The extended version of Wolfe's short story in memory of his father
The Four Lost Men is the first publication of the long version of Thomas Wolfe's story of familial and national reflection set during World War I. Here Wolfe supplies a moving portrait of his dying father, as well as a rich meditation on American history and ambitions. Discussion of the title characters—Presidents James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes—provides Wolfe an opportunity to assess the mood and promise of the nation and to reflect on the obstacles toward untapped American potential.
Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Hayes, the four Republican presidents who followed Grant during the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras, were all Civil War generals and self-made men, though none experienced a distinguished term in office. These presidents are iconic figures in the recollections and political monologues of the teenaged narrator's dying father. In his efforts to understand their importance to his father, the boy comes to appreciate the act of storytelling that redefines these men in his father's memory and in turn redefines the father in the narrator's memory.
Originally published as a short story of seven thousand words in Scribner's Magazine in 1934—and later abridged by one thousand words for republication in the 1935 anthology From Death to Morning—Wolfe's expanded tale is published here for the first time in its full length of some twenty-one thousand words. Editors Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli have employed the same methods to reestablish this text as they used in their centennial edition of O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life, the unabridged version of Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. The reestablishment of the long version of The Four Lost Men opens an undeveloped area of scholarship on Wolfe's short fiction and serves as a model for restoring other such works.
Matthew J. Bruccoli was the Emily Brown Jefferies Professor Emeritus of English at the University of South Carolina and the leading authority on the House of Scribner and its authors. He was the editorial director of the Dictionary of Literary Biography and the author or editor of one hundred books, including The Sons of Maxwell Perkins: Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Their Editor.
"Perhaps only Walt Whitman held so much of the life of our country in so immense a grasp as did Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe's most effective pages sing with a sort of jubilant brooding that only his special lyricism could express. The Four Lost Men contains some of his best writing and we are all indebted to the editors Bruccoli for rescuing this dynamic, Michelangelo-like torso of prose from oblivion. An important—and enjoyable!—volume."—Fred Chappell, author of Dagon, Backsass, and others
"Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli have once again miraculously exhumed and restored a previously unpublished Thomas Wolfe manuscript. With insightful editorial direction and comment, they bring the exuberant narrative to light. Cast your longboat into the wild current of this reconstructed long version of The Four Lost Men and be swept along in a flood of ideas, timeless reflections on war, and memories of loss."—Joanne Marshall Mauldin, author of Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin?