Dover Book

Text Box with description of Book

    This is the first book by William Faulkner I have read. According to both this book and Wikipedia, Faulkner is one of the most important American writers, particularly about the south, specifically Mississippi, where he lived most of his life. I suppose I should be embarrassed that I've read none of his books, but I'm not. I've read nearly all the novels of Dostoyevsky and Conrad, and half of Dickens. However, it perhaps would have been helpful if I was familiar with his style. Then I would have had something with which to compare these early works.
    It is a short book, but this won't be a short review, because I actually have quite a bit to say, especially after doing research upon my completion of reading it. First, Carvel Collins must have been an immensely devoted fan of Faulkner. This edition is a reprint of the original, which was published in 1963, in London. It is a collection of poems, reviews, short stories and wonderful artwork done by Faulkner from 1916 to 1925 when he was at the University of Mississippi. Collins painstakingly has collected all these really insignificant works, indexed typographical errors from their original printings in various publications, and at one point, went through a collection that had been in a fire, and salvaged what he could. Oh, my, now that is devotion.
    However, we really do not get a quite realistic impression of Faulkner as a person from this edition. Wikipedia is a bit more blunt. Falkner, which was actually his family name, was a terrible student as a child, and eventually dropped out of high school, never graduating. The only reason he was allowed at the University is because his father worked there as a business manager. He dropped out after three semesters. He was the postmaster at the university post office, but did such a terrible job, he was eventually urged to quit, or perhaps he was fired. Anyways the Wikipedia article cleared up the confusion as to why he was so active at the University when he was not even a student. For instance, Collins states, "The next autumn, when Faulkner again enrolled at the University, he joined at once in formally founding the Marionettes as the University's official dramatic society." He also was "an athlete, and outdoorsman, and a man effectively concerned for the welfare of the young." Collins states that he was a scoutmaster for the Oxford Boy Scout troop.
    The military greatly influenced his writing and artwork. However, Wikipedia has this to say:

Unable to join the United States Army due to his height (he was 5' 5½"), Faulkner enlisted in a reservist unit of the British Army in Toronto. Despite his claims, records indicate that Faulkner was never actually a member of the British Royal Flying Corps and never saw active service during the First World War.

    In any case, it really doesn't matter if his youthful days were a bit less than what many would consider "responsible," the end product turned out quite successful. He received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature and won two Pulitzer Prizes. He was obviously very intelligent, artistic, and creative. And often formal education is not the inspiration for success! Wikipedia also says this:

His family, particularly his mother Maud, his maternal grandmother Lelia Butler, and Caroline "Callie" Barr (the African American nanny who raised him from infancy) crucially influenced the development of Faulkner's artistic imagination. Both his mother and grandmother were avid readers as well as painters and photographers, educating him in visual language. While Murry enjoyed the outdoors and encouraged his sons to hunt, track, and fish, Maud valued education and took pleasure in reading and going to church. She taught her sons to read before sending them to public school and exposed them to classics such as Charles Dickens and Grimms' Fairy Tales.

