illustrated portrait of American author William Faulkner

William Faulkner

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Faulkner, William 1897–1962

See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, 28.

Faulkner, an American novelist, short story writer, and poet, is considered one of this century's most influential and highly regarded novelists. Derived from the southern oral tradition and existing somewhere between storyteller and listener, Faulkner's novels together form one larger work, the saga of a single imaginary world in which the characters are both sustained and contained by the region—more philosophical than geographical—that is Faulkner's deep South. Time, remembered but unrecorded, merges with what William Barrett calls "that peculiar fullness of time that is found in myth …, the time of the land itself—of the rhythm of the seasons, death and renewal, sowing and reaping," at the center of Faulkner's saga. Twice the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in 1950.

Claude-Edmonde Magny

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

It may seem an exaggeration to look for [the] theological substructures in Faulkner's work, yet the critics have all been struck by his "puritanism," meaning by that term both his visible disgust before the mystery of sex and his deep-seated misogyny—quite natural in a world in which the Immaculate Virgin has not yet come to reestablish the order of things altered by Eve. Faulkner has at least once expressly referred to the Bible in one of his titles (Absalom, Absalom!)—precisely the one that most evokes the Hebraic ritual of meditation on the past. In addition, I do not see how—except by this perpetual referral of contemporary events to a sacred context that gives them their full meaning—one can explain the extravagant title of Sanctuary given to a story that is sordid to an extreme…. We are all familiar with the suggestion that Sanctuary marks the appearance of Greek tragedy in the mystery novel, but the tragedy, with its cruelty to which even death cannot put an end, is much more of a biblical nature.

It is thus a sacred spell Faulkner wants to cast over us, and the methods—or, if you prefer, the tricks—by which he exercises his magnetic power deserve a closer scrutiny. The most common one consists in having the real order of events reconstituted by (that is, in having the story told by) a spectator of the drama who is at first external and indifferent to it but who quickly becomes immersed—and by the end of a few pages, implicated—in these affairs that do not in any way concern him.

This is what happens to Horace Benbow in Sanctuary (he becomes Goodwin's lawyer and is involuntarily responsible for the latter's conviction and lynching), and to the nameless reporter of Pylon, who is fascinated by the strange ménage à trois of Roger, Laverne, and the parachutist and becomes so involved with them that he finally borrows the money with which to buy Schumann the defective "crate" in which he will ultimately go to his death. Such is also the fate of Shreve and Quentin in Absalom, Absalom! Caught up in events they necessarily learn about differently (they cannot intervene in the action since everything has already irrevocably happened and all the dramatis personae are dead), they are nevertheless far removed from the cold objectivity of the perfect journalist, since (for Quentin, at least) it is to some extent their own futures that they are reading in the tragic fates of Sutpen, Henry, or Charles Bon.

We are also reminded of those innocents peacefully fishing at the lake of Galilee, Thomas Didymus and Simon Peter, or the sons of Zebadiah, who almost despite themselves become the witnesses, the martyrs , of an extraordinary Event. In...

(This entire section contains 2451 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

nearly all of Faulkner's stories one finds (sometimes modestly hidden in a corner) a Witness, making things happen (like Horace Benbow) or conducting an investigation (like Quentin), involved in but not necessarily understanding much about these affairs that do not concern him but from which he is incapable of freeing himself. (pp. 192-94)

[If] the situation of the "involved witness" is so important in [Faulkner's] novels, it is because that is also precisely the situation of the reader of these novels.

We can no more free ourselves from the fascination Faulkner's characters exercise on us than they themselves can stop contemplating their fate. True, this attraction is mixed with horror…. It is as if sanctuaries, in Faulkner's world, take on their sacred character only with the profanation that deflowers them forever…. (pp. 195-96)

[When] we lose ourselves in Faulkner's long sentences, heavy with adjectives and incidents, we get bogged down in them, we literally get entrammeled. Our consciousness, which congeals and becomes more obscure, tends toward the opaque, blind, and totally self-oriented mode of existence, which is doubtless that of the inorganic, of the thing, while, correlatively, objects begin to live and become charged with the intentions and qualities previously reserved to men…. (pp. 198-99)

To use Sartre's language, the "en-soi" and the "pour-soi" exchange their characteristics in Faulkner: men become as much as possible like things, stubborn and inert, while by means of epithets things become subtly alive, as if they could perceive and be aware…. The most striking example of this technique is perhaps to be found in Pylon, a novel completely dedicated to the description of the fascination exercised on men by the machine, and in which the planes and the pilots—the former so much more real than the latter—seem to have exchanged their qualities, as the Reporter tells the editor of his paper. Like his witness, like his reader, Faulkner is hallucinated by this spectacle of an inhuman humanity that might just as well have gas instead of blood in its veins. (pp. 199-200)

