Honor: James Gray Watson, 1939-2010

By Carothers, James B. | The Faulkner Journal, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Honor: James Gray Watson, 1939-2010


Carothers, James B., The Faulkner Journal


Jim Watson did not originally intend to be a university professor and a Faulknerian, but a combination of events during his undergraduate career at Bowdoin College led him away from the family path to medicine. He never got over it, and he never tired of talking about it, but, as Faulkner said in the mother lode of self-commentary in the Jean Stein interview, Yoknapatawpha County enabled him "to use whatever talent [he] might have to the absolute top," and Jim acted according to a similar proposition that the study of Faulkner brought out the best that was in him, and enabled him to use his own best talents as well (IG 255). Throughout his career, Jim sought the companionship of likeminded students and colleagues. He found, over time, a myriad company of them, and he took his place among their myriad company.

After Bowdoin, Jim earned an MA and PhD in English at his native city's University of Pittsburgh, found his lifetime job at Tulsa University, and settled in to teach and write. In Tulsa, he lived what became his retrospective motto - "one wife, one house, one job." Early on, he published The Snopes Dilemma (1970) finding, in the fashion of the time, a moral and humanistic unity of subject in the trilogy. He taught a wide range of American literature courses, began to deliver papers and publish articles, and arrived at Ole Miss for the "Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha" conference, joining the storied class of 1979, a group of young scholars and teachers who have been productively and collegially associated with one another ever since.

A few years later, responding to Evans Harrington's call for essays on "New Directions" in Faulkner studies, Jim returned to the platform at Oxford, delivering an impressive essay on the largely unnoticed letters in The Sound and the Fury. This marked the beginning of a long-term project that included Letters and Fictions (1987) and new material from Faulkner's unpublished letters in Thinking of Home: William Faulkner's Letters to His Mother and Father, 1918-1925(1992), both of which contribute to our understanding of the interpénétration of Faulkner's life and art. He meditated and discoursed on this vast subject even more ambitiously in his last book, William Faulkner: Self-Presentation and Performance (2000).

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