Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Miscellany from the Lumber Room

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Miscellany from the Lumber Room

Article excerpt

"I am quite sure that I have no feeling for short stories; that I shall never be able to write them, yet for some strange reason I continue to do so, and to try them on Scribner's with unflagging optimism" wrote William Faulkner to Afred Dashiell in 1928. (1) Still, a rough count reveals that Faulkner succeeded in writing and publishing during his lifetime some seventy-six short stories, exclusive of those in Knight's Gambit (1945), and the New Orleans Sketches (1958), and those stories in Uncollected Stones belonging to the same period as the Sketches. To this sizable number, Blotner has added about sixteen more, some of them fugitive pieces, several published posthumously, and others never previously in print. (2) Although the figure is not precise for reasons I shall explain later, Faulkner completed more than ninety short stories, a figure so formidable that I am baffled by his claim that he had no feeling for that form.

Several of the pieces in Uncollected Stories, however, help to explain his disclaimer, for it is clear that although Faulkner wrote some of the finest stories in the English language, advancing the art to a new height, and although he claimed that several of his novels (for example, The Sound and the Fury, 1929) began as short stories, he was far more comfortable in the expansive form of the novel. In the Blotner edition we can read the early versions of four episodes, originally published as self-contained units in Scribner's and Harper's magazines over a four-year period, which were later revised to become parts of the loosely structured novel, The Hamlet (1940). Blotner has also included the short-story versions of six of the seven episodes of The Unvanquished (1938). "An Odor of Verbena" was written expressly for that volume in which these short stories were turned into a novel, or, depending upon one's definition of a novel, a collection of closely related tales. In fact, there seems to have been a nearly unique kind of symbiotic relationship between Faulkner's stories and novels. Nonetheless, there are several heretofore unpublished short stories in this collection, to be discussed presently, which illustrate vividly Faulkner's novelistic proclivities. Stories such as "Evangeline," "The Big Shot," and "Dull Tale," for instance, foreshadow but fail to develop themes and character-types of later novels. These stories, of course, are not the masterpieces, and under no circumstances would I underestimate the superb achievement in the genre of the short story of the man who claimed that he would never be able to write them.

With the publication of the collection of short stories under discussion, nearly every completed story as well as all the novels of William Faulkner are now in print, readily available to students, scholars, and the general reader. (3) In editing this text Joseph Blotner has divided its contents into three sections: (1) Stories Revised for Later Books, (2) Uncollected Stories, and (3) Unpublished Stories. He must have had some difficult decisions to make, for the material does not always fit neatly into these categories. For example, there are two versions in the book of "Once Aboard the Lugger" which are both placed in the uncollected section although the second version has not been previously published. Blotner explains that he has arranged them in this manner because of their "organic connection." (4) "Hog Pawn" was submitted but refused for publication before it was rewritten to become part of The Mansion (1959); it has, because of having become a part of a later book, been placed in Section One. And although it seems fractious to quibble with the choices made for this estimable collection, I am puzzled about the principle of selection in the first section, Stories Revised for Later Books. Why was "Notes on a Horse Thief" omitted as it first appeared in 1950 before it was revised for A Fable (1954)? And why were "A Name for the City" (1950), rewritten for Requiem for a Nun (1951), and "By the People" (1955), revised for The Mansion excluded? …

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