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Faulkner’s Memphis Stories

ISSUE:  Spring 1983

Although annual surveys of Faulkner scholarship, one of the few booming industries in any recession, have regularly called for more attention to the short stories, the results so far have been paltry. True, there have been encouraging signs: essays dealing with such minor works as “Uncle Willie,” “Artist at Home,” “The Priest,” and “Mistral.” There have been helpful explications of “Carcassonne” and more critiques of masterpieces such as “Dry September” and “That Evening Sun.” I must point out nevertheless that there has been no effort to address the major problems touching William Faulkner’s peculiar affiliation with a genre from which he learned more than from all his verse or his first two novels. The third taught him most of all—when it was rejected. So far there has been no mention of the existence of that puzzling group of tales about Memphis which are the subject of this essay.

As they reveal, he found short stories harder to write than any other kind. Too often a tale eventuated in a novel, or nothing at all. By 1930, though—very early in this lateblooming artist’s career—his best stories were turning out to be a better medium for writing poetry than his verse had ever been. For him as for many gifted Americans—Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, and Melville leap to mind—the lack of a grand American poetic tradition proved a crippling limitation. For all their genius as wordsmiths, the best they could hope for in verse was a limpid mediocrity. Their two or three real poems happened as accidents.

The short story, so eloquent in the hands of masters like Gogol, de Maupassant, and E. T. A. Hoffmann, was better suited to American habits. Like the hamburger, it fit the appetites of those who eat and read on the run. So thoroughly had 20th-century Americans taken over the form as their own that weekly and monthly magazines featuring it had become highly successful commercial enterprises during the postwar years of false prosperity: two cars in every garage, a chicken in every pot, nickel magazines bulging with lucrative ads. And many of the weeklies faced the Great Depression with confidence, though monthlies that served up more serious fare and had done so for a century soon found their backs to the wall. A new magazine called Story was one of the few to survive.

Writers such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway typically began their careers as magazine writers. Just as Spenser and Milton had considered the pastoral eclogue a form appropriate to one’s apprentice years, so they regarded the short story. Only after succeeding with some few would they embark on a novel and seek the greater prestige American readers reserved for that genre alone. Faulkner found the short story a form infinitely more demanding. He published his first in a student periodical in 1919 and scribbled some fictional newspaper sketches (but not stories) for pin money in 1925. But by the time he succeeded in selling his first honest-to-God short story, more than five years later, the magazines had run into serious financial trouble—a fact that was to bear heavily on his career.

We do not know just when he started trying stories and should not accept dates like 1921 or “22 as likely. “Love,” for instance, came much later. We can only say that he probably began “The Leg” in October 1925 and didn’t finish it until nine years later. In December 1927 he was telling editors of the richest weekly, the well-paying Saturday Evening Post, that if they kept turning him down they did not know their own children.

“And hark in your ear,” he added, sententiously. “I am a coming man, so take warning.”

It was a momentous event when, in October 1928, he brought a sheaf of stories to Alfred Dashiell, managing editor of Scribner’s Magazine, from which he had already received a number of rejections. He had just finished The Sound and the Fury, his masterpiece, but it was not until a year and a half later that he was to sell his first story to a magazine of national currency. By the time The Forum bought “A Rose for Emily” he had married a divorced lady with two children. Magazine fiction then looked to be the readiest way to support a family; and after writing his shortest novel, As 7 Lay Dying, with unaccustomed facility, short stories seemed more feasible. Hence the next two years were his most productive, accounting for more than half the hundred or so stories he published in his lifetime. But business and advertising revenues had fallen off, magazines were going into bankruptcy, and in the spring of 1932 he resigned himself to part-time work as a dialogue writer in Hollywood—a job he considered little better than penal servitude.

Some of his finest stories came thereafter, but the possibility that he would realize his full promise in this medium had ended. Consideration of a few neglected early stories, the vistas they open up, and the problems they pose—these are my theme.