The abuse of epithets is one of the multiple instruments of the special sorcery of every great writer, by means of which, as Malraux says in his preface to the French translation of Sanctuary, he incorporates his private obsession into the web of the universe, thus seeking to free himself of it by projecting it onto the object—and, I will add, by forcing us to share it. (p. 201)

[The] author objectifies his fascination in a spectacle, projects his emotion outside himself by supposing for it an imaginary origin, a counterpart external to himself—what T. S. Eliot called the "objective correlative." But this "objective correlative" (that is, the structure of his stories, the plot) is not the only thing he counts on to set off in us the same emotion or to obtain our participation: the Witnesses, the Mediators, are charged with the task of communicating to us, by a kind of contagion, what they feel. (p. 205)

But Faulkner has still other ways besides his use of epithets and his recourse to Mediators by which to work his enchantments; and most of the difficulties in his work, his apparent perversities, can be explained by this ambition to achieve a total identification between the writer and his reader. A simple and shocking example of this is the homonymy between different characters in the same story…. The recurrence of Quentin's name in [The Sound and the Fury] poses no problem of ambiguity for the author, who holds all the strings and is always quite certain as to whether he means the uncle or the niece without ever having to think about it. The extra effort of reflection and attention we must make in order to discriminate between them forces us to pass through to the other side of the carpet—to the side where he, the author, is busy knotting the threads of his plot; it obliges us to adopt his point of view—that of immediate and unambiguous knowledge, that of the creative vision. If he is sometimes deliberately obscure, it is never because of disdain for the reader; on the contrary, his enigmas are so many means of assuring our complicity. In a word, thanks to them he forces us to put ourselves in his place, to become the authors of what we are reading. (pp. 206-07)

[Faulkner wishes] to force the reader to look behind the words to the hidden, more profound meaning that is nowhere expressly embodied in the writing. This would satisfy what must be every writer's secret ambition: to be indefinitely multiplied, to exist in as many versions as there are true readers, to create a theoretically limitless number of beings similar to himself. (p. 208)

[There] is in Faulkner, as there is in Balzac, a reappearance of characters and a consequent interweaving of story with story. (p. 211)

[This] suggests the idea of a total world, one that can hardly be guessed at and certainly not [understood] if we are only familiar with two or three of its parts—a world that seems to have existed fully, from its inception, in the mind of the author, who thus finds himself placed (involuntarily and probably unconsciously) on the right side of this world—on "the good side" of it—while we, alas, see only the wrong side of the carpet. This is true but unfortunate, since the author is unaware of this; so absorbed is he in his vision, so completely involved in the effort to bring it forth, that he can spare no time to put it right side up for us and make it intelligible.

This is undoubtedly another explanation for Faulkner's seeming indifference—distraction rather than contempt—to the public: his eyes are so fixed on the universe within him that he comes to believe that everything is as clear to us as it is to him, and he never ceases to treat the eventual reader like another self. (p. 212)

Actually, this creative indifference (once the initial annoyance it necessarily causes is surmounted) adds to the impressive quality of the work, which towers over us, in all its massiveness, like a section of a cyclopean wall. This work certainly preexists our reading, and we are almost tempted to say that it even preexists its author and his transcription of it. (p. 213)

It is the objective (in the most precise sense of this term) existence of [his imaginary] country that gives each of Faulkner's stories, long or short, its extraordinary power of suggestion and sense of reality—and, incidentally, it also explains why Faulkner should be so incapable of telling the same story twice without adding new details…. This is only proper for a writer who each time that he thinks again of one of his imaginary creations finds himself confronting the totality of his vision, as if face to face with the God he has been in all but actuality. (pp. 214-15)

[The reappearance of characters in Faulkner's work extends] the characters in depth, gives them a past—a "past definite," if one may put it that way, which casts the events being recounted into a far past whose limits we cannot see.

In this sense, their situation exactly reproduces that of Faulkner's entire universe, which is not only, as so often happens, a cut made into time, but which is exactly the opposite—an attempt to be the memory of a race and a country, of precisely this country whose secret sickness is the absence of roots and traditions…. The whole of Faulkner's work could be considered a vast autobiography, not of a single individual but of a whole country, a whole bloc of humanity. And its secret charm (especially evident in Absalom, Absalom!) is undoubtedly that it gives evidence at every moment of that indispensable quality for successful memoirs … [called] afflux: that gushing forth from artesian wells, that irresistible flow of inner sap which so quickly … sweeps away all the deliberate effects the author might originally have wanted to introduce into his act of recall…. (pp. 217-18)

This invasion of the writer by what he calls forth, this overwhelming of him—and from all sides—by the things he merely wants to record … is what sweeps us up and carries us away in the best of Faulkner's works…. (p. 218)

[Faulkner] is trying to give us a vision not so much of an absurd world as of a universe in which everything coexists, in which all beings are simultaneously perceived. (p. 219)

