The Sartoris Women:
Mapping "There Was a Queen" in Faulkner's Career


     It is unlikely that William Faulkner thought of the short story as his milieu. Perhaps we might even go so far as to assume that the genre was not important to him. We do not have to take his words at face value when he, in a late-1928 letter to an editor, defensively wrote that he had "no feeling for short stories" (SL 42). The fact, however, remains that he mass-produced short stories mainly for financial reasons. We should also remember that Faulkner was an established novelist when he made the famous remark that one becomes a novelist after failing in poetry and short stories (LG 238).
     Even so, we cannot simply ignore Faulkner's short stories if we want to consider his development as a novelist. The quintessential Faulknerian composition of a novel out of his previously published short stories, for instance, not only helps us study his novels like The Hamlet and Go Down, Moses, but also invites us to suspect that such a relationship between "parts" and "whole" is synecdochical of the way Faulkner created his Yoknapatawpha saga. If we can evaluate one novel of Faulkner's in relation to his entire career (e.g. Flags in the Dust as the first Yoknapatawpha novel), then probably we can also see one short story of his in the same manner.
     From this perspective, the most remarkable fact is that Faulkner wrote almost forty short stories (see Skei 36-37 for the list of them) in addition to the two versions of Sanctuary, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August during the four years from 1929 to 1932. The number is in itself striking, but perhaps even more so is the variety of the stories. Faulkner included most of them in his Collected Stories in 1950, which he divided into six sections according to their settings: the country, the village, the wilderness, the wasteland, the middle ground, and beyond. Although the "country" section contains no story written in this period, it was during this period that he wrote some "country" stories that he would incorporate into The Hamlet: "Spotted Horses," "Lizards in Jamshyd's Courtyard," and "The Hound."
     Perhaps the rise of his social concerns made it possible for Faulkner to write various kinds of stories, but probably the reverse would be more (or at least as) precise: writing many short stories in such a brief period helped--or even forced--him to widen his scope. As Takaki Hiraishi points out (155), Faulkner in the late twenties, after finishing Flags in the Dust, did not immediately take the possible direction in which he would deepen his social concerns in The Sound and the Fury. We can extend this acute observation to include the original version of Sanctuary (written from January to May, 1929). Against this background, the significance of the about twenty short stories Faulkner wrote before his thorough revision of Sanctuary (from mid-November to early December, 1930) manifests itself.
     The central purpose of this essay is to show the importance of "There Was a Queen" in Faulkner's career by analyzing its female characters of the Sartoris family. There are three reasons that I pick up this short story for my argument. First, Miss Jenny Du Pre and Narcissa Sartoris both appear also in Sanctuary as the sequel to Flags in the Dust. Second, Faulkner wrote this story by early July of 1929, right after he completed the original version of Sanctuary. And third, Faulkner's handling of female characters in the works of the early thirties, I think, is deeply related to the rise of his social concerns. In this period, Faulkner wrote one short story after another (in addition to the three novels) which deals with socially repressed women's--often young women's--adversity: to name some, "Miss Zilphia Gant," "Elly," "A Rose for Emily," "The Brooch," "Fox Hunt," "Dry September," and "Mountain Victory."
     To put it in a simplifying way, Faulkner's revision of Sanctuary changed the romantic story of Horace Benbow's quest for the "mother" into the realistic story of Temple Drake's quest for the "father." This thematic shift from the (Freudian or Romantic) "mother" to the (social or Realistic) "father," as Carolyn Porter suggests (169-70), was to be foregrounded after Light in August, as Faulkner deepened his consciousness about the history of the South. What is more important in the context of this essay, however, is that Faulkner was also to foreground the subject of his female characters. Faulkner in the late twenties, as Hiraishi argues (193-95), skillfully used the black/women's viewpoint to construct a "tragedy." The "maternal" characters like Miss Jenny in Flags in the Dust and Dilsey Gibson in The Sound and the Fury cannot but be the helpless observers of the white male Southerner's "tragedy" because of their discriminated status as black/women. In Faulkner's works of the thirties, however, his female characters such as Joanna Burden in Light in August and Rosa Coldfield in Absalom, Absalom! narrate their own stories. In this context, we cannot overstress the significance of Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying. Addie, who seems at first to be the silent, absent center like Caddy Compson in The Sound and the Fury, suddenly tells her own story in the middle of the novel. Addie's articulation of her own life represents the radical shift of the position of female characters in Faulkner's works. It cannot be coincident that Addie, as if to expose and criticize Faulkner's use of the maternal characters in the twenties, says: "I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it" (AILD 171).