The chief problems confronting anyone wanting to learn about Faulkner’s short stories and their intricate symbiotic relation to his novels are three. There are others, but these three are basic and inescapable.

First, there is date: the problem of dating the drafts and determining in what order they were written, over how long a span of days, months, years. Faulkner might take as little as two weeks or as much as nine or ten years to finish a story, hence a close reading of its various states tells us a lot about the development of his style. Since he was keenly sensitive to his political, social, moral, and aesthetic environment, and that was in rapid flux, dating his manuscripts and typescripts becomes a matter of great moment. Stylistically, I mean.

Second, there is text. A short story is not and cannot be a segment of a novel, though Faulkner once told Malcolm Cowley some of his best ones were always meant to be that— something I flatly doubt. A great deal must be done before we can even say just how many short stories he wrote, much less how they relate to the novels into which their plots were sometimes absorbed with necessary modifications. We must ask how the various finished versions of the same story relate, which best express the author’s mature intention. In one case he submitted a second version while the first was still under consideration, and the editors chose to publish the first, as he gladly offered to let them do. How then determine the author’s intention? Very often it was a commercial exigency rather than an aesthetic choice that dictated which piece of short fiction got printed, and where, and to what effect. In at least one case the best versions of a great story were rejected, and one of the least impressive was all that got into print— that and snippets from a novel. In that instance (I speak of “Spotted Horses”) the editors who taught him most were simply wrong. Anthologists (including Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate) took their text not from any short story but from The Hamlet, what I consider an inferior version too.

Here I would emphasize that while some stories were altered and combined into novels, as happened with The Unvanquished, drafted in part on comission from the Post; or The Wild Palms, which is regularly broken in two by snippet collectors; or Go Down, Moses, which through somebody’s misunderstanding was brought out with the subtitle And Other Stories— while all this happened, and The Sound and the Fury appears to have been started as a short story entitled “Twilight”—there were also cases where novels spun off short stories as, for example, “Barn Burning” and “There Was a Queen.” More important from our point of view today are stories, both successful ones and failures, which after grublike metamorphosis spread bright wings and flew off in the sun: “Evangeline” and “Wash” turning into Absalom, Absalom!

The third problem is Faulkner’s continual reuse of his material, a complex matter indeed. A moment ago I spoke of a symbiotic relationship between his long and his short fiction. The group of unsuccessful stories with Memphis, Tennessee, as a setting is a good case in point and brings me to my main topic.

In discovering, with great reluctance, that his place in literature was largely bounded by the lines of Yoknapatawpha County, the mythical place in northern Mississippi where his real and his imaginary characters first met, Faulkner drew heavily on his great aunt Mrs. Walter B. McLean, who lived in Memphis, just north of Oxford. Born Alabama Leroy Falkner, youngest daughter of Colonel William Clark Falkner, she was not only William’s favorite, but also the most supportive of his kinsfolk. She had been the “little brown-haired lass of nine” to whom Colonel Falkner dedicated his third book, Rapid Rambllngs in Europe, Her winsome portrait adorns that travelogue, published in 1884. Which must have been one reason Aunt Bama (as the Falkner boys called her) encouraged her great nephew to go abroad and even, in an unaccustomed burst of extravagance, gave him a 20-dollar gold piece, which I am told he sewed in the lining of his jacket before setting out.

Since their friendship had inestimable literary consequences starting with his third novel, Sartoris, it is a little surprising that a group of unsuccessful stories which had their inception in Faulkner’s visits to his aunt have aroused little attention since the publication of Joseph Blotner’s edition of the Uncollected Stories in 1979.

