William Faulkner: Mississippi’s greatest liar
Faulkner is referred to in Kaye Gibbons’ “Charms for the Easy Life” by a bed-ridden soldier as “a big liar, and everybody in Mississippi knows it.”
Faulkner created a fictional place in the bosom of Mississippi – the state in which he was born and raised – called Yoknapatawpha County. Seventeen of his novels involve characters that live there, and in some ways all his novels build toward a whole vision of the place.
“It’s his fictional “cosmos,'” said Watson. “”William Faulkner – sole proprietor’ – both a place and a way of telling.”
Yoknapatawpha County has a hold on its inhabitants, as well as the reader. Rife with both decay and life, there’s something about that world, and the way Faulkner describes it, that speaks to the audience.
Watson discovered Faulkner when he read “As I Lay Dying” as a college freshman and it changed his life. He’s become passionate about the author.
“He was a genius and genius is always startling and wonderful,” he said. “I love his language and the ways he finds to tell his stories in new and exciting ways of saying. As with so much of modern art and music, I’m less concerned with the “meaning’ of his work than with the experience of reading it.”
Faulkner came from an old southern family. His great-grandfather was a Confederate colonel and state politician; his grandfather was a lawyer and owned a railroad. Faulkner dropped out of high school in 1915, and educated himself by reading constantly. (“Read, read, read. Read everything,” he often exclaimed.) He was rejected by the U.S. Army for pilot training. The plucky young man took it in stride and passed himself off as a Brit. He joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1918, but the war ended before he got to serve. He held the odd job, such as a university postmaster with no strong feelings on whether or not people got their mail.
In 1949 he received the Nobel Prize in literature, and took the opportunity to speak about his craft and work, and the tragedy of the world he lived in:
“…the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever.”
“He was interested in people, not places – and the “old virtues,'” pointed out Watson. “As he also said in the Nobel Prize address, of “love and honor and pity and pride and sacrifice and endurance which alone can make good writing,’ the heart not the glands.”
“Until he does so, he labors under a curse,” said Faulkner.
Watson will speak for about 40 minutes and will then answer questions about both his lecture and Faulkner generally.
“My experience of such audiences is that many will have read a lot, some will have read some, and some not very much,” he said. “I plan most of my examples of Faulkner the artist and story-teller to come from “As I Lay Dying.’ And I hope it generates discussion.”
The Vail Symposium is hosting the evening of Faulkner at the Beaver Creek Club Monday evening from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Light refreshments and a cash bar will be available. The cost is $15 for Beaver Creek Club and Vail Symposium members and $20 for all others. For more information call 476-0954.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.
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