Faulkner's novels (unlike Stendhal's and Balzac's) are not intended to augment our knowledge of men. They are intended to communicate to us a certain version of the world, to make us share the fascination that is, in the final analysis, exercised on the spirit of man by a certain image of eternity, an "Abbild" that can only be situated outside of time. (p. 221)

Behind all those beings he shows us as inexorably bound to one of their determinants …, there is nevertheless an outline (which they themselves may not recognize) of what is real in them—of what is beyond their temporal life and, though immutable, is not so in the same way as a prisoner's ball and chain—the great Eternal Act that constitutes their existence, the act that man can only contemplate if its image is pushed into the past, yet one that is essentially timeless. (pp. 221-22)

Like the Jews of the Old Testament or the Negroes of the Southern plantations (the anonymous and collective authors of the spirituals), all of Faulkner's characters are turned to the past; they are busy reexamining the great immobile Event that hangs heavy over their heads and has made, so to speak, a hole in the monotonous succession of similar days without, however, ever managing to integrate itself into them—the captivity in Babylon contemplated in the Psalms and by the Prophets, or the Civil War, the events of which are endlessly repeated by the Sartorises and the Compsons. And it can in no way be different until, with the Incarnation—the Event that makes a hole in Time once and for all and yet never stops happening, destined to remain eternally present from the moment in which it happens—the marriage of Time and Eternity takes place. (p. 222)

[Faulkner's] work—like Joyce's Ulysses and Eliot's poems, including The Waste Land and up to Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Redemption)—is a manifestation of the widespread malady of the modern spirit. This malady is to live in the time before the birth of Christ and thus to find oneself in the same situation as that of the entire Jewish people…. [This] malediction (as in the case of Joyce and of Balzac) is undoubtedly responsible for Faulkner's almost unconsciously adopting, with regard to his creations, the position that is traditionally that of God the Father.

We seem here to be very far indeed from the contemporary American novel. I ask only that one observe the curious and unconscious symmetry of the two greatest authors of the age we are here concerned with in regard to the conception of time that inwardly rules their work: the time of Dos Passos, whose novels are attuned to objective, cosmic time, which presides over the calendar, the tides, the waves of economic inflation or depression—in short, a time defined in Timaeus as the mobile image of eternity; and the time that Faulkner raises above his characters like an "in hoc signo vinces" banner, without them, however, being immersed in it—the immobile image of eternity, in which retrospection becomes the ersatz of an impossible contemplation. (pp. 222-23)

Claude-Edmonde Magny, "Faulkner, or Theological Inversion," in his The Age of the American Novel: The Film Aesthetic of Fiction between the Two Wars, translated by Eleanor Hochman (translation copyright © 1972 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.; originally published as L'Age du roman américain, Editions du Seuil, 1948), Ungar, 1972, pp. 178-223.

Tony J. Owens

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Although some of William Faulkner's short fiction is beginning to receive the critical attention it has long deserved, those stories that resist ready categorization, particularly those that lie outside the realm of Yoknapatawpha County, remain neglected. "Artist at Home" is such a work. An enigmatic, ironic, and not wholly successful story, it nevertheless makes significant use of narrative techniques, characterizations, and important themes that recur throughout Faulkner's work. The story's concern with the relation of art to life, with contrasting modes of perception and action, and with the modern dissociation of art and experience make it an important work. "Artist at Home" is also a rare example of Faulkner's direct representation of the artist figure. As an integral part of a larger continuum, it presents both a culmination of Faulkner's early artistic portraits and an anticipation of larger and related themes of perception, responsibility, and action.

The outline of the story is deceptively simple, based upon a typical husband-wife-lover triangle and concerned with the reactions of each to what is apparently an adulterous situation. But the conventional plot is complicated by the presence of a biased, unreliable narrator and an emphasis upon unusually complex human and artistic dilemmas. (p. 393)

First published in 1933, "Artist at Home" was probably composed early in 1931. The relatively early composition date adds significance to the story as a reflection of artistic and philosophical concerns that had occupied Faulkner throughout the 1920's. In the apprentice period in which he made the crucial decision to turn from poetry to prose, Faulkner repeatedly returned in his work to consideration of the role of the artist, the meaning of the artistic or creative impulse, and the relation between art and the rest of human experience. A recurrent theme during this period was Faulkner's rejection of aestheticism as an artistic mode and as a reliable mode of perception. Although strongly influenced by the aesthetic idealism of the French symbolists, Swinburne, and the English fin-de-siècle poets, Faulkner quickly perceived the narcissistic and self-indulgent tendencies in the decadents' emphasis on artificiality and egotism. His rejection of the aesthetic ideal as a distorted perception of reality is perhaps the most significant development of his early career. (p. 394)