Aunt Bama supplied the no-nonsense tone and brusque mannerisms, the love of family anecdotes, Civil War legends, and gardening, recorded in Faulkner’s rendering of Miss Jenny Du Pre. Jenny stands for Virginia as Bama stands for Alabama. She was his listening post, his private wire to the past, the war, and the dreadful postbellum years, her father having died five years after penning that dedication and only eight years before William’s birth. Royalties from the old colonel’s novel The White Rose of Memphis helped finance his railroad. The book had by now run through 35 editions and was still being read. Reason enough for William to want to be a writer. Reason enough for her to cheer him on. Moreover, the lady lived in a city where the great cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest spent his last years, and the town was a museum of Old Bedford lore. Hadn’t he led his regiment into Memphis while a Yankee general sat like a tortoise outside Oxford waiting to snap him up? Hadn’t his brother ridden a horse right into the lobby of the Hotel Gayoso and departed with the general’s trousers, which Bedford Forrest politely returned with his compliments? The Yankees burned down half of Oxford in reprisal.

Aunt Bama could relive a hundred tales of that stamp, and her vivacity made her seem as imperishable as The White Rose. “When she dies, either she or God has got to leave heaven,” quipped her nephew. But she outlived Faulkner and most of his generation; and when, in her nineties, she did die, it was a younger kinsman who wrote for her memorial a booklet aptly named, Grande Dame.

In the late twenties, when the Faulkners sometimes drove up to Memphis, only 70 miles away, to escape the tedium of small-town life, urban society was undergoing rapid and disquieting changes. Bourgeois propriety masked the corruption that made that city notorious. The rise of crime grew increasingly alarming as hated laws enriched those who dealt in bootleg liquor. And bootlegging became more profitable as the price of cotton, on which Memphis had fattened, continued to plummet with the Depression. Dining in speakeasies was fashionable now, contact with the underworld inevitable.

Memphis has always had close ties with northern Mississippi, and Mayor Edward Hull Crump was said to return to his homeplace near Holly Springs every week to call on his old mother, whose legendary pluck and beauty were to inspire Faulkner’s “Rose of Lebanon,” “Dull Tale,” and “A Return.” It was she, Mollie Crump, who supplied the dapper boss with the rose he wore in his lapel on his daily stroll to City Hall. Elected as a reformer, the boss came to manipulate the intricate workings of a political machine that brought a stench to the nostrils of the nation. Yet, though he boasted he was a self-made man, he was still a gentleman and friendly with Mrs. McLean, nationally famed for her skill with gardens. He appointed her chairman of his new commission on parks and planting.

The city is full of clashing inconsistencies and contrasts like that. From the lobby of the elegant Peabody, “The South’s Finest,” where the Faulkners sometimes stayed and dined with the McLeans under deft auspices of the famous Alonzo, it is only a step to Beale Street, home of the blues, and Mulberry Street, heart of the red-light district. It is but a short stroll to Confederate Park on the Chickasaw Bluffs over the great river. A guest might saunter there for a last pipe before turning in at “the great hotel” where Gertrude Stein “did eat very well.” In that little park armed with Civil War cannon Faulkner read the inscription on the monument to the president of the Confederate States of America and took from it the names he used in some of his stories—as well as the ominous figure of the boss who presided over modern Memphis and its degradation. The list of those responsible for establishing the little park and erecting the Jefferson Davis monument is topped by three of those names: Blount and Gordon and Crump.

When, around the turn of the year following his marriage, Faulkner made a New Year’s resolution to succeed in his efforts to please magazine editors he had so often failed with before, the story he chose as his most promising moneymaker was “The Big Shot,” about a political boss. As Michael Millgate pointed out many years ago, this very bad story contains the first appearance of the villainous gangster Popeye, who is so prominent in Sanctuary. It also contains a passage (reused again and again in other stories) describing the identity crisis that provides the motive for Thomas Sutpen’s “design” in Absalom, Absalom!— Faulkner’s greatest tragic novel. But like all the stories with Memphis in the foreground and his native county dimly descried over the border down by Nonconnah Creek, “The Big Shot” is a failure. We need spend little time on it except to remark that even this obvious potboiler (never shown to Dashiell) is vital to an understanding of the imaginative process that gave us Faulkner’s most distinguished fiction.


