Abstract

The purpose of this article is to analyze a peculiar case of a creative appropriation, made possible by a combination of coincidences, readings, and misconceptions during the time Tom Wolfe (1930–2018), future bestselling author, reformer of American journalism, and controversial public intellectual spent at Yale as a graduate student in the 1950s. This appropriation appears to have been generated by a confluence of factors that impressed itself on Wolfe’s mind. He referred to this confluence as “the Serapion Brothers” and repeatedly confessed to having been influenced by this group. The Serapions, according to him, were experimental, avant-garde Soviet writers, heirs to French Symbolism, who wrote about the Russian Revolution in a highly unconventional manner. Critics took Wolfe’s incorrect statements at face value; the far-reaching influence was noted but never looked into. In fact, this influence seems to have stemmed from a source misunderstood by Wolfe himself, making his authoritative work resonate with a different element of Russian modernist tradition and informing his theory of the New Journalism. Wolfe’s professed realism was dominated by aesthetic and differed in the way of engaging the reader’s subjectivity from the European tradition that he claimed to have followed.

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