Also related to this movement toward a more realistic perspective is Faulkner's growing awareness of the importance of perception as a recognition of the complexity of experience. Obsessive adherence to an abstract ideal results in a distorted or falsified perception of experience. (p. 396)

Distorted perception is also essential to Faulkner's portrayal of a modern wasteland where blindness characterizes those who cannot admit the complex fluctuations of experience and whose devotion to a static abstraction renders them ineffectual or destructive…. [This] failure of perception pervades "Artist at Home," and especially characterizes the males in the story: Howes, Blair, and the narrator. Each perceives experience in abstract terms; each is partially blind. Their blindness is clearly evident in their perception of the woman in the story, Anne Howes. The attempt to explain from an egotistical, imperceptive masculine viewpoint the feelings and actions of a woman is an important device in Faulkner's work, and it occurs in many of the early stories. (pp. 396-97)

Also important in the story is the analogous relationship between art and action; art is both a type of and metaphor for human action. As such, the creative impulse represents man's awareness of his responsibility to create a meaningful existence through conscious action. (p. 397)

Certainly one of the most significant features of "Artist at Home," heretofore ignored, is the implication that Howes has not only condoned his wife's actions, but perhaps instigated the situation and certainly used it for stimulation, to provide inspiration and subject for his art. Several details substantiate this reading. Howes invites the poet to his home (whereas his previous guests were unannounced and unexpected), he excuses to his wife the poet's incivility and contemptuous attitude, he remains carefully absent while the relationship is developing, he hides behind a bush to witness the first kiss, he then allows the poet to continue seeing his wife, and as soon as he thinks the adultery has occurred, he begins to record the events in his story. The possibility of Howes's complicity suggests that his actions are manipulative and recalls the theme of contrasting modes of action, manipulation (Howes) versus self-destructiveness (Blair). But even if Howes has not purposely instigated the situation, his vicarious use of it indicates the degradation of his actions. The story thus represents the dissociation and debasement of art and experience in a diminished, wasteland setting. The title becomes doubly ironic; neither art nor family can thrive in the climate of manipulation and exploitation Howes creates.

Perhaps the most rewarding method of perceiving the thematic complexity of the story is through an analysis of the three dominant characters. Faulkner's ability to create vital, fully developed characters is one of his greatest artistic strengths; one would assume, therefore, that the thin, one-dimensional characterization in "Artist at Home" is deliberate. The main characters appear to be caricatures and often comic burlesques of their artistic and familial roles, portrayals that reinforce the story's ironic mixture of comedy and tragedy. (pp. 399-400)

The main character, Roger Howes, represents the debasement of the artist to a position of emotional impotence. His vicarious participation in human passion, his willful obtuseness, and his manipulation of others reflect the complete irony of the title. This is an artist whose failure to integrate the demands of art and the demands of human experience has destroyed his ability to sustain the creative impulse. (p. 400)

Further complexity is added to "Artist at Home" by the implications surrounding Howes's short story of what he assumes to be his wife's adultery. Though Howes does manage to write something, this story is itself a severely diminished representation of art. It is described repeatedly in disparaging financial terms, as dependent upon the "typing market." His work is equated with the money it will bring, creating an ironic and paradoxical situation wherein Howes abdicates his role as a husband in order to support his family through the coming winter. As his creative impulse is vicariously sustained, his art is one of imitation, not creation. He is merely a copyist, recording almost verbatim the actions of others. Like "A Meeting South" and "They Come Bearing Gifts," his story is the product of an artistic tragedy. (p. 404)

Howes has debased art and distorted experience in order to sustain an abstraction, in his case the idea of the "artist." He has attempted, in his story and in his actions, to abstract, categorize, and control experience, yet his failure indicates his fundamental lack of perception. (p. 405)

Blair's attempted seduction of Anne Howes demonstrates a recurrent Faulknerian irony, the inextricableness of romantic idealism and sexual desire. Like many of Faulkner's young romantics, Blair is unable to accept the obvious interrelatedness of the two. The difficulty of preserving a romantic ideal in the midst of physical desire leads to either rejection of the ideal or rejection of life in withdrawal or suicide. (p. 406)

Blair's final actions are suicidal and suffused with self-pity. Like Galwyn and Quentin Compson, his failure to sustain an abstraction precipitates a rejection of life. Faulkner's 1945 description of Quentin applies to many of his early idealists as well as to Blair, characters who "loved death above all … loved and lived in a deliberate and almost perverted anticipation of death." (p. 407)

The woman in the triangle, Anne Howes, appears initially as a defender of the home, the domestic protector against the unwelcome intrusions of the New York artists. The daughter of a minister and the mother of two children, she represents a traditional family order…. And yet her submission to Blair's attentions reflects not a contradictory but a related aspect of this same concern, for her affection for Blair is pre-eminently maternal…. Ironically, it is her own maternal instinct, compounded by Howes's neglect, that makes her vulnerable to Blair.