The Memphis stories are—you might charitably say, ordinary—because they grow out of his old, perverse determination to shake the dust of Yoknapatawpha County off his boots and seek what you might call grayer pastures, in more worldly urban settings. Memphis is not far from his home and certainly not sophisticated, but when he looks homeward from there it is as if he were peering through the wrong end of a telescope. Once he turns the glass around, mere dots discovered in Memphis turn into life-size, sometimes titanic figures in Jefferson. You get a glancing impression while he is turning it round and screwing it into focus in a scrap of a draft that provides a lovely example of image turning. Its setting, unsurprisingly enough, is a train going from the metropolis to a small town like Jefferson by way of a junction that can only be Holly Springs. For that is where Confederate General Earl Van Doom, brilliantly screened by Forrest’s diversionary thrust into Tennessee, demolished the store of supplies General U. S. Grant counted on for his assault on the strategic heights of Vicksburg.

The young man in the railway car with his bride is not a failed doctor like Dr. Blount in “The Big Shot,” “Rose of Lebanon,” and the others. He is a young minister about to take up his first living in the town they are approaching. But like Dr. Blount he is intoxicated with the past, which for the doctor as well as the minister is summed up in the life and death of an ancestor who fought under Bedford Forrest. The ancestor’s end is like that of the first Bayard Sartoris. He is taken for a chicken thief and ingloriously shot dead in a henhouse.

On the train the minister becomes so excited by his recollection of some tale of a Bedford Forrest cavalry charge that his wife fears he will be overheard and thought mad. As in the climactic incident recounted in “Rose of Lebanon,” his anecdote has to do with an embattled Southern lady who, under stress of a Yankee incursion into her kitchen, utters an obscenity.

“She used that word that meant excrement,” the minister exclaims in a stage whisper.

“Gail!” His wife is horrified. “Don’t you know that some of your flock might be on this train?”

I am quoting from a three-page fragment now at the Humanities Research Center in Texas. It could be the start of a draft for another Memphis story. Almost certainly it is the earliest remnant of what became Light in August. Gail Hightower, like Joe Christmas, surely originated in the same city where Popeye spent his warped and joyless childhood. Only after drafting the railroad train incident did Faulkner join the minister’s story with that of Lena Grove wending her way through Frenchman’s Bend on her way to a hoped-for reunion with her lover in Jefferson. I believe it was still later that Faulkner invented the foundling Joe Christmas, who thought he was a nigger.

There is good reason to believe that the earliest of the Memphis stories and perhaps this fragment as well were penned in Oxford in the summer of 1930. Handwriting style, paper stock, and subject matter all support that assumption. “Rose of Lebanon” was submitted to The Saturday Evening Post that November. Light in August was completed some fifteen months later. Toward the end of 1938 Faulkner was still trying without success to market a revised version of “Rose of Lebanon.”

While Faulkner’s descriptions of Memphis are accurate enough to win the admiration of a geographer who has made a close study of his works, he can scarcely have felt at home there. Joan Williams, who became his mistress when he was 50 and she a callow 20, says Faulkner did not seem to know the town well. It had changed, of course, but she was astonished when he asked her to drive him round to the carriage entrance of the Peabody. Clearly he knew a lot about the city, but its myths were more real to him than bricks and mortar.

One story that shows the advantage of proper focus, looking toward Memphis from Jefferson rather than the other way round, seems to have been drafted the summer he spent in Pascagoula on his wedding trip, the summer of 1929. He had received bound copies of Sartoris from the publishers in February of that year and immediately embarked on a sequel entitled Sanctuary, which he sent to Cape & Smith just before his June marriage. The plot of Sartoris occupies just over a year at the end of the Great War. Originally conceived as a novel contrasting the personalities of Bayard Sartoris the returning soldier and Horace Benbow the returning YMCA volunteer, the novel also assigns a leading role to Horace’s sister Narcissa. She marries this suicidal Sartoris twin partly out of spite when her helplessly impractical, unworldly brother breaks up the marriage of a wealthy friend and marries his divorced wife. Sanctuary resumes their story ten years later, after Bayard has succeeded in getting himself killed, leaving Narcissa with a son, Benbow, nicknamed Bory.

