In The Story of a Novel (1936), Thomas Wolfe responded to critics’ complaints that he could write only about his own life, and that his Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, was responsible for organizing the material of his first two novels, Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1935). He promised to write in a more objective, disciplined style, and, to prove that he could structure his sprawling fiction without assistance, he severed his professional association with Perkins. In July, 1938, two months before he died following a brain operation, Wolfe submitted to his new editor, Edward C. Aswell, the manuscript from which his last two novels, The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), were assembled. Although somewhat more objective and more finely controlled than his earlier fiction, the novels continue the supreme subject of all of his work: the story of his own life reshaped into myth.
Critics have said that The Web and the Rock is at once the best and the worst novel written by Wolfe. Certainly the first part of the book, that describing George Webber’s childhood in a southern town, is an excellent regional chronicle. Here Wolfe’s genius with words reaches new heights. The rest of the novel, however, drags somewhat from overdone treatment of a love story in which similar scenes are repeated until they become monotonous.
George Webber, described as monkeylike, with long arms and an awkward, ambling gait, scarcely resembles the tall, hawklike Eugene Gant of Look Homeward, Angel. Nevertheless, he is surely another psychological portrait of Wolfe, the tormented artist among Philistines. In the first part of The Web and the Rock, the author attempts to provide for his hero a new family and social background, but the Joyners, despite their vitality, are mere copies of the Pentlands; Libya Hill resembles...
(The entire section is 793 words.)