In spite of this initial susceptibility, Anne's ability to perceive reality is fundamentally sound. She is portrayed as a realist, a foil to the perverse affectations and abstractions of the artists. Because she is not committed to the preservation of an abstract ideal, she is capable of both perception and action…. Most important, she recognizes the dangerous morbidity of Blair's fantasies and escapes from the entanglement. Furthermore, in spite of the assumptions of Howes and the narrator, there is no conclusive evidence in the story that she actually commits adultery. Even if one assumes that Blair is physically capable, Howes's distorted perception invalidates any of his assumptions, and Anne's own statements and actions imply an abrupt end to an incomplete relationship…. Ironically, [Anne's adultery] would effect, not an escape from the emotional emptiness of life with Howes, but a continuation of sterility and debasement. (pp. 407-09)

Pursued by Blair, used by Howes, and misunderstood by an insensitive narrator, Anne's role as victim is similar to that of the wife in "Fox Hunt" (1931), who is also sacrificed to fulfill the desires of her husband. However, in her rejection of Blair, Anne reveals strength of character and a pragmatic awareness of her own and others' limitations…. Her choice is one of husband, and particularly father, over lover, a choice of life—although a diminished and ultimately unsatisfying life—over death. Her actions and her statements in the final repartee with Howes reflect a still more positive aspect of her character. Aware of the exigencies of survival, she nonetheless preserves a degree of personal integrity by refusing to accept the fur coat bought with money from Howes's story. Her refusal is a limited but symbolic act of defiance, performed not to preserve the memory of Blair but to reject the total domination of Howes. It is a gesture of freedom, an action that Howes cannot predict or exploit for his story, and thus a defeat of his attempt to manipulate and use others' behavior…. If there is a positive note in this story of debasement and distortion, it is [the] affirmation of the unpredictable complexity of experience that preserves it from artificial control.

In addition to the three participants in the triangle, a fourth "character," the narrator, adds a further perspective to the story, as the point of view shifts from apparent omniscience to reveal a distinct and opinionated personality. This use of limited point of view results in a multiplicity of interacting and contrasting viewpoints, those of the narrator, of Howes, of Anne, of Blair, none of which separately possesses a completely reliable perception. The technique is evidence of Faulkner's impressionistic method whereby experience is presented not as artificially coherent but as the interrelation of alternating human perspectives. The conception of life as process, what Faulkner would later refer to as "motion," ironically undermines any attempt to reduce life to a comfortable, static abstraction. An ironic juxtaposition of assumption and actuality underlies the narrative viewpoint of "Artist at Home," where the narrator's superficial categorizations contrast with the complexity of human relationships he cannot understand. For like Howes and Blair, he perceives individuals in abstract terms. (pp. 409-10)

The narrator's assumptions also serve a structural purpose by focusing the story on its central artistic concern, for he dismisses the "affair" itself and concentrates upon Howes's reactions as an artist…. Although his irritation is in part justified by the perverse behavior of Blair and Howes, the narrator's own perception is constricted by his insensitivity and pervasive cynicism…. The narrator's lack of perception or sympathy further reinforces the sense of alienation that pervades the story.

His reflection on the reconstruction of Howes's family provides the story with a coda of devastating irony: "That was all right. Because it was Christmas soon, and then spring; and then summer, the long summer, the long days."… His statement is not an affirmation of life, of reconciliation, but a bleak awareness of the meaningless endurance of an existence without value…. [The] restoration of Howes's family and the apparent rejuvenation of his art represent not an integration of art and life, but a return to the fragmentation and diminishment of both.

In spite of its thematic and technical complexity, "Artist at Home" is not one of Faulkner's best stories. The thin characterizations, the undeveloped details …, and above all the sometimes awkward mixture of ludicrous comedy and tragic consequences, make it an ambiguous and at times unconvincing story. The limited range and reduced possibilities of a magazine story do not seem sufficient to convey adequately the complex associations of art and family, of action and inaction, which give the story significance.

For "Artist at Home" is a significant story. It may be read as a culmination of Faulkner's early concern with and direct portrayal of the figure of the artist, his rejection of romantic and aesthetic idealism, and his development of an ironic and realistic detachment. Furthermore, in its concern with conflicting modes of perception and action it foreshadows dominant themes in the later work. Faulkner declared in 1952 that "'The most important thing is that man continues to create.'" The artistic impulse to create becomes man's individual responsibility for meaningful action, and the artist's conflict between art and life represents man's individual conflict between idea and action. One may perceive these conflicting modes of action throughout Faulkner's works, whether expressed as idealistic withdrawal, ineffectual idealism, or ruthless, manipulative action. Man's attempt to integrate idea and action is a necessary and difficult obligation. The characters of "Artist at Home" achieve no such integration, and the story remains a minor but important indication of the tragic consequences of fragmentation. (pp. 411-12)

