Reading a bio of William Faulkner by Jay Parini, One Matchless Time. I did not know much about him, tho I have read 5 or 6 of his novels and a few stories. I have always responded positively to his work, even tho I’ve wondered about it.
What makes me hesitate is perhaps his self-assured flamboyancy. It is the same distrust I have for actors. According to Parini, Faulkner was an actor, making up tales about his past and such like. For instance, exaggerations about getting injured during WWI. He trained for the RAF in Canada but never made it to the action, yet he somehow ended up with a limp. Which reminds me of a story that Robert Creamer tells of Babe Ruth. Ruth cut his hand on the fence while trying to field a ball. The trainer came out and removed Babe from the game. Ruth limped from the field.
It is always interesting to see where a writer or any artist breaks from the tyro stage and starts asserting the mature style and vision. Faulkner’s breakthru was I think his 4th novel, The Sound and the Fury. That is likely the first book by him that I read. Its entwined narratives and viewpoints is really effective, his mythology is fully figured, and the whole thing drips with inspection. Some of the obliquity is high falutin’, which is part of my distrust of Faulkner. You can see him being a bad influence on certain writers as a high sign for excess, just as Kerouac or Whitman could be for some. Still, he let narrative buckle under its weight, and that fragmentation is exhilaration. Yul Brynner (with hair) played Jason Compson in the movie version. I like Brynner, and it is possible that he could fit the role, but the idea was too bumptious for me and I switched the channel. I am older now and may be able to handle it.
As I Lay Dying followed. I read the familiar paperback edition with both S&F and Dying together. They are satisfying, vivid novels that can be held next to Woolf’s great works and with Ulysses. The other Faulkner novels that I have read kinda blur in my mind. And didn’t he tramp off to Hollywood?
Racism and sexism are empty enough words; they implicate more about the human animal than they can express. Both are elements in Faulkner’s work, and are tricky to navigate. The trick, I mean, is where Faulkner stands. In the muck, finally. He is an actor, as I said. I admit that I like how he wields his style, with happy yet resilient vigour. In contradistinction, perhaps, to Thomas Wolfe. There is a command in Faulkner that Wolfe maybe lacked.
As I said, I responded immediately to Faulkner. Hemingway resides in the other hand. Hemingway’s bullfighting book is fascinating but his fiction does nothing for me. Old Man and the Sea is pure malarkey so far as I can tell. Funny, tho, you can see how he and Stein have some commonalities.
I know nothing of Parini but he seems to be decent enough as a bio writer. There’s a vivid sea change when he gets to where he can speak of Sound & Fury. Prior to that he is almost perfunctory in speaking of the amorphous muggins that is his subject. Faulkner finally grows up with that novel and Parini can say Ecce homo.
That growing up as a writer (Faulkner the regular person offers filigrees of juicily well-etched particulars) is a useful consideration (shall we dance?). There is no straight road in creative endeavours. Thomas the Rhymer:
O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi' thorns and briers?
That is the Path of Righteousness,
Though after it but few inquires.
And see ye not yon braid, braid road,
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the Path of Wickedness,
Though some call it the Road to Heaven.
Faulkner found a place, Yoknaphatawpha county, where the world can be included. The stories blur together some, and I am sure that Sound and Dying represent Faulkner’s MVP seasons, but he had created a creative life in developing that place. A creative person is a creative lesson.