Dynamism in Faulkner's Short Stories


1924 could be a critical year in any aspect of Faulkner's literary career. Faulkner made a final decision to leave for Europe and before his departure he wrote an essay "Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage" which was a manifesto for his literary future as well as a summing-up of his early literary career. He began the essay with rhetorical remarks; "At the age of sixteen, I discovered Swinburne. Or rather, Swinburne discovered me, springing from some tortured undergrowth of my adolescence, like a highwayman, making me his slave." (Early Prose and Poetry 114) Faulkner made his ensuing literary journey to the poets and artists in the 16th or 17th century English literature, romanticism and fin de siecle in England and Europe, as well as modernism in his own country. At the end of the essay, he insisted that he would be a poet like John Keats whom he made a cycle back to.
     Faulkner's early literary career mapped out in the essay indicates that his initial interest was mainly in verse. Faulkner who grew up in a small northern Mississippi town was at first enamored by European literature and art introduced by Phil Stone, 4 years senior to Faulkner, and kept writing poetry for a while. His first achievement as a poet was "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune" published in The New Republic in 1919. Then he presented The Lilacs, a collection of poems, to Phil Stone in 1920 and finished Vision in Spring in 1921.
     After Vision in Spring Faulkner seemed to feel for other genres than poetry and began to extend his writing to critical works and short stories. From 1921 to 1924, he worked as a postmaster writing poetry and some experimental prose. Then he left for New Orleans on the fourth of January, 1925, and it seems that he had given up becoming a poet until then. In New Orleans and Europe, his attention seemed to be mainly on prose. He wrote his first novel Soldiers' Pay while he was in the big city and he finished his second long work Mosquitoes after he came home from Europe. Then "the failed poet" began to write his first Yoknapatawpha novel in 1927.
     It should be emphasized, however, that Faulkner never gave up becoming "a poet" and that he was a great novelist who kept making the most of poetic language in prose. His prose is full of poetic articulation and rhythm nourished and strengthened by composing poetry in his early days. For example, octave couplets composing 810 lines of The Marble Faun, sonnets in Helen: A Courtship and A Green Bough get deeply embedded in his prose and his prose style beats with poetic rhythm. Phil Stone who was a literary mentor in the early days pointed out Faulkner's poetic rhythm in the preface to The Marble Faun; "They have an unusual feeling for words and the music of words, a love of soft vowels, an instinct for color and rhythm, and--at times--a hint of coming muscularity of wrist and eye." (The Marble Faun 6-7) Indeed, Faulkner was "a poet" at heart even though he turned toward prose writing during and after New Orleans days to be a fiction writer.
     Interestingly enough, Faulkner often mentioned "a failed poet" after 1950s when he became a great writer and he once remarked that "I think that every novelist is a failed poet. I think he tries to write poetry first, then finds he can't. Then he tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel-writing." (Lion in the Garden 217) The remarks are to be noted in that Faulkner made no clear genre distinction between poetry, stories and novels but that what mattered most to him was the "demanding form." He failed, in a sense, to say everything in poetry which is "the most demanding form" and became a novelist.
     Unquestionably, Faulkner's greatest wish was "to say it [the world plus 'I'] all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period" and "to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead" (The Faulkner-Cowley File 14) for which a poem was the best medium followed by a short story. But he had to quit poetry, as he said, "When I found my poetry not good, I changed my medium. At 21 I thought my poetry very good. I continued to write it when 22 but at 23 I quit it. I found my best medium to be fiction. My prose is really poetry." (Lion in the Garden 56) Faulkner who was born in 1897 was 23 in 1920 when he presented The Lilacs to his mentor Phil Stone. Faulkner also remarked that 17-26 is the best age for writing poetry and that "Writing poetry is like a sky rocket--all the fire condensed in one rocket. Most outstanding poetry is written by young men." (Lion in the Garden 56) It is quite probable that John Keats who died at the age of 26 was in Faulkner's mind.