    Well, that's enough of Wikipedia and background material. Here's a bit about the book itself, then I will share some of the works I liked. And I have to say, these truly were youthful works, but having experience in writing for the little university publications led to him bigger and better. Collins begins with a short Preface that provides an overview of the years covered here, and the various publications that printed his works, and some were in New Orleans. In the next rather lengthy section, Faulkner at the University of Mississippi, Collins details what is going on in Faulkner's life during those years, 1916-25. By the way, Wikipedia provides an anecdote on how the spelling of his surname was changed. Supposedly a careless typesetter misspelled it, and when asked if he wanted it changed, he replied, "Either way suits me."
    I will not go into detail, however on what got published when and where, but instead spend the remainder of this review presenting a few of the works. I am the first to admit that I am pathetically deficient in my knowledge and understanding of poetry. I have been attempting to correct that since I began writing reviews, but I really need to study and research that genre more seriously. So I have to admit, most of these poems I did not particularly understand. And, as I said, they were products of youth, and lacked maturity, and that I did understand! If I were to sum up my impressions of his early writing in general, I would say that he was experimenting, and indeed, even his mature writings were experimental; modernist; symbolist; and even impressionist. He used a lot of French, which I found familiar because several of his poems were rewritings of French poetry that I recognized as pieces that the composer Claude Debussy set to music, and THAT, I am VERY qualified to critique, having spent a great deal of time with the music of Debussy when I was a professional musician.
    But there were other aspects that were annoying, like he was trying too hard to be complex; and clever, symbolic and picturesque, which often resulted in confusion and mixed metaphors when simplicity would have worked much better. And there are mature authors of whom I could, and have made similar comments. Henry James comes to mind.
    The first section reprints the works from this period, which are poems, a couple short stories, and several reviews, plus the really quite wonderful art deco drawings that advertised, for instance the Red and Blue Club, which was a dancing society. Others were just drawings, mostly humorous in nature. The book concludes with a Notes on the Text section which includes when and where each work was published, plus typographical errors in the printed copy. And so I must say that Collins has done quite a thorough job of researching and organizing these works. Here are a few, beginning with my favorite poem, about a man who is reminiscing about the ladies he has loved. I actually understand it. This one was signed W. Falkner, with his name spelled correctly.

Une Ballade Des Femmes Perdues (Published in The Mississippian, January 28, 1920

I sing in the green dusk
Fatuously
Of ladies that I have loved
—Ça ne fait rien! Hélas, vraiment, vraiment

Gay little ghosts of loves in silver sandals
They dance with quick feet on my lute strings
With the abandon of boarding school virgins
While unbidden moths
Amorous of my white seraglio
Call them with soundless love songs
A sort of ethereal seduction

They hear, alas
My women
And brush my lips with little ghostly kisses
Stealing away
Singly, their tiny ardent faces
Like windflowers from some blown garden of dreams
To their love nights among the roses

I am old, and alone
And the star dust from their wings
Has dimmed my eyes
I sing in the green dusk
Of lost ladies—Si vraiment charmant, charmant.

    The other poem I want to include is a "reworking" of a very famous one by Stéphane Mallarmé, which was the basis for one of Debussy's most important and well-known orchestral works, which he later reworked for a ballet, also extremely well-known and at the time very controversial! If you are unfamiliar with this work, please listen to it. It is exquisite! And here is the Joffrey Ballet performing it. Controversial indeed!! It is only twelve minutes long, by the way, and watching the ballet helps to understand the poems.
    First is Faulkner's version, and after that, Mallarmé's original in translation. There is another version of Faulkner printed in the Notes section, which is just a little bit different than when it first appears on page 39-40, and that is the one I am presenting.

L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune

I follow through the singing trees
Her streaming clouded hair and face
And lascivious dreaming knees
Like gleaming water from some place
Of sleeping streams, or autumn leaves
Slow shed through still, love-wearied air.
She pauses; and as one who grieves,
Shakes down her blown and vagrant hair
To veil her face, but not her eyes—
A hot quick spark, each sudden glance,
Or like the wild brown bee that flies
Sweet-winged, a sharp extravagance
Of kisses on my limbs and neck.
She whirls and dances through the trees
That lift and sway like arms and fleck
Her with quick shadows, and the breeze
Lies on her short and circled breast.
Now hand in hand with her I go,
The green night in the silver west
Of virgin stars, pale row on row
Like ghostly hands, and ere she sleep
The dusk will take her by some stream
In silent meadows, dim and deep—
In dreams of stars and dreaming dream.

I have a sudden wish to go
To some far silent midnight moon,
Where lonely streams whisper and flow
And sigh on sands blanched by the moon.
And blond limbed dancers whirling past
The senile worn moon staring through
The sighing trees, until at last
Their hair is powdered bright with dew.
And their sad slow limbs and brows
Are petals drifting with the breeze,
Shed from the fingers of the boughs;
Then suddenly, on all of these
A sound, like some great deep bell stroke
Falls, and they dance, unclad and cold—
It was the earth's great heart that broke
For spring broke before the world grew old.

