Undergraduate Literature Class

DATE: 11 March 1957

OCCASION: Edward McAleer's Twentieth-Century Literature Class

TAPE: T-110andT-111

LENGTH: 50:36

Play the full recording:

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: This question is about Light in August. Could you tell me your purpose in placing the chapter about Hightower's early life in the end of the novel rather than when Hightower first appeared?

William Faulkner: It may be this. Unless a—a book follows a—a simple direct line such as a story of—of adventure, it becomes a—a series of pieces. It's a good deal like—like dressing a showcase window. It takes a certain amount of—of judgment and—and taste to arrange the different pieces in the most effective place in juxtaposition to one another. That was the reason. It seemed to me that was the most effective place to put that to—to underline the—the tragedy of Christmas's story by the tragedy of—of his antithesis. A man who—Hightower was a man who—who wanted to be better than he was afraid he would. He had failed his wife. Here was another chance he had, and he failed his—his Christian oath as a man of God, and he escaped into—to his past where some member of his family was brave enough to match the moment. But it was put at that point in the book, I think, because I thought that was the most effective place for it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, do you find it easier to create a female character in literature or a male character?

William Faulkner: It's much more fun to try to write about women because I think women are marvelous. They're wonderful, and I know very little about them, [audience laughter] and so I—it's much more fun to try to write about women than about men. More difficult, yes.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in "Delta Autumn," in a—the thoughts of Ike McCaslin when he's talking to the colored girl, you write, "Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America, but not now, not now." I was—I was wondering how you might apply that to the present-day conditions that have happened since the writing of the story, with the Supreme Court decision and what-not.

William Faulkner: He used "a thousand or two thousand years" in his despair. He had seen a condition which was intolerable, which shouldn't be, but it was, and he was saying, in effect, that—that this—this must be changed. This cannot go on, but I'm too old to do anything about it, that maybe in a thousand years, somebody will be young enough and strong enough to do something about it. That was—that was all he meant by the numbers, but I think that he saw, as—as everybody that thinks, that a condition like that is—is intolerable, not so much intolerable to man's sense of justice but maybe intolerable to—to a condition, to the condition, that—that any country has reached the point where, if it is to endure, it must have no inner conflicts based on a—a wrong, a basic human wrong.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in your—your story "A Rose—A Rose for Emily," was she drawn from a—from a real person—real character, or is she made up out of your mind?

William Faulkner: No, no, I think a writer uses observation, experience, imagination. He never knows just how much of which he does use, but I don't believe you can write a very good or very moving story about a human being in the—the—the proscribed limits of—of a story or a book and take a human being from life. It takes sixty years to—to create a complete and rounded human being, but the writer hasn't got that much time. He's only got thirty minutes, or at the best, three or four hours, and so probably any writer is—has made a composite picture. It's—it's people he knew or things he imagined, things he read, things he heard, but he wouldn't bother with trying to—to reduce to paper or to put onto paper any living creature. Also, there's a—a quality of—of God-like omnipotence that the fury of—of creating something gives you, and you're not satisfied with the way God did it. You can improve on him just a little. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in "Was," can you tell us how Uncle Buck successfully foiled an attempt by Mr. Hubert Beauchamp to get him to marry Sophonsiba? Well, eventually they do get married, and I wonder if you could give us any idea as to how she eventually caught him?

William Faulkner: Oh, I think that—that women are much stronger, much more determined than men, and just because these men had wasted an evening over a deck of cards, that hadn't changed Miss Sophonsiba's intentions at all. And probably Uncle Buck finally just gave up. That was his fate, and he—he might just as well quit struggling. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, can you tell us where Sutpen acquired his money in "Wedding in the Rain," when he came back and he—first, he came back with the architect and all his—the Negroes or sort of creatures that he had, and built his house, and later on came back with the furnishings.

William Faulkner: He very likely looted his Caribbean father-in-law's plantation when he married the daughter. I don't know that I ever decided myself just how he did it, but very likely he looted and wrecked—wrecked the whole place, took—took the girl because he didn't want her especially. He wanted a son. He wanted to establish his dynasty. And I imagine that—that he—he got that money to the States and then had to hide it here and there. There were no banks in those days, no safe place to put it. Probably was—was gold, something that was intrinsic of itself, and he would go off wherever he had buried it and dig up a little more when he needed it.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in your story "The Bear," why did Boon kill Sam Fathers?