Tony J. Owens, "Faulkner, Anderson, and 'Artist at Home'," in The Mississippi Quarterly (copyright 1979 Mississippi State University), Vol. XXXII, No. 3, Summer, 1979, pp. 393-412.∗

Lisa Paddock

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

"Mistral" combines the mysterious death of a young village man on the eve of his wedding, with a priest's illicit passion for his beautiful female ward, the dead man's fiancée, and hence recalls not only the romantic suspicion and intrigue of "Jealousy" and "The Cobbler,"… but also the portrait of a libidinous, tormented priest, originally intended as part of the series of short stories and prose sketches Faulkner published in the Times-Picayune between February and September 1925.

As he subsequently did with several other tales (e.g., "Red Leaves," "Dry September," and "That Evening Sun"), Faulkner chose a title indicative of the story's correlation of theme and environmental conditions. The mistral, or tramontane—a dry, cold northerly wind that blows in squalls throughout the area of the northern Mediterranean—is an apt symbol for the extremity of the story's action. The maddening, harassing mistral, which penetrates the walls of the presbytery, parallels and even aggravates the private agony and eventual derangement—itself the product of imposed isolation—that causes the priest to become involved in underhanded and finally violent activities. As Faulkner puts it in "Mistral," "Maybe in any natural exaggerated situation—wind, rain, drouth—man is always alone." (pp. 413-14)

"Mistral" is … fraught with loose ends and unresolved questions. The fact that so much of the action is uncertain, the subject of debate, may well be a result of Faulkner's early and groping experimentation with a theme—the multifariousness of truth—and a fictional mode that would later be perfected in Absalom, Absalom!. Don's method of suggesting interpretations of events to the narrator, inventing scenes from the past to help explain the present, closely resembles Shreve and Quentin's participative recreations of the past in Absalom. (p. 417)

But what is most noteworthy about "Mistral" as a whole, insofar as it anticipates the latter novel, is the ability of Don and his companion to relate in a highly personal fashion to this foreign drama into which they have been so abruptly introduced. This story is, in fact, as much "about" Don and the narrator as Absalom is "about" Shreve and Quentin. Like the novel, "Mistral" is very much a tale of initiation, of vicarious introduction to the nature of both sexuality and sin. The constant references to alcohol serve as a sort of leitmotif in "Mistral" and seem … to point to symbolically inverted communions. Faulkner emphasizes the youth of the pair … and indicates their relative innocence. (p. 418)

But just as Shreve and Quentin's compatibility changes to adversity in the course of their joint investigation of the tainted Sutpen past, so the sinister implications of the mystery Don and his companion set out to solve alter their originally good-natured rivalry. Their game of "Beaver" and jovial punning on "draft" … are abandoned as the rising "black wind" … of the mistral becomes an analogue of their increasing perception of evil. When the two step out into the full force of the gale, they come upon the priest wrapped in an agony of sexual arousal and frustration induced by his spying on the assignation of his ward and her lover. At this point the narrator seems to make a connection between the priest's voyeurism and the Americans' own scrutiny of the whole passionate affair, for he turns on Don, cursing and bickering meaninglessly. To the narrator, both of them have become "terrible and ugly and sad" …, their relationship as well as themselves incontrovertibly changed by their initiation into the "secret nostalgic sense of frustration and of objectless and unappeasable desire."…

Don and his companion, like Shreve and Quentin, participate so fully in the tragedy they observe not only because it is in itself so compelling, but also because its very incomprehensibility forces them to become involved. As in Absalom, the narrator and his collaborator must add personal experience to the incomplete and contradictory bits of available information—as the narrator says, "invest trifles with a tragic profundity" …—in order to attempt to solve the puzzle before them. Thus this Italian intrigue comes to have a sense of personal immediacy for them. And, as in Absalom, the two investigators gather information from several sources, none of which proves to be fully reliable. (pp. 419-20)

[Much] of the tortuousness and ambiguity of the plot of "Mistral" grows out of the fact that, as in Absalom, Faulkner places an enigmatic figure squarely at the heart of the story. The priest in "Mistral" is, as Cleanth Brooks says of Thomas Sutpen [in his William Faulkner: The Yoknapataupha Country], "an imaginative construct, a set of inferences—an hypothesis put forward to account for several peculiar events." Just as the limitations imposed by history and—for Shreve—geography both compel and baffle the process of discovery for Quentin and his Harvard roommate, so the "foreignness" of the priest and of the events of even the recent past at once induces and precludes interpretation on the part of the narrator and his companion in "Mistral." In both cases, the distancing of the central character and the absence of ultimate confrontation between the narrator and the central character provide perhaps the only means of treating a paradoxical individual without destroying the paradox. The narrator of "Mistral," like Quentin, resists his collaborator's urge to pursue a final solution to the puzzle confronting them, in part because he fears what a thorough investigation might reveal about himself. But Faulkner is at one with the narrator to the degree that he preserves the elusiveness of the priest through a process of deliberate nonresolution. Perhaps one of the pivotal ironies of both Absalom and "Mistral" resides in the necessity of maintaining the portentousness of the central characters in order to effect the initiations of their young observers. (pp. 421-22)

Lisa Paddock, "'Trifles with a Tragic Profundity': The Importance of 'Mistral'," in The Mississippi Quarterly (copyright 1979 Mississippi State University), Vol. XXXII, No. 3, Summer, 1979, pp. 413-22.