     Addie's words on the fictionality of motherhood are harmonious with the fact that As I Lay Dying was composed (from late October, 1929 to mid-January, 1930) shortly before Faulkner's revision of Sanctuary from the story of the mother to the story of the father. What I would like to underline here is that "There Was a Queen" (as well as "A Rose for Emily," which was written before early October, 1929) was written between the original Sanctuary and As I Lay Dying. In the original version of Sanctuary, whereas Narcissa mercilessly frustrates Horace's romantic defense of Lee Goodwin (or his romantic quest for the "mother" Ruby Lamar), Miss Jenny supports Horace's heroic romanticism as a "mother." As a result, the two Sartoris women are contrasted with each other to the extent that we might even find the contrast to represent a simple binary opposition of good and evil. When Faulkner focused on the two Sartoris women again in "There Was a Queen" in which no male character looks for the "mother," however, their characterizations turned out not to be so stable.
     "Many critics," John T. Matthews notes, "have been tempted to read 'There Was a Queen' strictly from Aunt Virginia Du Pre's perspective--as a dignity, and a firm sense of hierarchy" (13). This approach to the text, however, is misleading in that it invites us to see the relationship between the two Sartoris women in the same manner as we might do in the original Sanctuary. The story's central focus is not Miss Jenny but Elnora, who loves Miss Jenny and hates Narcissa. Even though Elnora's position is somewhat similar to Horace's in the original text of Sanctuary, she is not a heroine in the sense in which Horace is a hero. Furthermore, Elnora's sympathy with Miss Jenny and antipathy toward Narcissa are more complex and social (to the reader) than are Horace's romantic feelings toward the two women, for this black servant, as we learn in the beginning of the story, is Old Bayard's half-sister (Faulkner did not give this information in Flags in the Dust).
     "There Was a Queen," on the one hand, can be read as an allegory of the New South's conquest over the Old South (note that Narcissa is often called "the young woman" and Miss Jenny "the old woman"), just as their relationship in Sanctuary does (in the original text, Miss Jenny fades out; in the published novel, she becomes a minor character; in both versions, Narcissa prevails in accordance with the modern world which completely defeats her anachronistic brother, who cannot even drive a car). This binarism in "There Was a Queen," however, is not so simply in favor of the maternal Miss Jenny as in Flags in the Dust or in the original Sanctuary, for Elnora the focus is living evidence of the "curse" of the Old South, to use a Faulknerian expression. Elnora's devotion to the Sartoris family cannot be romanticized, unlike Dilsey's in The Sound and the Fury. Elnora's view of the two women is always already deconstructed: the more ardently she honors Miss Jenny as "quality" and disparages Narcissa as "trash" (CS 734), the more greatly the irony increases because the black servant is a victim of the anachronistic social system that Miss Jenny represents.
     If Faulkner simply wanted to depict the passage of time from the Old South to the New South with nostalgia, his presentation of Elnora as Old Bayard's half-sister would not make sense (significantly, she does not appear in the nostalgic world of The Unvanquished). In his revision of the short story, furthermore, Faulkner reduced the information about Miss Jenny's life (Jones 488), just as he obscured her in his revision of Sanctuary. Even though this arrangement might stem in part from his attempts to make the story more succinct, it also suggests that "There Was a Queen" is not a naive elegy on the good old days.
     If the goodness of the Old South in "There Was a Queen" is not so stable as many critics have assumed, then we can read the story from another angle--from Narcissa's perspective. This reading seems valid to me, for Faulkner in this period, as I have mentioned, wrote several stories which foregrounded an old woman's repression of a young woman. A good example is "Elly," in which the young heroine Elly's sexuality is repressed by her grandmother. We could read "Elly," as well as "There Was a Queen," as a story of the Old South's repression of the New South (Petry 225), the grotesqueness of which reveals itself in the form of Elly's relationship with a man they think is black and her eventual murder of her grandmother (and her lover). If this disastrous end is the result of the Old South's repression of the New South, then the symbolism of the grandmother's deafness is obvious. Moreover, Elly (like Temple) repeatedly looks into the mirror (CS 209, 214), which suggests that she has interiorized the repressive grandmother's censoring gaze, unable to establish her subject as a woman in the New South.
     Miss Jenny is a lady of "quality" unlike Elly's grandmother, but the former's anti-Semitism is parallel to the latter's allergy to her granddaughter's sexual relationship with the black man, not only in terms of racism but also in terms of the racism's "Southerness" (we might recall here the anti-Semitism of Jason Compson, who cannot catch up with the time). Miss Jenny's reaction when she sees the Jew at the supper table is: "Narcissa . . . what is this Yankee doing here?" (CS 736). Although (or exactly because) Miss Jenny is probably one of the most lovable women Faulkner ever created, we cannot overstress that her anachronistic ideology as a proud Southern woman functions to repress Narcissa, who cannot freely invite her guest for supper as long as the "queen" is alive.