William Faulkner: Because Sam asked him to. Sam's life had finished then. He was an old man. He was sick, and—and Sam at that point represented his whole race. The white man had dispossessed the whole race. They had nothing left, and Sam was old. He was weak and sick. That was the—the Greek conception. And Sam knew that Boon and this little boy who was too young to have used the knife, or whatever it was, would defend Sam's right to die and would approve of the fact that Boon, the instrument, was willing to—to kill Sam. But Sam was done with life, and he wanted that done, and—and Boon was the servant that did it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in "A Rose for Emily," is it possible to take Homer Barron and Emily and sort of show that one represents the South and the North? Was there—was there anything on your part there trying to show the North and the South in sort of a battle? Maybe Miss Emily representing the South coming out victorious in the odd way that she did?

William Faulkner: That would be only incidental. I think that—that the writer is too busy trying to create flesh and blood people that will stand up and cast a shadow to have time to—to be conscious of—of all the symbolism that he may put into what he does or what people may read into it, that [if] he had time to—that is, if one individual could—could write the authentic, credible flesh-and-blood character and at the same time deliver the message, maybe he would, but I don't believe any writer is—is capable of doing both, that he's got to choose one of the two. Either he is delivering a message, or he's trying to create flesh-and-blood, living, suffering, anguishing human beings. And as any man works out of his—his past, since any man—no man is himself, he's a sum of his past, and in a way, if you can accept the—the term, of his future, too. And this struggle between the South and the North could have been a part of my background, my experience, without me knowing it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, why is it in "Death Drag," Jock left Captain—despite Captain Warren's plea to stay there or to accept the raincoat or to accept any sort of job. Was there anything besides pride that made him leave, [fly off in] that old crate?

William Faulkner: Yes, it was—well, pride was about what it was. The—it's, of course—It is probably true of all—all flying people, but I do know that—that the flying people out of that war, most of them would've been better off if they had died on the eleventh of November, that few of them were any good to—to try to take up the burden of peace, and this—this man was—was lost and doomed. Of course, Warren was different. He had managed to cope with—with 1919, but this other man would never cope with 1919. He was hopeless. He was doomed.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in your novels, you said in one of the other classes that you begin with a character in mind, or more than one character. In your short stories, do they—do you conceive of them in the same way, or do you start with a person or do you—?

William Faulkner: Sometimes with a person, sometimes with an anecdote. But the—the short story is conceived in the same terms that the book is. The—the first job the craftsman faces is to tell this as quickly and as simply as I can. And if he's good, if he's of—of the first [order], like Chekhov, he can do it every time in two or three thousand words, but if he's not that good, sometimes it takes him eighty thousand words. But they are—are similar, and he is simply trying to tell something which was true and moving in the shortest time he can, and then, if he has sense enough, stop. That is, I don't believe the man or the woman sits down and says, "Now I'm going to write a short story," or "Now I'm going to write a novel." It's an idea that begins with the—with the—the thought, the image of a character or of an anecdote and, even in the same breath, almost like lightning, it—it begins to take a shape that he can see whether it's going to be a short story or a novel. Sometimes, not always. Sometimes he thinks it'll be a short story and finds that he can't. Sometimes it looks like it's to be a novel, and then, after he works on it, he sees that it's not, that he can tell it in two thousand or five thousands words. No rule to it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, is it true that you don't read your critics?

William Faulkner: Yes, that's right.

Unidentified participant: Could you elaborate on that? [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Well, when the—the work is finished, and it don't suit me, and I'm the one that's got to be suited, and that one didn't, so by that time I'm busy working on another one, and I just don't get around to reading the critics [audience laughter] because that to me is water under the bridge. You see, there's nothing more I can do to it. And he can't do anything to it either. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Do you ever read your own work over again after a lapse of, say—

William Faulkner: No, that's the nice thing about writing. That's always one book you won't have to read, no matter how long [it is]. [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Do you have any trouble remembering, say, a short story you might've written in 1925 or something like that?

William Faulkner: I remember the people, but I can't remember what story they are in, nor always what they did. I have to go back and look at it to unravel what the person was doing. I remember the character, though.

John Coleman: Mr. Faulkner, when you read, do you frequently find that you get so many ideas after reading a few pages that you find yourself more willing and interested in beginning to write something or continue to read? That is, do you think writers find difficulty in reading?

