‘Circus At Dawn’ by Thomas Wolfe

Circus At Dawn by Thomas Wolfe, 1935

The magic trick:

Using a ton of different words to describe a limited number of scenes and things

W is for Wolfe.

It’s funny reading this the day after tackling some Hemingway. Same era. Very different style. This is all style. All adjectives. All world-creation.

The narrator is looking back on his childhood, giving all the way into a tendency for nostalgia. It’s pretty remarkable stuff. Essentially, he describes very little but uses a ton of words to do so. The circus was thrilling and new and amazing for these kids. That’s the gist. The vocabulary on display to bring that simple idea to life is expansive, to say the least.

And that’s quite a trick on Wolfe’s part.

The selection:

Talking in low excited voices we would walk rapidly back toward town under the rustle of September leaves, in cool streets just grayed now with that still, that unearthly and magical first light of day which seems suddenly to re-discover the great earth out of darkness, so that the earth emerges with an awful, a glorious sculptural stillness, and one looks out with a feeling of joy and disbelief, as the first men on this earth must have done, for to see this happen is one of the things that men will remember out of life forever and think of as they die.


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