1 September 2010

Thomas Wolfe's Angel Reconsidered in Bryson City, North Carolina: Southern Literary Tour, Part Two: #6

In a blog post last year, I wrote about the Hendersonville Angel as a model for Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel here. The theory - that Wolfe had been inspired by the angel in his father's monument shop in Asheville - was very interesting if not entirely convincing. However, things were no doubt a little more complicated than that. George Ellison, a writer who has frequently published articles in Smoky Mountain News about such local literary figures as Horace Kephart, for instance, has been aware for a number of years of the wobbliness of the Hendersonville angel theory. As he has said, the original idea about the angel on Margaret Bates Johnson's grave in Hendersonville came from Thomas Wolfe scholar Myra Champion in 1949, and seems to have been accepted without question ever since.

Ellison puts forward the suggestion that the angel in Wolfe's mind was a composite: certainly, Wolfe saw more than one angel from Carrara in Italy in his father's shop, and an angel in Bryson City Cemetery, also sold by W. O. Wolfe, actually holds a lily as mentioned in Wolfe's novel. The Hendersonvillle angel holds no such flower, but wheat. There nevertheless appears to be a conscious effort to exclude the existence of any other angelic candidate in favor of the Hendersonville one.

The Bryson City Cemetery angel marking Fannie Everett Clancy's grave.

The lily close up. George Ellison's article about the angels is here.

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