William Faulkner: Well, I'm—I'm convinced that the writer never stops working, that even when he's reading, he—he is not deliberately looking for—for ideas or what we might say—call inspiration, but he never knows just when from—from what page, what paragraph, in what book something might strike him. He's got to put that book down and get a piece of paper and write. I'm convinced of that.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes.

Unidentified participant: When you think of a short story or a novel taking shape in your mind, and you know which form it's to take, how much of a pattern do you have in mind as it takes shape, before you get it down on paper?

William Faulkner: Not always too much. If you—if it's all complete, the—the form and the pattern, too, then it's a tour de force. That's just a matter of sitting down and swatting it out, but if—if it's an idea and then begins to take a—a tremendous and nebulous, almost formless shape, then the book itself commands its—its progress, that the book itself takes charge and does a certain amount of selecting. I think that you think of—of any number of—of things, actions, that the characters might perform and what they might say that there's no place in the story that you're telling for. They sound fine to you, but there just ain't any place in that story, that the—the book itself has taken charge, says, "No, no, we don't want that. We'll have this one."

Unidentified participant: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: When writing a novel or a short story, do you get obsessed with your thoughts, and do you write constantly for hours on end, or do you more or less look at it objectively— ?

William Faulkner: Well, it's—it's fun to do, and the tendency is to—to overdo it just like you're in a game, something you like, that you—your judgment would say you'd better stop now, you're getting tired, you're not—not doing too well, but it's still fun, and you keep on. I've made—I tried to make one rule, to stop while it's still hot. That is, to leave it while I'm looking good, as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes says.

Unidentified participant: Do you ever jump up in the middle of the night and write something down?

William Faulkner: Oh, yes. Yes, lots of times. I've never had any—any order. I have heard of people that can set aside so many hours a day and—or to write so many words a day, but that has never been for me. I write when it's hot, then I quit and rest, and then I get at it again, sometimes fourteen or sixteen hours a day, and then sometimes I won't write a word for fourteen or sixteen days.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in Intruder in the Dust, I believe you say that integration in the South could only be accomplished by the South itself through some external means of triggering, you might say? I think you used the expression "a snowball starting an avalanche."

William Faulkner: Yes.

Unidentified participant: Well, exactly how far do you think this is going right now, this snowball?

William Faulkner: It was going along too slowly, I—I mean, not too slowly for the white people in the South, but too slowly for—for the Negro. But it was moving. It—it was actually in motion. The last two or three years, it has stopped and—and in ways, has retrograded. There was a little too much pressure from outside. But there are—are people in the South that, more than—than just—just me, that recognize the situation as being intolerable, not from a humanitarian point of view, but from a practical point of view, that a country cannot endure with a minority as big as seventeen million people, second-rate citizens. It just—faced with the—with the trouble that we face in the world, that's—that's bad—bad business.

Unidentified participant: And you think that this triggering effect lasted too long, that it should've been ceased sooner?

William Faulkner: Well, it—the—the push carried on too long. If there'd been a nudge and then, stop, and let the ball move of its own weight. But success goes to anyone's head, and it creates its own illusion, and the people who had felt that things were going too slow, that that's—anything that slow was not progress, it was difficult to tell them to stop. You couldn't expect them to stop. That that has—has done harm, but I think that will not really delay equality for the Negro. It will cause a great deal of—of trouble and anguish, and individuals will suffer, but I think the course of—of the Negro's advancement in the South hasn't been hurt by this. I don't think it's been helped very much by it, except that—that somebody somewhere has got to nudge us now and then, that we do go too slow if it's left to ourselves. People are too prone to say, "Oh, well, things are all right." Like the sign in the Pullman Car that says, "Quiet is requested for the sake of those who have already retired." That sort of thing, you know.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, I—I understand with Sanctuary, you've said that it was written for the sensational value of it. Would you say now for a young writer, who might be trying to break into it, do you think that he should devote his time and talents, if any, towards a sensational type of work, or do you think that he should try and write more or less from the soul, you might say, or write as he—as he feels, rather than what he feels might be accepted?