Sartoris had earlier been rejected and revised, but we know almost nothing about the manuscript that was turned down, for it is lost and not likely to turn up. In a letter to Mrs. McLean, Faulkner says, “Every day or so I burn some of it and rewrite it. . . .” Elsewhere I have discussed his account of the shock and despair Faulkner had experienced on learning that his publishers had refused this book. His bitterness was recorded in a preface roughly drafted two years later and expresses defiance of the judgment of all the editors who one after the other rejected the book on which he had placed his highest hopes.

After sending off its sequel and while still on his wedding trip, Faulkner submitted another story to Scribner’s Magazine, the monthly on which he pinned his ambitions as a writer of serious short stories. Here it should be mentioned that where Faulkner had generally been overencouraged by book publishers eager to cash in on his future he was regularly put down by the magazine editor he most longed to please. Though sometimes too severe—and Alfred Dashiell turned down story after story, year after year—he taught Faulkner much. Those unacceptable stories were regularly rewritten with greater concision, clarified themes, and improved structural balance.

“I am quite sure I have no feeling for short stories; that I shall never be able to write them,” Faulkner told the editor soon after completing his first great novel. Having read and rejected at least ten by that time, Dashiell agreed that their author was perhaps “like a distance runner trying short sprints.”

Yet for all his doubts he knew how to temper a rejection with just that cautious mixture of attentive concern and respect needed to keep alive a young writer’s “unflagging optimism,” as Faulkner put it, and goad him to further exertions. Most of the ten stories Dashiell sent back were later published—though not in Scribner’s. He had devoutly hoped they would be, for that great journal, now nearing its 60th year, though soon to fail, boasted a backlist studded with names like Edith Wharton, Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Stephen Crane.

The story Faulkner sent Scribner’s in July 1929 was also returned. Though “Through the Window” came nearer being publishable than the others, it was “hard to get into.” The editor could not tell for too long what it was about.

The reason is not far to seek. While the central figure is Miss Jenny Du Pre, the leisurely opening paragraphs are given over to a minute account of Elnora her cook. She turns out to be a “tall, light-colored woman with a grave, pleasant face beneath a colored head rag.” And (something unheard-of in Sartoris) she is the half sister of old Bayard, dead now these twelve years. We are introduced not only to Elnora’s children Saddie and Sundy and Joel, and to Caspey, her half brother. We hear of Simon the coachman’s sons, the one gone to the convict farm for stealing, the other to Memphis to wear fine clothes on Beale Street. We are shown the crayon portrait Elnora purchased on the installment plan, calendars bearing the “orderly and stipulant and defunctive days and months of 1904 and 1911, and the postcard which young Bayard Sartoris sent her from London in 1917. . . .” All this in an opening parenthesis. The story is, after all, about Miss Jenny.

When we come to it at last, it reflects Faulkner’s rooted conviction (one asserted repeatedly by Dr. Blount in the other stories) that the strength of ladies belonging to his great aunt’s generation stands in glaring contrast to the weakness of those belonging to his bride’s. Predictably this feeling generated indecisions. He had problems even with the story’s title, which went from “Through the Window an Empress Passed” (a reference to Miss Jenny’s stained glass window) to “An Empress Passed” and “Through the Window,” finally emerging as “There Was a Queen.” (I think the accent falls on “There.”)

By that name Scribner’s at last accepted it, a year and a half later. As published and afterward republished in collections, the story loses something by the necessary reduction of Elnora. But she still plays a dignified mediatory role in contrast to the routine blackface bit part she like the other Negroes had in Sartoris. This is an important measure of Faulkner’s growth in understanding, something that came with the maturing of his prose style. In the story, Elnora, the unacknowledged daughter of Colonel John Sartoris, is a worthy spokesman for the virtues of her race and his clan, especially those of his sister Miss Jenny, now a paralyzed woman of 90 living in a wheel chair. Faulkner found the opening that suited Dashiell in another of his endless drafts, a five-sheet untitled manuscript whose tone is right out of Sartoris. “Elnora entered the back yard, coming up from her cabin. In the long afternoon the huge, square house, the premises, lay somnolent, peaceful, as it had lain for almost a hundred years. . . .”