    And now, here is Mallarmé's original version in translation.

The Faun (or technically The Afternoon of a Faun)

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.
So bright
Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light
In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme
In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true
Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too
Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.
Let's see . . .
Or if those women you note
Reflect your fabulous senses' desire!
Faun, illusion escapes from the blue eye,
Cold, like a fount of tears, of the most chaste:
But the other, she, all sighs, contrasts you say
Like a breeze of day warm on your fleece?
No! Through the swoon, heavy and motionless
Stifling with heat the cool morning's struggles
No water, but that which my flute pours, murmurs
To the grove sprinkled with melodies: and the sole breeze
Out of the twin pipes, quick to breathe
Before it scatters the sound in an arid rain,
Is unstirred by any wrinkle of the horizon,
The visible breath, artificial and serene,
Of inspiration returning to heights unseen.
O Sicilian shores of a marshy calm
My vanity plunders vying with the sun,
Silent beneath scintillating flowers, RELATE
'That I was cutting hollow reeds here tamed
By talent: when, on the green gold of distant
Verdure offering its vine to the fountains,
An animal whiteness undulates to rest:
And as a slow prelude in which the pipes exist
This flight of swans, no, of Naiads cower
Or plunge . . .'

Inert, all things burn in the tawny hour
Not seeing by what art there fled away together
Too much of hymen desired by one who seeks there
The natural A: then I'll wake to the primal fever
Erect, alone, beneath the ancient flood, light's power,
Lily! And the one among you all for artlessness.
Other than this sweet nothing shown by their lip, the kiss
That softly gives assurance of treachery,
My breast, virgin of proof, reveals the mystery
Of the bite from some illustrious tooth planted;
Let that go! Such the arcane chose for confidant,
The great twin reed we play under the azure ceiling,
That turning towards itself the cheek's quivering,
Dreams, in a long solo, so we might amuse
The beauties round about by false notes that confuse
Between itself and our credulous singing;
And create as far as love can, modulating,
The vanishing, from the common dream of pure flank
Or back followed by my shuttered glances,
Of a sonorous, empty and monotonous line.
Try then, instrument of flights, O malign
Syrinx by the lake where you await me, to flower again!
I, proud of my murmur, intend to speak at length
Of goddesses: and with idolatrous paintings
Remove again from shadow their waists' bindings:
So that when I've sucked the grapes' brightness
To banish a regret done away with by my pretence,
Laughing, I raise the emptied stem to the summer's sky
And breathing into those luminous skins, then I,
Desiring drunkenness, gaze through them till evening.
O nymphs, let's rise again with many memories.
'My eye, piercing the reeds, speared each immortal
Neck that drowns its burning in the water
With a cry of rage towards the forest sky;
And the splendid bath of hair slipped by
In brightness and shuddering, O jewels!
I rush there: when, at my feet, entwine (bruised
By the languor tasted in their being-two's evil)
Girls sleeping in each other's arms' sole peril:
I seize them without untangling them and run
To this bank of roses wasting in the sun
All perfume, hated by the frivolous shade
Where our frolic should be like a vanished day

I adore you, wrath of virgins, O shy
Delight of the nude sacred burden that glides
Away to flee my fiery lip, drinking
The secret terrors of the flesh like quivering
Lightning: from the feet of the heartless one
To the heart of the timid, in a moment abandoned
By innocence wet with wild tears or less sad vapours.
'Happy at conquering these treacherous fears
My crime's to have parted the dishevelled tangle
Of kisses that the gods kept so well mingled:
For I'd scarcely begun to hide an ardent laugh
In one girl's happy depths (holding back
With only a finger, so that her feathery candour
Might be tinted by the passion of her burning sister,
The little one, naïve and not even blushing)
Than from my arms, undone by vague dying,
This prey, forever ungrateful, frees itself and is gone,
Not pitying the sob with which I was still drunk.