Cleanth Brooks

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Many informed Americans now consider William Faulkner to be the greatest American fiction writer of the 20th century and just possibly in our history. But his achievement of such recognition came to him with a painful slowness. He was 53 when he won the Nobel Prize, and in his acceptance speech he described his life's work as having been accomplished "in the agony and sweat of the human spirit…." Many of us now know enough about his life to realize that he did not exaggerate.

A distressing element was the circumstance that those novels written in the agony of the human spirit did not sell…. Faulkner frequently complained to his close friends and his literary agents that as a consequence he was forced to grind out short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and such like magazines to keep bread and meat on the table. His other expedient was to go to Hollywood and work as a scriptwriter….

[One] must welcome Joseph Blotner's edition of the hitherto uncollected stories [The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner]. The intelligent reader will not, of course, expect it to be a florilegium culled from the Faulknerian garden. Uncollected Stories is not that sort of book. It amounts to no more than what its title claims: a collection of stories which, for one reason or another, were not printed in Knight's Gambit (1949) or in Collected Stories (1950). Some of the stories that appear were long ago incorporated, usually in altered form, into such novels as The Unvanquished or The Hamlet. (p. 51)

Still others, those that make up Section III of this book, have never before been printed anywhere. This last group includes stories like "Adolescence," written toward the beginning of Faulkner's career (composed in the early 1920s) and a number of stories from the late Twenties and early Thirties, which were turned down by all the magazine editors to whom Faulkner sent them. The editors can scarcely be blamed, for the stories do not come off.

Yet some of them, "The Big Shot," "Dull Tale," "A Return," and "Evangeline," will, for many readers, prove to be the most exciting stories in the present collection. They show the young Faulkner's head fairly seething with the characters, dramatic situations, and themes that would be brilliantly set forth in the masterpieces of the ensuing decades. Thus, one finds Popeye and Red, those denizens of the Memphis underworld, already about the nefarious businesses they would pursue in Sanctuary. We get a glimpse of Temple Drake, with her "bold, painted mouth," trying to look "cool, predatory, and discreet," as she plays at sex, though in "The Big Shot" she is called Wrennie Martin. One reads cynical observations about women's natural affinity for evil such as Mr. Compson will utter in The Sound and the Fury.

In "The Big Shot" and in "Dull Tale" (a revision of "The Big Shot") Faulkner reveals himself to be already fascinated with the story of a poor white boy's rise from poverty to wealth. Martin is a typical rags-to-riches hero. He has come to financial power through native shrewdness, patience, and relentless willpower. Out of this archetype of the Protestant work ethic Faulkner will later on separate out such specialized characters as Thomas Sutpen and Flem Snopes. On the one hand, Martin lacks the tragic nature of Sutpen and on the other, the cold-blooded meanness of Flem. (pp. 51-2)

The seeds of future novels are not only to be discovered in characters and isolated incidents. In "Evangeline" we find the very plot of Absalom, Absalom! We realize that here we are reading a first draft of Faulkner's greatest novel….

Yet how different the two versions are!… By comparing "Evangeline" with Absalom, Absalom! we witness the always marvelous metamorphosis of grub into butterfly. (p. 52)

In stressing the stories of Blotner's Section III I do not want to suggest that Uncollected Stories is primarily for professional scholars. Anyone with a decent acquaintance with four or five of the best novels will find much to interest him in this volume, for the book has clearly been designed for the reader of amateur status. It does not bristle with scholarly apparatus. (pp. 52-3)

Cleanth Brooks, "His Somewhat Lesser Sound and Fury," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1979 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 6, No. 22, November 10, 1979, pp. 51-3.

M. E. Bradford

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

[Faulkner's short fiction that was] not included in Collected Stories and Knight's Gambit—has survived only in the bound files of old magazines and in hard-to-find books: in obscure, out-of-the-way publications or in editions long out of print. Moreover, at the author's death in 1962, there were 13 essentially complete narratives left in manuscript, surviving but not conveniently available to students of Faulkner's career. With the Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, Joseph Blotner, who has already written the authorized biography and edited a selection of the letters, completes the Faulkner canon and brings us toward a remedy of the situation just described. Though the book has its obvious commercial characteristics, and is painful after the fashion of all gathered literary remains, it was a job that had to be done.