     Therefore, our question is if Faulkner actually concentrated on the second most demanding form, the short story, after he failed as a poet. Apparently, his great concern seemed to be on long works. In New Orleans he wrote much prose for magazines or newspapers including his first novel and in Europe he tried to write two novels. He finished Mosquitoes in September, 1926, after which he started his first Yoknapatawpha novel, Flags in the Dust, completing it on 29 September, 1927. Just before its completion he wrote to Liveright, "The new novel is coming fine. I believe that at last I have learned to control the stuff and fix it on something like rational truth." (Selected Letters 37) Then, on the 16th of October, he wrote, "At last and certainly, as El Orens' sheik said, I have written THE book, of which those other things were but foals. I believe it is the damdest best book you'll look at this year, and any other publisher." (Selected Letters 38) The completion of "the damdest best book" was followed by Faulkner's most creative and productive years. The period between 1927 and 1932 was a surprisingly creative one when early masterpieces were written one after another. Flags in the Dust was followed by The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary. Then he wrote As I Lay Dying toward the end of 1929 and completed Light in August in 1932.
     Indeed, Faulkner was working hard on long works, but it is to be noted that the productive period for novels was a productive one for short stories as well and that some of them have much to do with the ongoing novels. For example, the story "Ad Astra" mentioned in the correspondence between Faulkner and the editors of The Saturday Evening Post as early as 1928 is inseparable from Flags in the Dust. Moreover, we may find some other stories associated with the novels under way in the correspondences between Faulkner and the editors of The Saturday Evening Post and Scribner's. Unquestionably, lots of short stories in the period have common characters and settings with long works. Four stories in the first part of These 13, a collection of short stories published in 1931, are about World War I which are closely associated with Flags in the Dust. The second part includes "A Rose for Emily" which is also closely related to Flags in the Dust in terms of the Sartorises and the town Jefferson. Quentin Compson in "A Justice" and "That Evening Sun" is an indispensable narrator in The Sound and the Fury and the last story "Carcassonne" which is a prose poem represents the substance of Faulkner's literary world. All in all, "the sending schedule" lists 42 stories dated from January 1931 to January 1932, among which 20 stories were published between 1930 and 1932.
     It can be said, then, that "the failed poet" wrote short stories and novels simultaneously or interchangeably in the latter part of the 1920s and early 1930s. Furthermore, most novels are substantially of contrapuntal structure, juxtaposing two contradictory or incompatible stories. In other words, most of Faulkner's works have a contrapuntal structure with fugue or polyphonic (symphonic) music forms in them. Flags in the Dust with a polyphonic (symphonic) music form was criticized of "6 books." The Sound and the Fury with four parts which Faulkner began to write in April, 1928, has also a characteristic aspect of short stories. It is true, as Andre Bleikasten points out, that The Sound and the Fury written in the year of mirabus was a sudden leap, unforeseen and unforeseeable, (Bleikasten 5) but it has much to do with short stories written in the same period and those stories have a close relationship with "the most splendid failure."
     It is to be remembered at the same time that this kind of homogeneity or simultaneity of novels and stories has much to do with the poetic depth of the signified. Verse and prose are closely intertwined with each other and are, in a sense, one, as Faulkner said, "It's [Poetry is] some moving, passionate moment of the human condition distilled to its absolute essence,"(Lion in the Garden 202) and "A short story is a crystallized instant, arbitrarily selected, in which character conflicts with character or environed or itself. We both agreed long since that, next to poetry, it is the hardest art form." (Selected Letters 345) Therefore, we may easily understand Faulkner's repeated remarks about the order of the most demanding form from poetry and short stories to novels. Unquestionably, Faulkner has elaborated on the poetic condensation and musicality of words regardless of short stories or long works.