No matter! Others will lead me towards happiness
By the horns on my brow knotted with many a tress:
You know, my passion, how ripe and purple already
Every pomegranate bursts, murmuring with the bees:
And our blood, enamoured of what will seize it,
Flows for all the eternal swarm of desire yet.
At the hour when this wood with gold and ashes heaves
A feast's excited among the extinguished leaves:
Etna! It's on your slopes, visited by Venus
Setting in your lava her heels so artless,
When a sad slumber thunders where the flame burns low.
I hold the queen!
O certain punishment . . .
No, but the soul
Void of words, and this heavy body,
Succumb to noon's proud silence slowly:
With no more ado, forgetting blasphemy,
Must sleep, lying on the thirsty sand, and as I
Love, open my mouth to wine's true constellation!
Farewell to you, both: I go to see the shadow you have become.

    Well that's enough poetry. There are two short stories included here. The first is humorous and the second is rather sad and futile. We'll go with the first, Landing in Luck. It is about Cadet Thompson, who is a really bad pilot. His instructor is about ready to boot him out and he's about ready to kill his instructor. But nevertheless, he has had enough hours of training to supposedly enable him to fly solo, so his instructor sends him up. His take-off is terrible and he, without knowing, breaks off his landing wheel on the cable that he struck upon take-off. Not only that but he runs out of fuel. But somehow, he is lucky enough to land the plane safely, and his instructor thinks it is due to skill. He does nothing to contradict that opinion!
    There are quite a few reviews here, also, and as I mentioned above, it seems that Faulkner put too much effort into attempting to be clever, where simplicity would have worked better. There is such a thing as clever simplicity. I do know that, 'cuz I used to be the Arts and Entertainment writer for the Youngstown Vindicator. Faulkner reviewed some people who became famous, too. such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, an American poet and playwright who also won a Pulitzer Prize, and Eugene O'Neill, who became one of the most renowned American playwrights of the early twentieth-century. But it was his commentary on Mark Twain that made me laugh! (He later changed his opinion!!) I think the fact that Twain wrote about the Mississippi and got the spotlight might have irritated Faulkner.

We have, in America, an inexhaustible fund of dramatic material. Two sources occur to anyone: the old Mississippi river days, and the romantic growth of railroads. And yet, when the Mississippi is mentioned, Mark Twain alone comes to mind: a hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven "sure fire" literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

    Hahahahaha!!! Oh, my. And on that, I will end the verbal part of this review. As I mentioned earlier, I love his artworks, so I will share a few of those.
    The first one, is described in the "Notes" section as a drawing of two men and a woman standing before a checkerboard background: Ole Miss, 1917-1918, introducing a section of "Social Activities."
    The second one is a drawing of sailor, soldier, and airman above the caption, "FISH, FLESH, FOWL": Ole Miss 1920-1921 on a page listing members of the University's post of the American Legion. Faulkner went through a phase, hopefully short, of drawing his "S"s backwards, which you also see in the illustrated poem below. And I apologize that the writing from the next page shows through the image, but remember these are Dover Thrift Editions, and cheap paper makes them thriftier.

A drawing of sailor, soldier, and airman above the caption, "FISH, FLESH, FOWL".

A drawing of two men and a woman standing before a checkerboard background.

    This next one is a drawing of three women boarding a streetcar while two men watch: The Scream, May 1925.
    And last is the decorated poem Nocturne, which is another that probably was originally French, that Debussy set to music.

The decorated poem, Nocturne.

A drawing of three women boarding a streetcar while two men watch.

    In all, I found some very interesting material here, more so than I thought I would. I think it was the connection to familiar things that did it, because, as I said above, I was really quite unfamiliar with Faulkner. But I have downloaded some books by him, and will begin to change that!

baghlc

All material on this site copyright © 2020 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.