The tale as it unfolds provides an important transitional link between the two novels, since the second was yet to go through the radical revisions Faulkner insisted on even after it had been set in type. Faulkner’s early novels betray a fascination with doubling and narcissism. Hence the numerous twins, the characters named for parents and ancestors. Hence the name Narcissa. These topics faded out gradually the year of his marriage, a time when his friendship with the lawyer Phil Stone began to cool; Stone had done much for his education but opposed his marriage.

In the fictional years that elapsed between the 1918 Armistice and Horace Benbow’s arrival in Frenchman’s Bend at the beginning of Sanctuary the lawyer turned from an amiable eccentric into a greatly troubled, disillusioned husband, benevolent still but fumbling and confused. Bayard’s widow, his sister Narcissa, has changed from the “rather sweet girl, shy, quiet, and dependent on her brother” that Cleanth Brooks once found her, into the monster of iniquity depicted in Sanctuary, While I myself think that the selfish passion for outward respectability she here betrays was inherent from the first, there can be no question that it has become a ruthless obsession now, in 1929.

The plot of “There Was a Queen” goes back to those prurient letters Narcissa kept getting in the mail in 1918. Their author Byron Snopes stole them from her bed table the night he robbed the Sartoris bank where he clerked, and they were turned over to a federal agent after being found at the scene of the crime. Although Miss Jenny remains every inch a queen, the rudeness she displays when this gentleman with his Phi Beta Kappa key and clever, Jewish features is invited by Narcissa to dine at her table, hardly befits a great lady. Her greatness consists in fact not in what she does; having been helplessly immobile for five years, there is not much she can do. It consists rather in the many things she does not say— especially to Narcissa, whose priggishness and guile do not deserve her forbearance. Yet the enormity of Narcissa’s turpitude, playing the whore to buy back those letters, subverting the agent during a sleazy rendezvous in Memphis, is as nothing to the lack of sensibility she shows when she declares she has done so to spare her son Bory and Miss Jenny.

“I had that much respect for Bory and you, to go somewhere else,” she tells the old lady. “And that’s all. Men are all about the same, with their ideas of good and bad. Fools.” Though she does not show it at the time, Miss Jenny is shocked. Shocked to death, as it turns out. The story ends in a heady odor of funeral wreaths, a kind of cenotaph for the repose of her frail bones, a monument of marble to her great soul.

Maurice-Edgar Coindreau, who translated this story in 1933 as “Il Était une reine,” admired its symbolic deployment of “the odor of jasmine and the dying glimmers of the stained-glass windows to recall Miss Jenny’s past and her ancestral glory.” One cannot lightly dismiss his judgment or fail to note the Tightness of the story’s romantic symbolism. Yet the devices Coindreau admired hark back to the corny effects Faulkner permitted himself in “Flags in the Dust.” After the story’s first version was rejected, he brought a more austere discipline to bear on his revision of Sanctuary.—But, back to the story.

Elnora discovers the body. “Oh, Lawd; oh, Lawd,” she chants coming swiftly to the library door and the wheel chair. “Beside the dead window the old woman sat motionless, indicated only by that faint single gleam of white hair, as though for ninety years life had died slowly up her spare, erect frame, to linger for a twilight instant about her head before going out, though life had ceased.”

