To get in the mood, I first wrote this on a typewriter. One sure-fire way to channel Faulkner. A few notes have been requested on this reading list. Being no Faulknerian, just a big fan, I will do my best.
–“A Rose for Emily” (1930): This early story is Gothic and gross, so I love it. Ms. Emily will remind you of many of Faulkner’s later old maids, namely Rose Coldfield from Absalom, Absalom and Joanna Burden from Light in August. Emily’s house, among other things in the story, is rotting. Need I say more? A perfect start to Faulkner I think. We will get a taste for his macabre tendencies as well as his fictional town, Jefferson, Mississippi, the complex setting of most of his later works.
—As I Lay Dying (1930): One of my favorites. Where to begin? Another woman dies (this happens a lot in Faulkner). This time she has a family. Addie Bundren is dead in the coffin made by her son Cash. Honoring her last wish, the family attempts to take her corpse to Jefferson. Only they have a wagon and a flood of biblical proportions to contend with. Each family member has their own motivations for going into the city, even the little one Vardaman, whose “mother is a fish.” Told from multiple perspectives, the story gives voice to a poor illiterate bunch. At the time of publication Faulkner was criticized for placing poor white trash at the center of a high-literary form, the epic. Decide for yourself if that disconnect is problematic.
—Sanctuary (1931): Faulkner wrote Sanctuary to make money. It is a racy crime thriller, with lots of booze and sex. Oh la la! Temple Drake, who has the best character name ever, is a rebellious southern belle who gets herself and others into painful, scarring trouble. If it was a fish in As I Lay Dying, it is a corncob in Sanctuary. I’ll stop there.
—The Hamlet (1940): Almost ten years later and Faulkner has begun a trilogy. It centers around the Snopes family, residents of Jefferson. In this novel we see the family morph from poor tenant farmers to more powerful and disliked townspeople. A famous (and hilarious) scene involving wild horses is found at the end of the novel; it exists in short story form as “Spotted Horses.” If you want more animals in your Faulkner, I suggest “The Bear” and “Old Man.” The Town and The Mansion follow The Hamlet in the trilogy.
—Requiem for a Nun (1951): Reenter: Temple Drake. Scene: Many years later, now with child, Temple reflects on her life. Turns out it was hard. This work is a mixture of play and prose. It is known for one of Faulkner’s most famous lines, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Requiem for a Nun is highly praised and an obvious pairing with Sanctuary.
–“Race at Morning” (1955): I am personally excited because this story features both a buck and a bayou! It is part of Faulkner’s hunting series Big Woods. We will be lucky enough to meet Ike McCaslin, an intriguing reoccurring character.
It should prove to be a great summer of Faulkner reading and I hope many of you will join us and share your comments and thoughts on the stories. Maybe you have your own personal Faulkner stories? Maybe some of you also read the lines “the iron New England dark” while shivering in the iron New England dark? In any case, I look forward to bringing in some criticism (both Hemingway and Baldwin had harsh words for Faulkner, while the Japanese and French adored him) and maybe some audio and video. Faulkner did a lot of Hollywood screenwriting in the 50s and many of his stories were adapted into film. Also, he has a great growly grandfathery voice. His Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech is always a good listen.
For anyone who wants a head start, here’s a PDF of “A Rose for Emily.” Until this summer!