The first half of Uncollected Stories is made up of twenty narratives which first appeared independently and were subsequently incorporated into Faulkner novels. We know the tales which they recount as chapters of The Unvanquished, The Hamlet, Go Down, Moses, The Mansion, and The Big Woods. The differences between the two versions of the narratives tell us a good deal about the aesthetic principles Faulkner followed in his revisions, and therefore about his craft: his attempts "to reduce the passion and beauty of being alive into something concrete that can be held in the hand."

In the second part of the book there are other examples of Faulkner's skill in concentrated rendering; these are from his ungathered or unpublished fictions. There are 12 of the former, 13 of the latter. With some of these stories it is the fact that they were not published or republished in Faulkner's lifetime which reflects favorably upon the taste and artistic judgment of their author (and/or his agents and publishers). Included here are some unmistakable apprentice works. Yet even in his lesser performances there are traces of the themes, forms, and traits of style which we have learned from Absalom, Absalom!, The Wild Palms, Sanctuary, Light in August, and the better short stories to expect from William Faulkner. And in "Thrift," "A Dangerous Man," and "A Portrait of Elmer," we do find some of Faulkner's characteristic humor.

Only two or three stories in this final group are exceptional. "Miss Zilphia Gant" bears comparison to the classic "A Rose for Emily." "Sepulture South: Gaslight" is a valuable cameo image of the "old order" in a moment of mourning and recollection. And "Race at Morning" is one of Faulkner's best, providing a correction in counterpoint to the sentimental reading of the character of Isaac McCaslin in "The Bear." These stories lead us back to the heart of Faulkner's achievement in this form—the stories of Indians, yeomen, and four generations of Southern women which are preserved in Collected Stories—and thus remind us of his place in the history of American fiction. But if there are only a few great stories in Blotner's edition, there are plenty of others as good as those which Faulkner had included in the earlier set. All in all, scholars as well as other devoted Faulknerians can be pleased by the appearance of this book. Faulkner once observed that he could not know where his muse would lead him when he began to write, whether toward story or novel, or toward novel out of story—"almost like lightning it begins to take shape." And we are glad to respect the mystery, to follow what it unfolds before our wondering eyes. (p. 362)

M. E. Bradford, "The Rest of Faulkner," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1980; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. 32, No. 6, March 21, 1980, pp. 361-62.

Calvin S. Brown

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Uncollected Stories is not merely an act of publication, but a work of serious and useful scholarship. As the editor explains, it "consists of three kinds of stories: those which William Faulkner published but never reprinted in any of his short-story collections, those which he later revised to become parts of later books, and those which have remained until now unpublished." (p. 221)

It is a useful service to make the stories which were revised for inclusion in later books conveniently available…. For the general reader who knows his Faulkner but has no desire to collate texts, reading these stories is a fascinating experience. Such a reader is not aware of all the minor changes (Blotner mentions major ones, like a different narrator or point of view, in his notes), but is aware of a story that is in a way the one that he already knows, but is, in ways which he cannot always pin down, different in the telling and the effect. An excellent example is "The Hound," which, in thirteen pages, gives the heart of a story of a murder and the difficulties of disposing of the body—a story which has already been built up in the reader's mind in successive layers of rich detail in the novels of the Snopes trilogy….

The interest of the uncollected and the unpublished stories is of a different sort. There is no need to separate these two categories, since both are new material for the general reader of Faulkner. At its worst this material is clearly the work of an apprentice, though obviously a gifted one. At its best, it is the work of a mature master. (p. 222)

To my mind, the most interesting and impressive story of the whole collection is the one which is unaccountably entitled "Evangeline." Here, in twenty-eight pages, we have the story which, five years after it was rejected by The Saturday Evening Post, appeared as Absalom, Absalom! In this version, Sutpen hardly appears, though he is a minor power offstage. The whole tale deals with the tragic fortunes of the Sutpen children, and its plot is remarkably close to that of the novel. It is sometimes more explicit than the novel and sometimes less, and it uses the same techniques of indirection, hypothesis, and delayed revelation. The result is powerful. It is also somewhat baffling, for I cannot help wondering how much of the power which I felt in "Evangeline" is unequivocally there, and how much I unconsciously transferred to it from the novel. Other readers will doubtless have the same experience and raise the same question, which will have to remain unanswered. The only person who could really hope to answer it would be a good, sensitive Faulkner critic who had never read Absalom, Absalom!—and of course no such person exists. (p. 223)

Calvin S. Brown, "Book Reviews: 'Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner'," in The Georgia Review (copyright, 1980, by the University of Georgia), Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, Spring, 1980, pp. 221-23.


Faulkner, William (Vol. 14)


Faulkner, William (Vol. 3)