Certainly the story is well written, far superior to anything in the Memphis group proper. It reveals, too, the strong hold Mrs. McLean still had on her nephew’s imagination. For there is a hint of resemblance here between the portrait and its original. The queenly Miss Jenny’s overt anti-Semitism echoes an allusive touch of the same sentiment that one catches in a letter Faulkner wrote Mrs. McLean when he got out of his contract with Horace Liveright, the Jewish publisher who turned down “Flags in the Dust,” and signed up with Harcourt, Brace & Co. “Well, I’m going to be published by white folks now.” Offhand and facetious though it be, the remark must have struck an answering chord in its recipient. Even if one finds “There Was a Queen” melodramatic and its ending a trifle lush, the story is important, and I want to go back to the reasons why its date, its text, and the linkage it provides with two novels must have a bearing on our appraisal.


I have never been able to establish a date for the first draft of this story, though the five sheets on which it was penned are of a kind Faulkner doubtless got from Phil Stone’s Oxford law office. Close examination of these sheets at the Alderman Library in Charlottesville tells us only that the handwriting belongs to the years between “Father Abraham” (probably late 1926) and the first part of the Light in August manuscript (probably the summer of 1931). Thus the story could have been conceived just before the first version of Sanctuary or just afterward, when it was first submitted to Scribner’s. That is, July 1930. Since this first version has little resemblance to later ones except in the sympathy with which it portrays Elnora and the denigration it lavishes on Narcissa, and since we do know the dates of the later submissions, that matters little in this case.

What matters is what we can learn from studying the process of invention, revision, and refinement that went into both Faulkner’s long and his short fiction. And their close affiliation. Sanctuary, as it went off in June 1929, was the book Harrison Smith had said he could not publish lest they both land in jail—or so it is said. By now Smith had come to be Faulkner’s trusted friend and publisher. A year and a half later, apparently without warning, he sent Faulkner galley proofs of the novel. As I Lay Dying had just come out, and the author was trying harder than ever to please magazine editors who had bought his first publishable stories. Scribner’s had by now printed his great tragic account of a lynching, “Dry September.” Mrs. Faulkner was entering the last months of pregnancy, and Faulkner was struggling to make Rowan Oak habitable for the winter. He had bought the house with the proceeds of his first sales to The Saturday Evening Post.

But when he looked at the galleys he wrote Smith that he could not permit the book to be published as it stood. As a compromise, he would pay the cost of resetting and would rewrite as much as necessary. As it turned out, the cost was somewhat more than what the publisher had paid him in advance, and since the firm soon afterward went into bankruptcy the book never earned him anything but fame. Or better, notoriety.

Soon after getting the proofs he nevertheless sent them back with strips of typescript pasted in. Mrs. Faulkner was prematurely delivered of a baby girl they named Alabama for his great aunt in Memphis. The baby died ten days later, but the book came out in February on schedule. It was his first best seller.

That Faulkner’s sixth novel is a sequel to his third is a fact that it is easy to overlook. For though he began Sanctuary the month Sartoris came out, their basic differences in style and mood as well as his extraordinary progress in technique all but obliterate the continuity of plot. Even the original typescript had shown a new economy with words, a hardening of imagery, a capacity for empathy with an alien character like Horace, that Faulkner had not manifested before. Even more striking is the contrast between the unedited text (achieved after tortuous revision) and the hurriedly revised one turned out under such trying circumstances. The years of harsh rejection at the hands of so many magazine editors, struggling to stay solvent in an unexampled economic slump, had done their work. At least they had helped turn Faulkner from the dilettante of the early poems and sketches into the professional who knows that, whatever he may have to tell posterity, he has to appeal first to a large and callous paying public. While Faulkner might have attained the same artistry unaided, I attribute some of the credit to Alfred Dashiell, H. L. Mencken, and George Horace Lorimer.

As to the extent of the change in the writer’s attitude, what is striking is the difference between the hurt and defensive posture he struck when Liveright refused “Flags in the Dust” and the firmness with which he insisted on chopping and rewriting Sanctuary. Story writing was at least partly responsible. At any rate, the finished novel is by no means the mere shocker it seemed when it sold so many copies. It continues to grow in magnitude and artistry with every reading.


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