     Faulkner subtly shows other instances of Miss Jenny's natural or innocent repression of Narcissa. Miss Jenny still calls Benbow "Johnny" (728) (as in Flags in the Dust) and seats him in the patriarch's position at the table (742): she has, as it were, "Sartorisized" Benbow (regardless of his own mother's intention), in an attempt which seems fairly successful given that he does not miss his mother during her absence ("Ain't no Sartoris man," Elnora proudly says, "never missed nobody" [730]; see Bradford 136).
     Although critics have usually emphasized "Narcissa's attempt to repudiate the Sartoris traditions and values her own past" (Carothers 43), we should not use this observation to obscure the repression with which Narcissa, as a Sartoris woman, has long had to deal. Narcissa must always be conscious of her repressed status as a Sartoris woman because neither Miss Jenny nor Elnora accepts her as a Sartoris. "She," Elnora says to Miss Jenny, "won't never be a Sartoris woman" (CS 730); "After all," Miss Jenny says to herself, "she is not a Sartoris. She is no kin to them, to a lot of fool proud ghosts" (736). This is how Elnora and Miss Jenny "other" Narcissa.
     I have already pointed out that it is necessary to notice the irony of Elnora's "othering" of Narcissa as a non-Sartoris, but probably Miss Jenny's treatment of Narcissa as the other is even more important to my argument on Faulkner's development as a novelist in relation to his female characters. For Miss Jenny's attitude toward Narcissa, which we might regard as a kind of defeatism (or romantic irony), is what she maintains from Flags in the Dust. As she always expects the death of the male Sartorises so that she can always be prepared for the emotional shock when they actually die in Flags in the Dust, so Miss Jenny in "There Was a Queen" protects herself by expecting Narcissa to behave as a non-Sartoris. When she hears that Narcissa will invite a guest for dinner, Miss Jenny recollects her own life as a widow and thinks: "I wouldn't have her do as I did. Would not expect it of her" (736).
     In Flags in the Dust, Miss Jenny's defeatism "appropriately" serves as armor, for the male Sartorises die just as she expects they will. Her self-defense mechanism would work again in "There Was a Queen" if Narcissa, as Miss Jenny expects from a non-Sartoris woman, got remarried and disappeared on her. Her self-defense strategy, however, backfires this time. Not only is Narcissa's action to retrieve the obscene letters extremely outrageous to the old "Southern Lady," but also Narcissa, in her own fashion, behaves as a Sartoris woman, which devastates the matriarch.
     Narcissa "was crazy for a while" (739) after the letters were stolen on the night of her marriage, but came to think that things would be all right "if [she] just stayed out here and was good to Bory and [Miss Jenny]" (740), that is, if she could become a good Sartoris. When the Federal agent appeared with the letters, she slept with him in Memphis to protect the respectability of the Sartorises: "I had that much regard for Bory and you," she says to Miss Jenny, "to go somewhere else" (741). Narcissa's behavior to get back the letters is totally unacceptable to Miss Jenny, but her way of becoming a Sartoris is perhaps even more shocking to the old woman. Narcissa, it may be true, cannot be a Sartoris in the manner in which Miss Jenny is. Her failure at being a Sartoris in such a fashion, however, might come from Miss Jenny's (and Elnora's) defeatist attitude, which has made Narcissa conscious of her (unaccepted) position as a family member. In other words, Narcissa's notorious obsession with respectability might stem from the old generation's othering of the new.
     From this viewpoint, it is significant that Narcissa gets back the letters by using her sexuality. Symbolically enough, she had the obscene letters stolen on the very night of her wedding to Young Bayard (when she legally--though just legally--became a Sartoris), which indicates that she has to repress her sexuality to be a Sartoris woman. She has been unable to talk to Miss Jenny about her possession and loss of the letters "because of what [Miss Jenny] said about a lady" (739). In order to be a Sartoris in the public sphere, Narcissa has had to repress her private sexuality. For the old lady who represents the Old South and has long and firmly interiorized its social standards, probably "there can be no meaningful and complex division between desire and duty, no conceivable quarrels or productive tensions within individual identities that are as arranged as outer and inner" (Lahey 167). The world in which Miss Jenny has lived, however, is the epic, closed, and otherless world which maintains itself by repressing Narcissa's sexuality and othering her as a non-Sartoris.
     Miss Jenny has expected Narcissa to get remarried (to become sexually available again) and it is this expectation which has always already excluded Narcissa from her family: "If it's marriage," Miss Jenny says to her, "I told you. I told you five years ago that I wouldn't blame you. A young woman, a widow. Even though you have a child, I told you that a child would not be enough. I told you I would not blame you for not doing as I had done. Didn't I?" (CS 738). Miss Jenny's highly defensive tone (note her repetition of "I told you") exposes how her defeatism was supposed to serve as her self-protective armor at the cost of othering Narcissa. Her articulated expectation of Narcissa's remarriage suggests that Narcissa could become a Sartoris if she abandoned her sexuality (as a "mother"), but the utterance itself reveals that Miss Jenny has not yet accepted Narcissa as a Sartoris, implying that Narcissa is hopelessly a sexual being. Narcissa's sexuality, as it were, has been doubly repressed, both at the performative and at the constative level.