William Faulkner: I would say, if he is creating characters which are flesh-and-blood people, are believable, and are honest and true, then he can use sensationalism if he thinks that's an effective way to tell his story. But if he's writing just for sensationalism, then he has betrayed the—his vocation, and he deserves to suffer from it. That is, sensationalism is—is, in a way, an incidental tool, that he might use sensationalism as the carpenter picks up another hammer to drive a nail, but he doesn't—the carpenter don't build a house just to drive nails. He drives nails to build a house.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Would you say Peyton Place was justified in the—in the sensationalism? Have you read that?

William Faulkner: I don't know the book, but if—if they are flesh-and-blood people, if—if he was trying to write about human beings rather than about sensation in the sensationalism, Yes, I will accept and pass. But if he was just trying to write sensationalism, then that's another horse.

Unidentified participant: Do you have time to read quite a bit?

William Faulkner: Plenty of time. I don't do it. I read the books I knew and loved when I was a young man, read them over and over. The new ones I don't—don't keep up with too well, unless someone tells me, "This is a—a good book, you should read it." Then I will stop and read it.

Joseph Blotner: When you read these books you've read before, Mr. Faulkner, do you find new things in them constantly?

William Faulkner: In the sense that—that you find new things in—in old friends. That is, there's some reason that—that you like to go back and spend a—an hour or two with an old friend. It may not be—be for anything new, unless the evocation with a little more experience on your own part will—will throw a new light onto something that you thought you knew before, and you find now you didn't, that you maybe know a little more about truth, that what the—the good writers say to the young man, he knows instinctively are true things. Later on, as he knows a little more, he knows why they're true and, in that sense, it is something new, yes.

Unidentified participant: Could you give us some of the titles of these books, Mr. Faulkner?

William Faulkner: Yes'm. I read Don Quixote ever year. I read the Old Testament. I read some of Dickens ever year, and I've got a portable Shakespeare, a one-volume Shakespeare that I carry along with me. Conrad. Moby-Dick. Chekhov. Madame Bovary. Some of Balzac almost every year. Tolstoy. I haven't—haven't thought of Artzybashev in years. I think I'll get the—him out and read him again. Artzybashev. Gogol. Most of the Frenchmen of the nineteenth century I—I read in every year.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you must've read some of Erskine Caldwell once upon a time.

William Faulkner: I did, yes. When he first began to write and the stuff was—was first rate, I did. I read a lot of it. I read a lot of all my coevals at that time.

William Faulkner: Sorry. [We'll go ahead here then.] Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, of the new books you say you occasionally read, have you found any in the last few years that you regard as superior books, superior writing?

William Faulkner: I remember one about a destroyer in the Pacific by, I believe he was a—a Virginia man, Eyster? That was I thought—thought a—a pretty good book. There's a young man in Mississippi named Shelby Foote that—that shows promise if he'll just stop trying to write Faulkner and write some Shelby Foote. [audience laughter] And—yes, I've seen a—seen a few books, but I don't remember titles nor writers too well. I remember characters and—and incidents that seem to be me to be true, which is—is the test.

William Faulkner: I'm sorry, there were—were you next? Or you? Well, sir, you then.

Unidentified participant: What about the Greek tragedies? Do you ever enjoy reading those?

William Faulkner: When I was young, yes. I haven't—haven't read it any of the Greek tragedies in a long time. But when I was young, yes.

Unidentified participant: Sir, we take for granted [...]. Do you read primarily the books that you've read, you say, when you were younger or the books of times gone by? You don't think terribly highly of the books that are put out, say, in the last twenty years?

William Faulkner: Well, I don't know, you see, because I haven't—haven't seen them. It's simply because as—as the writer grows old—I've heard other writers say this, too, they read less and less. I don't know why that is, but—but most writers, as they grow old, they seem to read less and less. It's not that they're indifferent to their—to their juniors. It's—it can't be any jealousy because I think that any sincere writer has—has failed to do what he'd like to do. That is, it—it's not better than was ever done before. But he has enough belief in his—in his craft, his—his avocation, to be convinced that behind him someone is come—coming that will do it, that may do it. And as I say, I—it's not because I—I don't like to read anymore. I simply read less than I did. And when I do read, it's—it's when there's nothing better to do, you might say, and so I'll pick up the book just to pass time. When I was younger, I was an avid reader because I was learning. That was the way I learned my craft. I read everything I could get my hands on to see how it was done, what to do.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, what do you think of Aristotle's theories about tragedy? There's wide dispute about that now with Death of a Salesman, do you think he's right or [...]?

