a list of his books on Amazon.com.
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