Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thomas Wolfe House and Museum

Thomas Wolfe House
Asheville, North Carolina

My time in Asheville, although short, was informative and relaxing. The weather was cool and clear; the Blue Ridge Mountains were blue, as promised; and I found two bookstores which always makes for a pleasant adventure.

Asheville is a very literary town although it is probably more well known for its painters, potters, weavers and other craft artists.

Since I won't be taking a Grand Southern Literary Tour this year as I did in 2012 and 2013, this trip will have to be known as my Petite Southern Literary Tour 2014.

The highlight was a visit to the Thomas Wolfe House and Museum which was conveniently located right across the street from my hotel. I relished the entire experience from watching the 20-minute biographical film; strolling through the museum that plotted the author's short life (he died in 1938 just weeks short of his 38th birthday); and touring the house in which lived with his mother, Julia, who ran it as a boarding house.

I sat in one of the old-fashioned rocking chairs on the front porch as our tour guide, David, gave us an overview of Wolfe's life and the years spent living in the house known as the Old Kentucky Home. There were only two other folks on the early morning tour so the visit was quite leisurely and intimate.

We visited the small room off the kitchen that Wolfe's hard-working mother slept in. There were the grander first floor room of his father's; the small and large guest rooms; the dreary formal parlor at the front of the house; the lovely sun room that reminded me of my grandmother's house; and the dining room where the boarders ate three meals a day. 

Julia Wolfe's tiny room off the kitchen.

One of the nicer guest rooms.

A lovely window seat in the dining room.

This house, of course, was the setting for Wolfe's autobiographical novel Look Homeward, Angel (1929). When it was published, the story made the people of Asheville furious. The tale exposed the somewhat trashy behavior of the citizens of this mountain town. The real adulterers, the alcoholics, the embezzlers were all easily identified and Thomas was not welcomed back to his hometown for many years.  

While the house contained the prosaic furnishings of his years there, it was the museum, featuring the author's personal items that fascinated me.

Wolfe's desk from his New York apartment. All items were 
brought back to Asheville upon his death.

Close-up of the three books on Wolfe's desk. 
(I cannot decipher the 
title of the red book.)

There are those who think Thomas Wolfe was a genius and there are those who think he was simply too verbose and who get lost in his wandering sentences. I must admit that I have not read anything by Mr. Wolfe, other than perhaps a random quote or two, so I do not know into which camp I might fall.

What has been your experience, if any, with Thomas Wolfe?


  1. My experience mirrors yours, Belle, but, I know I would love to see this house and museum. There is always a hard to describe feeling that overcomes me when I see the desks, books, personal items of a writer and spend some moments in time in their "spaces".

    1. Hi, Penny. I know. I love seeing houses where all that literary creativity took place. I think Carl Sandburg's home and Eudora Welty's are two of my favorites. They both look like the inhabitants are just out back in the garden and will be walking in the door any minute!

  2. Belle, I love your petite literary tour! Now I want to read something by Wolfe. I do know several men who love his work. Somehow I've never tried it...

    1. Kat, I think perhaps I will try a few of his short stories...although perhaps they won't be too short! I don't think I am ready for his 500-plus page 'Look Homeward, Angel'.

  3. I haven't read anything by Wolfe, either. But I'm with you and Penny about seeing the spaces where writers write. I'm going to make it a point in future to search for writer's homes in the areas I travel!

    1. Hi, Kathy. I would also like to visit the homes/studios of visual artists. I found this site but haven't had time to see if there are any places near me. A whole new group of 'tours' to investigate!

  4. Thanks for this Belle. It is wonderful to see the intimate photos of the house where he lived in, spooky in a way. As you know from my previous comments I am a huge fan of his work, He is not difficult to read but can be dense at times and sometime appears he is impatient in getting all he wants to tell us on the page. “The Web and The Rock” is one of my favourites and the relationships between Jack and Esther is memorable. The skewering of the characters of Ashville (Libya Hill-thinly disguised from what I have read in Biography by Andrew Turnbull) is relentless. The large warts are not disguised but in truth are probably accurate of any small town in its hypocrisy with its “lace curtain” judgments. Please give him a try!

    1. Ah, Tullik. As usual you have piqued my interest in an unread-by-me author. I will try out some of Wolfe's short stories. He also wrote plays which I was told by the tour guide were not very successful.

      The house was in the Wolfe family until it was turned into a museum so the articles in it are authentic. I thought most of the house and its furnishings had been destroyed in a fire in 1998 but was told that only the newer portions - added by Wolfe's mother, Julia - were damaged. Fortunately, they have since been restored.

    2. The faded book in the center of the bottom picture is "People and Politics Observed by a Massachusetts Editor", by Solomon Bulkley Griffin (I cannot claim to have read it, though). Thank you for a fascinating entry.

    3. Thank you so much for clearing up the mystery of the red book, Jonah. I was just looking at the photo again a few days ago and still could not decipher the title. You either have very good eyesight or you have visited Wolfe's home and seen his desk!