William Faulkner: What theory is this?

Unidentified participant: That—that a tragedy must—the hero must be a man of high place so that he can fall all the further.

William Faulkner: Well, I don't think Aristotle meant by high place what—what it sounds like. I think he meant a—a man of—of integrity more than a—than a man of aristocracy, unless—is that what you meant by high place?

Unidentified participant: Well, that's what I say. I believe he does mean money-wise and society-wise rather than integrity, but I'm not an authority [on that, but that's]

William Faulkner: Well, I think that was because he used the—the high place, the—the money, the riches or the—the title as—as symbols, that a—that a king must be brave, a queen must be chaste, as simple symbols, as puppets. But tragedy as Aristotle saw it, it's—I would say is—is the same conception of tragedy that all writers have. It—it's man wishing to be braver than he is, in—in combat with his heart or with his fellows or with the environment, and how he fails. At the—the splendor, the courage of his failure, that—and the—the trapping of royalty, of kingship were simply trappings to make him more splendid so that he was worthy of—of being selected by the gods, by Olympus as an opponent, that man couldn't cope with him, so it would take a god to do it, to cast him down.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I'm interested in the relationship between your observation about the critical process as being primarily an imaginative one, in which you—you do not simply try to hold a mirror up to a particular character in the scene, but in which your product is the product of your imagination, which is in the background, the product of all that you've learned. This, you—you've said, meant that—means that, if a writer sets a pattern for himself and sees the pattern of the whole work, then his writing becomes merely a matter of swatting it out. Does this mean, for example, that Paradise Lost, in which the pattern was set, is to a large extent, merely a matter of swatting it out, or that any man who, like Spenser in the Faerie Queen, conceives of an idea as the objective, rather than the production of the mere product of imagination, does this mean also that Spenser did just swatting it out?

William Faulkner: I don't think so. I don't think that the pattern as he sees it is—is that rigid, that the pattern is—is a—is a general idea within accepted or circumscribed limits, but not rigid limits. They're simply circumscribed. That—that the imagination must be checked by [something][...] and the pattern conform or—or meet or be amicable, we'll say, and when one has to give, I believe it's always the pattern that has to give, and so he's got to rewrite to create a new pattern with a [bulge] that will take this—this [bulge] of the imagination which insists that it's true. It must be.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, before I ask this question, I'd like to say that I really agree with what you said a while ago about the races in the South. Carlyle I believe said of [words] that indignation makes verses. Do you also think that indignation makes great novels?

William Faulkner: Yes'm, it depends on what the indignation is toward. If it's indignation toward a condition, it doesn't always make a great novel. It could maybe. It's got to be an indignation at—at man's condition, not his—his particular situation, but at his condition. It's something that's—that's got to be strong enough to—to raise the steam, to make the artist assume the anguish and trouble and travail of putting something down on paper or in music or to paint it or to hack it out of a piece of marble. That's—could be indignation, but it's—it's indignation at man's condition, I believe, not at a—at a particular instance of injustice or cowardice. That might be the germ in which an individual, the—the conception of a man, the idea of an individual against that—that temporary condition could make the book, but that book didn't create the—the individual. The individual is the—the tool to—to show the condition.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, did you ever find yourself surprised at repeating yourself when you say, "By Jove, I did that thing better twenty-five years ago," or, "By Jove, this is better than it was twenty-five years ago"?

William Faulkner: No, because to me, there ain't any better. It's either good or it's nothing, and it's—what I did twenty-five years ago didn't suit me, and so I forgot that. I'm— I'm working on another one. I hope that this one is going to be the right one. Of course, I know it ain't, but [audience laughter] the one twenty-five years ago is under the bridge. It's too bad, but there's nothing I can do about it anymore, except write a new one.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner —

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Do you think the author has the prerogative to create his own language, in other words, to go against what the people create, vernacular? Do you think an author has the right to create his own—I believe Joyce and Eliot have done it, have tried to create—they found that language was not—did not suit their purpose, so they had to go beyond and make their own language.

William Faulkner: He has the right to do that, provided he don't insist on anyone understanding it. [audience laughter] That—that is, what I'm trying—trying to say is that—I believe I'm paraphrasing Whitman; didn't he say, "To have good poets we must have good readers, too," something like that? Who knows?

Joseph Blotner: Great audiences.