     We must also remember that the homogeneity and simultaneity of poetry, short stories and novels are related to "a design" of Faulkner's entire works created. Any reader is reminded of Faulkner's remarks that "I found out after that [Soldiers' Pay] not only each book had to have a design but the whole output or sum of an artist's work had to have a design. I like to think of the world I created as being a kind of keystone in the Universe...." (Lion in the Garden 255) Understandably, many of Faulkner's stories have their own individuality and they form part of the whole Yoknapatawpha world as well. This is true of any story collections as he said while compiling The Collected Stories of William Faulkner in 1950; "I would like to mull over it, try to give this volume an integrated form of its own, like the Moses book if possible, or at least These 13. (Selected Letters 273) He likewise emphasized "an entity of its own, single, set for one pitch, contrapuntal in integration, toward one end, one finale." (Selected Letters 278)
     This creative mechanism throughout Faulkner's literary career coincides with his way of putting each story into a novel like mosaic. After the 1930s the short stories are increasingly getting integrated into novels. Seven stories are integrated into The Unvanquished which is followed by Go Down, Moses in a more closely organized and integrated way. Some stories are inserted into The Snopes Trilogy to deepen the Yoknapatawpha world. The integration of short stories into long works are undeniably part of Faulkner's design and it is inseparable from his style as he wrote to Malcolm Cowley; "I'm trying primarily to tell a story, in the most effective way I can think of, the most moving, the most exhaustive.... I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world.... This I think accounts for what people call the obscurity, the involved formless 'style,' endless sentences. I'm trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I'm still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. (The Faulkner-Cowley File 14)
     Understandably, the poet Conrad Aiken observed Faulkner's style as early as 1921 when Faulkner reached a first turning point in poetry; "And what a style it is, to be sure! The exuberant and tropical luxuriance of sound which Jim Europe's jazz band used to exhale, like a jungle of rank creepers and ferocious blooms taking shape before one's eyes,--magnificently and endlessly involved, glisteningly and ophidiantly in motion, coil sliding over coil, and leaf and flower forever magically interchanging,--was scarcely more bewildering, in its sheer inexhaustible fecundity, than Mr. Faulkner's style." (Aiken 134) Moreover, Aiken's further comments on Faulkner's style are considerably illuminating; "It is as if Mr. Faulkner, in a sort of hurried despair, had decided to try to tell us everything, absolutely everything, every last origin or source or quality or qualification, and every possible future or permutation as well, in one terrifically concentrated effort: each sentence to be, as it were, a microcosm. (Aiken, 136) Aiken's insistent emphasis on Faulkner's style and form tells itself of the homogeneity and simultaneity of poetry, stories and novels. Moreover, it is surprising to find that Aiken's "a microcosms" echoes Faulkner's "a cosmos of my own" and Aiken's phrase "to tell us everything, absolutely everything" is exactly what Faulkner conveyed to Malcolm Cowley as mentioned above.
     We may wonder where this creative attitude and writing of Faulkner comes from. Furthermore, we can assume that Faulkner's strong inclination for romanticism, art for art's sake and modernism in his early days have helped strengthen the homogeneity and simultaneity of poetry, stories and novels. Romanticism is clearly seen in his essay "Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage" in 1924 where he stated his poetic journey from Swinburne to Keats and Shelly. The journey was the failed poet's unique search for the creation of original artistic works. Faulkner liked "Carcassonne" until the very end of his career, and the piece represented what was meant by homogeneity and simultaneity of verse and prose. It is to be remembered that the romanticism is inseparably intertwined with modernism in the early 20th century. Every art moved toward new experimental creation as Ezra Pound said, "Make everything new." It was at the same time the movement toward the totalistic and organic creation of the world after the destruction and deconstruction of the old. Necessarily, it did not follow the traditional narrative, but it took advantage of the disintegration of the chronological time sequence, the reverse of cause and effect, stream of consciousness, psychoanalytic narrative, mosaic and montage representation or cuttings in films. Malcolm Cowley once criticized Faulkner for his "weakness in structure" in that "Some of them combine two or more themes having little relation to each other, as Light in August does, while others, like The Hamlet, tend to resolve themselves into a series of episodes resembling beads on a string." (The Portable Faulkner xxiv-xxv) However, it was not necessarily weakness, but rather the result of Faulkner's artistic way of putting everything on one pinhead. Faulkner once referred to his style outright and somewhat masochistically; "The style, as you divine, is a result of the solitude, and granted a bad one. It was further complicated by an inherited regional or geographical (Hawthorne would say, racial) curse. You might say, studbook style: 'by Southern Rhetoric out of Solitude' or 'Oratory out of Solitude.' (The Faulkner-Cowley File 78)
     To put it another way, it was Faulkner's style of putting everything in an arrested motion or going beyond language into poetic silence. The desire of a writer to put everything on a pinhead or between one Cap and one period is to integrate so diverse and disintegrated portions into one literary cosmos. It is, in sum, "a cosmos of my own" or "a keystone in the cosmos." We may also conclude that Faulkner's poetry, stories and novels are rooted simultaneously deep in his native soil, "beauty--spiritual and physical--of the South"(Early Prose and Poetry 116) and that Faulkner's short stories are dynamically restructuring Faulkner's whole literary world.


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-----. Mosquitoes. London: Chatto And Windus, 1955.
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