Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1255
William Faulkner’s preeminence in American literature was firmly established in 1950 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Before his death in 1962, he had also been awarded two National Book Awards, in 1951 for his Collected Stories and in 1955 for A Fable, and numerous other prizes including the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, also for A Fable. His complete works include more than two dozen novels, each of which has been translated into one or more foreign languages; two volumes of poetry; six volumes of short stories; ten screenplays; and numerous contributions of poems, stories, and articles to magazines and newspapers. Because of his importance, most of his fiction works are easily found in libraries and bookstores, and he has been the subject of countless essays and books. The publication of the Un-collected Stories of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner, is a welcome addition to Faulkner scholarship because, despite the author’s fame, many of his shorter works have been previously available only in their originally published form, forcing readers and scholars to track down each title individually.
The volume contains forty-five stories, divided into three categories: those revised to become sections of later novels, The Unvanquished, The Hamlet, Go Down Moses, Big Woods, and The Mansion, a dozen which were published in a variety of magazines, and thirteen more which have never before been published. The stories were selected by Joseph Blotner in order to provide the interested reader with convenient access to these shorter works, but it will be appreciated as well for making available for the first time material from manuscripts housed in a variety of private and public collections.
The choice to exhibit three categories of stories adds to the book’s worth. Faulkner is best known for his creation of Yoknapatawpha County as the locale for many of his works. The inclusion here of many non-Yoknapatawpha stories helps widen our perception of his prolific talent. Additionally, the stories selected were written over a thirty-year period, providing a view of the development of themes and allowing a study of a variety of treatments used by Faulkner.
Joseph Blotner has written or edited several other books about Faulkner, including a massive two-volume biography and a volume of his correspondence. Making use of his extensive research into Faulkner’s life and writings, he has provided this new volume with a section of short notes, accompanying each story with its literary importance and history and noting for other researchers the location of his source manuscript. The inclusion of this section at the back of the volume keeps the notes from being intrusive to the reader yet allows convenient reference. For students pursuing textual comparison and analysis, the volume will be especially valuable and welcome. Blotner has carefully noted his sources and his overall editing and selection criteria and has also pointed out some of the variations between particular stories and their later incorporation into a novel or between revisions for various publications. These notes are insufficient for thorough research but they do provide bibliography and beginning information for such inquiries.
William Faulkner has been categorized as a Southern writer because of his birth and residency in Mississippi as well as his choice of subject matter. Almost all of his stories are located in the South and deal with concerns and issues related to the region. The Southern states, being generally a rural society, have a strong oral folk tradition. As a Southerner, Faulkner grew up hearing stories about hunting, the Confederacy, swamps, and other elements of popular local legends and myths. The Civil War in particular became an important facet of his view of the world, since its effect on the South, as he saw it, epitomized his general view of time and history. He felt that time was a fluid continuum with past and future existing only in the present moment of consciousness. Major themes developed by Faulkner deal with the effects of the past on the present and the nobility of stoic endurance. The past becomes not only myth, but also an ever-present environment, shaping and coloring the present and foreshadowing the future. His writing style has been labeled obscure and difficult to decipher in many cases, but here in the short story, his complex sentence structure, use of colloquial expressions, and stream-of-consciousness narration can be better appreciated as the appropriate form for his themes and characters.
The first section of this collection containing stories revised to become sections of novels are excellent examples of the unity of style and theme present in most of Faulkner’s work. Typically, the reader is immediately immersed in a scene or event without benefit of introductory background. Reading Faulkner is similar to jumping into a murky pool of water; after the initial plunge there is a slow ascent to the surface before the world is clear again. Details and characters emerge slowly, as in dream and memory, so that our sense of time and reality is distorted; yet the characters and events are endowed with meanings which are revealed more to the reader’s senses than to his intellect. Stories from The Unvanquished reveal the historical event of the Civil War from the very personal experiences of the people who lived and survived it—not battle by battle, but day by day. Faulkner’s point of view exposes thought and impression rather than true fact, allowing for repetition of stories and events from a variety of perceptions.
Stories from The Hamlet, in particular, show Faulkner’s reliance upon folk traditions of the South. “Fool About a Horse” deals with horse trading, while others deal with coon and opossum hunting. Faulkner used these common local events to symbolize the rituals of his culture and to add colorful characters who struggle to survive as their ancestors did. Use of such simple plots and the development of poor, low-life characters speaking colloquially initially disguises the importance of Faulkner’s themes, but the use of dialogue and point of view create the necessity of looking at the world from the same point of view as the Snopeses and McCaslins and thus extend our perception of it. Faulkner also made use of personal experiences, developing many characters based upon personal acquaintances, and writing about smuggling or wartime experiences in the RAF.
The uncollected and unpublished stories making up the remainder of the volume are interesting not only as additional samples of Faulkner’s craft, but also because they show different elements of his development of characters and themes. Blotner’s notes are invaluable here, pointing out the revising and reshaping done by Faulkner either to refine a characterization or to make a story acceptable for publication. Most of Faulkner’s work was not automatically accepted for publication, and much of it was controversial when it was. This information keeps the writer’s artistry and craft in true perspective and documents his personal struggle to communicate his viewpoint through his chosen medium. The notes also include a great deal of biographical information revealing the origins of some of Faulkner’s ideas and the variety of ways in which he approached his themes. A primary example of this is the inclusion of the two stories entitled “Once Aboard the Lugger,” both remnants of a discarded novel, which illustrate the development and selection of material by Faulkner. The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner contains a wealth of such information and is an important publication, valuable for the scholarly care taken by Blotner as well as the selection and inclusion of previously inaccessible material.
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