William Faulkner: That's—well, the writer actually—that's an—an obligation that he assumes with his vocation, that he's going to write it in a way that—that people can understand it. He doesn't have to write it in the way that—that every idiot can understand it, every imbecile in the third grade can understand it, but he's got to use a language which—which is accepted, and in which the words have a specific meaning that everybody agrees on. I think that—that Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses were—were justified, but then it's hard to say on what terms they were justified. That was a case of a genius who was electrocuted by the divine fire. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, it's often been said about great novels or great short stories that they wouldn't pass muster in the freshman English composition course. Now I was wondering, since this is your first day at the University, if you had any comments on the traditional or the apparently traditional conflict between the creative writer and the schoolman?

William Faulkner: Well, as an old veteran sixth grader, that question is I think out—outside of my province, [audience laughter] because I never got to freshman English. I don't know how much it would conflict. Maybe before I've left the University, I will be able to pass freshman English. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, with more and more capable Negroes coming to the fore in all facets of the public life, do you believe that half a dozen capable Negro fiction writers could do a world of good for the segregation problem?

William Faulkner: I do, yes.

Unidentified participant: Out of seventeen million people and some of them becoming very adequate physicians and lawyers, don't you believe that they can develop some writers of stature also?

William Faulkner: I do, yes. I think that—that people like Armstrong and Dr. Ralph Bunche and George Washington Carver have done much more for the Negro race than—than all of the—the NAACP leaders, much more. And there's no reason at all why—why the Negro shouldn't produce good writers. He has got to have— he has got to be freed of—of the—of the curse of his color. He's—he's got to—to have equality in terms that he can get used to it and forget that—that he is—is a Negro while he's writing, just like the white man hasn't got time to remember whether he's a—a Gentile or a Catholic while he's writing. And the Negro has got to—to reach that stage, and the white man's got to help him, because he can't do it by himself under these conditions.

Unidentified participant: He's in the best position to write sympathetically about his own conditions?

William Faulkner: He should be, yes. But you can't write sympathetically about a condition when it's—when it's a constant outrage to you, you see. You've got to be objective about it.

Frederick Gwynn: Mr. Faulkner, do you look on Ike McCaslin as having fulfilled his destiny, the things that he learned from Sam Fathers and from the other men as in his—when he was twelve to sixteen? Do you feel that they stood him in good stead all the way through his life?

William Faulkner: I do, yes. They—they didn't give him success, but they gave him something a lot more important, even in this country. They gave him serenity. They gave him what would pass for wisdom. I mean, wisdom as contradistinct from the schoolman's wisdom of education. They gave him that.

Frederick Gwynn: And was—did he ever have any children?

William Faulkner: No.

Frederick Gwynn: Was he able to pass on this wisdom—

William Faulkner: No, no, children.

Unidentified participant: That had been transmitted to him?

William Faulkner: In a way, every—every little eight- or ten-year-old boy was his son, his child, the ones that he taught how to hunt. He had passed on what he had. He was not trying to tell them how to slay animals. He was trying to—to teach them what he knew of—of respect for whatever your lot in life is, that if—if your lot is to be a hunter, to slay animals, you slay the animals with—with the nearest approach you can to dignity and to decency.

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Joseph Blotner: I think you were speaking about the act of creation a while ago. Sometimes we read that many authors seem to—to create with a—with a high degree of objectivity, and that other authors have the feeling that when they're going about this process, they are almost in the very act of experiencing, literally, the things that—that their created people are experiencing. In some of—of the people that you've created that you have enjoyed doing most, or felt you hit off most truly, have you ever had the illusion, or the feeling, that in the act of creation that the sensations were—you were experiencing them almost as if this act were literally happening to you?

William Faulkner: Not exactly, because when my people come alive, they take charge of what we're doing, and I'm going at a—a dead run to keep up and put down what they do and say. I don't have time to—to think much about myself in this business. I'm too busy trying to keep up with them, that they—they talk and act too fast. I'm afraid that—that if I stop for a minute, I'll miss something. And I know that I can't invent it because they've taken charge. They're doing the inventing by that time. I'm just the secretary by then.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, you say you invent that. Well, I—I imagine this might come of one of your very, very long sentences, but yet you say they're very carefully contrived. Well, what do you do? Get down what comes out and then go back and work over it?

William Faulkner: That's right.

Unidentified participant: Perfect it?