     Repressed, however, it returns. It is not that Narcissa liberates herself from her sexual repression and declares that she is not a Sartoris woman. On the contrary, she has repressed her sexuality to be a Sartoris woman so much so that she does not care about using it to protect the respectability of the Sartorises. Her way of becoming a Sartoris embodies the grotesqueness of the repression under which she has lived as a woman and as a Sartoris, and the grotesqueness itself represents the passage of time from the Old South to the New South and Miss Jenny's final encounter with Narcissa as the real other, who refuses to be othered.
     After talking about her short expedition to Memphis, Narcissa, "content with the outcome of the affair" (Castille 313), yawns, reminiscent of Eula Varner Snopes in The Town who kills herself because "she was bored" (T 315). The late Faulkner lets Gavin Stevens keep othering Eula, and the last two works of the Snopes trilogy are romanticized. The author of "There Was a Queen," however, does not allow Miss Jenny to take the path Gavin takes. "Well, my Lord. Us poor, fool women," Miss Jenny says (CS 741, my italics). This scene is moving because it shows her recognition that she cannot other Narcissa, which makes it possible for us (who have read the story from Narcissa's viewpoint) to accept "There Was a Queen" as Miss Jenny's story in the end. Precisely because we have seen Narcissa's repression, we can notice the possibility that Miss Jenny has come to assume her defeatist stance as a result of what she has experienced as a Sartoris woman in the repressive South. With this understanding, furthermore, we have witnessed the death of the Old South. It is not Miss Jenny (or Elnora) but the passage of time which differentiates the two Sartoris women. "There Was a Queen," though often discussed only casually, is an intriguing story in which the characters' otherness to each other is in accord with the theme of the work (the march of time or the end of an era).
     In Flags in the Dust, Faulkner lets Narcissa forget that her letters were stolen. In the works of the thirties, however, Faulkner not only makes his heroines remember the past, but also dramatizes why they cannot forget the past. To put it another way, he illuminates and problematizes the kind of repression that Miss Jenny represents in "There Was a Queen," and makes his female characters face the various aspects of the repressive ideology of the South. Thus Addie has to deal with motherhood; Temple patriarchy; and Joanna slavery. Once these heroines start to talk about their own problems, their stories at once foreground and relativize the heroes' "tragedies." The death of Miss Jenny--arguably the most important character to Faulkner's establishment of Yoknapatawpha--was probably inevitable when Faulkner, as a polyphonic novelist, began to develop his fictional world as a realistic and historical place, and this inevitability makes it possible for us to see his composition of "There Was a Queen" as a historic event in his career.


Bradford, M. E. "Certain Ladies of Quality: Faulkner's View of Women and the Evidence of 'There Was a Queen.'" Arlington Quarterly 1.2 (1967-68): 106-39.
Carothers, James B. William Faulkner's Short Stories. UMI Research P, 1985.
Castille, Philip Dubuisson. "'There Was a Queen' and Faulkner's Narcissa Sartoris." Mississippi Quarterly 28 (1975): 307-15.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage, 1990.
-----. Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Vintage, 1995.
-----. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926-1962. Ed. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate. New York: Random House, 1968.
-----. Selected Letters of William Faulkner. Ed. Joseph Blotner. New York: Random House, 1977.
-----. The Town. 1957. Novels: 1957-1962. Ed. Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk. New York: Library of America, 1999. 1-326.
Hiraishi, Takaki. Merankorikku Dezain: Fokuna Shoki Sakuhin no Kousou [Melancholic Design: The Design of Faulkner's Early Works]. Tokyo: Nan'un-do, 1993.
Jones, Diane Brown. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of William Faulkner. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994.
Lahey, Michael E. "Narcissa's Love Letters: Illicit Space and the Writing of Female Identity in 'There Was a Queen.'" Faulkner and Gender: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1994. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996. 160-80.
Matthews, John T. "Shortened Stories: Faulkner and the Market." Faulkner and the Short Story: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1990. Ed. Evans Harrington and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992. 3-37.
Petry, Alice Hall. "Double Murder: The Women of Faulkner's 'Elly.'" Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 220-34.
Porter, Carolyn. "Absalom, Absalom!: (Un)Making the Father." The Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner. Ed. Philip M. Weinstein. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 168-96.
Skei, Hans H. William Faulkner: The Short Story Career. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981.

Copyright (c)2004 SUWABE Koichi