Thomas Wolfe and the genre question: Beyond the "charge of autobiography"

Thumbnail Image
BoyleGA_PhD2013.pdf(901.68 KB)
Full Text E-Thesis
Boyle, Gwendolen Aoife
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
The North Carolinian author Thomas Wolfe (1900‐1938) has long suffered under the “charge of autobiography,” which lingers to this day in critical assessments of his work. Criticism of Wolfe is frequently concerned with questions of generic classification, but since the 1950s, re‐assessments of Wolfe’s work have suggested that Wolfe’s “autobiographical fiction” exhibits a complexity that merits further investigation. Strides in autobiographical and narrative theory have prompted reconsiderations of texts that defy the artificial boundaries of autobiography and fiction. Wolfe has been somewhat neglected in the canon of American fiction of his era, but deserves to be reconsidered in terms of how he engages with the challenges and contradictions of writing about or around the self. This thesis investigates why Wolfe’s work has been the source of considerable critical discomfort and confusion with regard to the relationship between Wolfe’s life and his writing. It explores this issue through an examination of elements of Wolfe’s work that problematise categorisation. Firstly, it investigates the concept of Wolfe as “storyteller.” It explores the motivations and philosophies that underpin Wolfe’s work and his concept of himself as a teller of tales, and examines aspects of Wolfe’s writing process that have their roots in medieval traditions of the memorisation and recitation of tales. The thesis then conducts a detailed examination of how Wolfe describes the process of transforming his memory into narrative through writing. The latter half of the thesis examines narrative techniques used by Wolfe, firstly analysing his extensive use of the iterative and pseudo‐iterative modes, and then his unusual deployment of narrators and focalization. This project sheds light on elements of Wolfe’s approach to writing and narrative strategies that he employs that have previously been overlooked, and that have created considerable critical confusion with regard to the supposedly “autobiographical” genesis of his work.
Thomas Wolfe , Autobiography , Genre , American literature
Boyle, G. A. 2013. Thomas Wolfe and the genre question: Beyond the "charge of autobiography". PhD Thesis, University College Cork.