The Far and the Near Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Like much of Thomas Wolfe’s short fiction, the stories in From Death to Morning, including ‘‘The Far and the Near,’’ were formed from leftover material that did not fit into his novels—in this case, 1935’s Of Time and the River. Although the novel sold well, the collection of stories did not. In addition, as Ladell Payne notes in his 1991 entry on Wolfe for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, although Wolfe was famous in 1935, ‘‘he also was stung by the criticism that he was too wordy, too autobiographical, and too dependent upon Perkins.’’ Payne is referring to Maxwell Perkins, Wolfe’s editor at Charles Scribner’s & Sons.

These three criticisms were brought up again the next year by Bernard DeVoto. In his nowfamous piece for the Saturday Review of Literature, ‘‘Genius Is Not Enough,’’ DeVoto used the review of Wolfe’s essay The Story of a Novel as an opportunity to discredit Wolfe himself. ‘‘Mr. Wolfe is astonishingly immature,’’ says DeVoto, adding that Wolfe has not mastered ‘‘the psychic material out of which a novel is made nor the technique of writing fiction.’’ In addition, DeVoto says that if Wolfe ‘‘gave us less identification and more understanding,’’ people would stop ‘‘calling him autobiographical.’’ Finally, DeVoto criticized the influence of Perkins and the other editorial staff who helped Wolfe with his novels, calling them ‘‘the assembly line at Scribner’s.’’

Although others had brought up these concerns before, most acknowledge that DeVoto’s influential review helped guide criticism of Wolfe in general for much of the twentieth century. As Terry Roberts notes in his 2000 article for the Southern Literary Journal, DeVoto’s essay ‘‘set the tone for critics ever since who wished to establish their own intellectual superiority by attacking Wolfe in print.’’ Despite this fact, however, Wolfe did...

(The entire section is 806 words.)