Thursday, October 10, 2013

Correcting A Faulkner Gap - The Sound And The Fury Appendix

Despite being an undergraduate English major, I've never read a William Faulkner book.  Looking around at my mom's house Tuesday I found The Sound and the Fury and thought it time I rectify this gap.  A five hour plane trip should give me time to get into the book. As it turned out, the person next to me on the plane had flown that day from Mississippi, the setting of The Sound And The Fury.

As I started reading, I could see why I haven't read Faulkner.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  This is not an easy walk, but a serious climb.  So much so that I wonder if I would have persevered (well, I still have a long way to go) if I didn't know this was considered a great book.  This passage - one single sentence - should give you a sense.

"One day in 1943, after a week of a distraction bordering on disintegration almost, during which those entering the library would find her always in the act of hurriedly closing her desk drawer and turning the key in it (so that the matrons, wives of the bankers and doctors and lawyers, some of whom had also been in that old highschool class, who came and went in the afternoons with the copies of the Forever Ambers and the volumes of Thorne Smith carefully wrapped from view in sheets of Memphis and Jackson newspapers, believed she was on the verge of illness or perhaps even loss of mind) she closed and locked the library in the middle of the afternoon and with her handbag clasped tightly under her arm and two feverish spots of determination in her ordinarily colorless cheeks, she entered the farmers' supply store where Jason IV had started as a clerk and where he now owned his own business as a buyer of and dealer in cotton, striding on through that gloomy cavern which only men ever entered - a cavern cluttered and walled and stalagmitehung with plows and discs and loops of racechain and singletrees and mulecollars and sidemeat and cheap shoes and horselinament and flour and molasses, gloomy because the goods it contained were not shown but hidden rather since those who supplied Mississippi farmers or at least Negro Mississippi farmers for a share of the crop did not wish, until that crop was made and its value approximately computable, to show them what they could learn to want but only to supply them on specific demand with what they could not help but need - and strode on back to Jason's particular domain in the rear:  a railed enclosure cluttered with shelves and pigeonholes bearing spiked dust-and-lintgathering gin receipts and ledgers and cottonsamples and rank with the blended smell of cheese and kerosene and harnessoil and the tremendous iron stove against which chewed tobacco had been spat for almost a hundred years, and up to the long high sloping counter behind which Jason stood and, not looking again at the overalled men who had quietly stopped talking and even chewing when she entered, with a kind of fainting desperation she opened on the counter and stood trembling and breathing rapidly while Jason looked down at it - a picture, a photograph in color clipped obviously from a slick magazine - a picture filled with luxury and money and sunlight  - a Cannebiére backdrop of mountains and palms and cypresses and the sea, an open powerful expensive chromiumtrimmed sports car, the woman's face hatless between a rich scarf and a seal coat, ageless and beautiful, cold serene and damned;  beside her a handsome lean man of middleage in the ribbons and tabs of a German staffgeneral - and the mousesized mousecolored spinster trembling and aghast at her own temerity, staring across it at the childless bachelor in whom ended that long line of men who had had something in them of decency and pride even after they had begun to fail at the integrity and the pride had become mostly vanity and selfpity:  from the expatriate who had to flee his native land with little else except his life yet who still refused to accept defeat, through the man who gambled his life and his good name twice and lost twice and declined to accept that either, and the one who with only a clever small quarterhorse for tool avenged his dispossessed father and grandfather and gained a principality, and the brilliant and gallant governor and the general who though he failed at leading in battle brave and gallant men at least risked his own life too in the failing, to the cultured dipsomaniac who sold the last of his patrimony not to buy drink but to give one of his descendants at least the best chance in life he could think of."  (pp. 11-13)

Reading it slowly enough to type it made this all make much more sense than it did the first time.  This is in a section of the book called "Appendix" which is in the front of the book and gives a history for some of the key characters.  Reading it out loud  as I tried to catch typos also helped to give it more meaning, made it make more sense as you play with where to pause so it sounds right to a listener. 

Violating all the rules that experts give to writing students, Faulkner offers a writer's version of a long single-shot scene in a film.  But the rules are for mere mortals, true writers know when they can play fast and loose with the rules and get away with it. 

It also reminds me of the writing in James Joyce's Ulysses.  

After writing that I felt compelled to check whether I was being simplistic and  seeing a similarity because there were looooong sentences in both, but apparently this connection has long been observed.   But the link says the copyright is 1929 - seven years after Ulysses was published as a book, yet the passage above refers to 1943.  What gives? 

It turns out the Appendix, according to my 1956 Vintage Books copy of The Sound And The Fury,  "was written for the Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley. . ."  For those interested, there's a paper that discusses the writing of the Appendix.

The paper includes this explanation of the purpose of the Appendix:
Written by Faulkner, this note would tell "why and when . . . and how a 17 year old girl [Miss Quentin] robbed a bureau drawer of hoarded money and climbed down a drain pipe and ran off with a carnival pitchman" (SL 202). 
In the passage above, the city librarian takes a photo she has cut out of a magazine that has a picture of the now much older, but apparently still beautiful,  17 year old and shows it to the girl's uncle whose hoarded money she stole.  

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