Faulkner and His Contemporaries

Faulkner and His Contemporaries

Faulkner and His Contemporaries

Faulkner and His Contemporaries

Synopsis

A study of William Faulkner's place among his peers

Excerpt

Please pardon the repetition if you who have heard this anecdote before, but I cannot indeed forbear. When in 1958 I was at the point of concluding my graduate course work in the English department at Ole Miss and began to consider a dissertation subject, my thoughts turned quite naturally to William Faulkner. He had been, after all, very much a presence in my life: I was born six miles from his birthplace, had always known members of his family, and had read everything he had published up to that point. That reading had been done first on my own, then under the guidance of Harry Modean Campbell, who with Ruel Foster wrote the first critical study of Faulkner and taught the first Faulkner seminar at Ole Miss. In those early years of Faulkner study, however, it was not clear to the English department that Faulkner alone was worthy of a course, and as a consequence, he was yoked with his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway! My proposal to write about Faulkner, was rejected because—and I quote—he “had been done.” At that point, there were, I believe, only three book-length critical studies of his work, hard as that is to believe with forty years of hindsight.

Because I was far from as brash then as I would later become—after I had taught a few years and found it expedient to put on the armor necessary for survival in the academic world—I acquiesced to the professorial decision and set about searching for another topic. My second choice was John Dos Passos, a writer who at first thought might strike one as being totally unlike Faulkner in his themes and style. I had stumbled on Dos Passos by accident in my hometown library one summer and selected him for a very strange reason—because I liked to read him. I say strange because given today's academic climate in too many English departments in too many universities, merely liking an author's work is deemed to be of little consequence, paling in significance to other presumably more contemporarily popular reasons for studying novels and poems and plays, reasons entangled with such arcane words as deconstruction and post-structuralism, and historicity and so forth. Merely liking the works of an author may, indeed, be considered reactionary and may count as a strike against the student, who has not yet learned the hard lesson of contemporary criticism.

My choice of Dos Passos as subject was accepted with a certain amount of scepticism, and after two years I produced a dissertation of 468 pages. It may seem odd to some that I have never done anything with that . . .

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