William Faulkner: That's right. It's—I think that probably goes back to the burden which man carries all his life, is the knowledge of death. That is, he knows that he won't live forever, and he's found something so amazing and so moving, which is—is breathing or being—being in the world, a part of it, and in a way he is attempting to write the whole history of the human heart on the head of a pin, because he thinks he may not last long enough to put it down on anything as big as a piece of paper. Also, I think that a man at any moment of action is the living sum of his past, that—and the reason for—for the long sentences that go so far into the past and into the future is that belief, that man at the very moment at which he is doing something, he did that particular thing exactly in that way because of the hundred years before him that made him, and that's simply a matter of trying to remind the reader that—that this man is—is complete in motion, only because he is the sum of his ancestors and his condition, his times.

Unidentified participant: Do you often find that you can improve on what you've originally put down?

William Faulkner: Oh, yes, yes. I think any writer keeps at it until he knows that that's the best he can do. It may not be good enough, but when he realized that's the best he can do, then he moves on to the next sentence or the next paragraph.

Unidentified participant: That's not exactly what I meant. I mean, you say you write as fast as you can to get it out, and then you go back and build up the constructions in there and —

William Faulkner: No, no. I—I didn't mean that. I mean that I—I don't like to—the mechanics of putting the stuff on paper, and I try to get it in shape in my mind before I take the—do the work. I didn't mean that I scribble and then went back over it and—and edit it, no. It's—it's done as much as possible mentally, until it begins to sound right. Then I put it down.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in your writing, you—you find you get very close to people and draw people as you think they are. What do you think of the approach of men like Mencken and Shaw who really—or possibly I'm wrong, but I don't think they're trying to give the public a picture of people. They're rather trying to slap them in the face a little bit and paint in extremes.

William Faulkner: Well, they were—were using the tools of their trade as they believed they were the best tools. I—I think that—that—that Shaw was—was trying to write about human beings in the—in the light of his own intelligence and his own wit and his—his own distaste for certain conditions. I think that Mencken was—was still a—a—a constantly angry, indignant man, more—he was first that. He was only second a critic or a sociologist. He was mainly just a mad man. [audience laughter] Shaw, of course, wasn't. Shaw was—was—was an artist.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: You mentioned a while ago, in noting some of the books that you liked particularly, Madame Bovary and also Tolstoy. I take from what you also said, that the things you admire about these two very different artists would be the fact that they both hit the truth, Flaubert in his extremely precise —

William Faulkner: Oh, yes.

Unidentified participant: Tolstoy in his almost shapeless way. Would you—would you say something about your own preferences or attitudes toward the different extremes of craftsmanship in War and Peace as opposed to Bovary?

William Faulkner: Well, in Bovary I saw, or thought I saw, a man who wasted nothing, who was—whose approach toward his language was almost the lapidary's, that he was—he—whether he had the leisure, I—I don't know exactly for what the—what the term I want—that is, a man who—who elected to do one book perfectly, in the—in the characters and in the method, in the style, as—as against a man who was so busy writing about people that he didn't have much time to bother about style, and when he did attain style, he was just as astonished as anybody else. Though that—that comparison, I grant you, is—is better between Flaubert and Balzac, maybe. Well I—I think of the man that—that wrote Salammbo and the La Tentation de St. Antoine and Madame Bovary was a stylist who was also—had—had enough talent to write about people, too. But everybody can't do that. Everybody can't do both. You have to choose, maybe, what shall I do? Shall I try to tell the truth about people, or shall I try to tell the truth in a—in a chalice?

Unidentified participant: Does the luxuriance of the foliage in War and Peace offend your sense—sense of craftsmanship?

William Faulkner: No. No, nothing—I'm not enough of a conscious craftsman to—to remember that I have ever been offended by—by any style or—or method. That I—I think that—that the moment in—in the book, the story, demands its own style, and seems to me just as natural as the moment in the year produces the leaf. It's when Melville becomes Old Testament Biblical, that seems natural to me. When he becomes gothic, that seems natural to me, too, and I hadn't—really hadn't stopped to think, Now where does one change and become another? Though with—with the Bovary, it's as though you know from the very first, as soon as you see what is going, that he will never disappoint you, that it would be as—as—as absolute as mathematics.

Edward McAleer: [You filled] the full hour, Mr. Faulkner, and thank you. [applause]

[end of recording]