Skip to Main Content
Faulkner at 100

Faulkner at 100: Retrospect and Prospect

André Bleikasten
Joseph Blotner
Larry Brown
Thadious M. Davis
Susan V. Donaldson
Doreen Fowler
Duncan M. Gray
Minrose C. Gwin
Robert W. Hamblin
W. Kenneth Holditch
Lothar Hönnighausen
Richard Howorth
John T. Irwin
Donald M. Kartiganer
Robert C. Khayat
Arthur F. Kinney
Thomas L. McHaney
John T. Matthews
Michael Millgate
David Minter
Richard C. Moreland
Gail Mortimer
Albert Murray
Noel Polk
Carolyn Porter
Hans H. Skei
Judith L. Sensibar
Warwick Wadlington
Philip M. Weinstein
Judith Bryant Wittenberg
Karl F. Zender
Copyright Date: 2000
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Faulkner at 100
    Book Description:

    Essays in centennial celebration of William Faulkner and his achievement

    With essays and commentaries by André Bleikasten, Joseph Blotner, Larry Brown, Thadious M. Davis, Susan V. Donaldson, Doreen Fowler, The Reverend Duncan M. Gray, Jr., Minrose C. Gwin, Robert W. Hamblin, W. Kenneth Holditch, Lothar Hönnighausen, Richard Howorth, John T. Irwin, Donald M. Kartiganer, Robert C. Khayat, Arthur F. Kinney, Thomas L. McHaney, John T. Matthews, Michael Millgate, David Minter, Richard C. Moreland, Gail Mortimer, Albert Murray, Noel Polk, Carolyn Porter, Hans H. Skei, Judith L. Sensibar, Warwick Wadlington, Philip M. Weinstein, Judith Bryant Wittenberg, and Karl F. Zender

    William Faulkner was born September 25, 1897. In honor of his centenary the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference of 1997 brought together twenty-five of the most important Faulkner scholars to examine the achievement of this writer generally regarded as the finest American novelist of the twentieth century.

    The panel discussions and essays that make upFaulkner at 100: Retrospect and Prospectprovide a comprehensive account of the man and his work, including discussions of his life, the shape of his career, and his place in American literature, as well as fresh readings of such novels as TheSound and the Fury,Sanctuary,Absalom, Absalom!,If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, andGo Down, Moses.

    Spanning the full range of critical approaches, the essays address such issues as Faulkner's use of African American dialect as a form of both appropriation and repudiation, his frequent emphasis on the strength of heterosexual desire over actual possession, the significance of his incessant role-playing, and the surprising scope of his reading. Of special interest are the views of Albert Murray, the African American novelist and cultural critic. He tells of reading Faulkner in the 1930s while a student at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

    What emerges from this commemorative volume is a plural Faulkner, a writer of different value and meaning to different readers, a writer still challenging readers to accommodate their highly varied approaches to what André Bleikasten calls Faulkner's abiding "singularity."

    At the University of Mississippi Donald M. Kartiganer fills the William Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies in the department of English and Ann J. Abadie is associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-029-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Evans Harrington
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. In Place of an Introduction: Reading Faulkner
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
    Donald M. Kartiganer

    Two images, Centennially inspired:

    Faulkner in the fall of 1928. Lean, stiff-backed, dark-haired, dark-mustached, with a manner at once courteous and cocky, the arrogance of absolute confidence, crossing the cool October morning streets of Greenwich Village, carrying the typescript of a novel he has finished revising the day before—perhaps thinking, as he would later write, “I wont have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all,” even as he is convinced that he has created “something to which the shabby term Art not only can, but must, be applied.” He walks into the apartment of Ben...

  5. A Note on the Conference
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  6. A Note on the Faulkner Centennial
    (pp. xxix-xxxii)
  7. Some Brief Recollections of Then—for Now
    (pp. 1-5)
    Joseph Blotner

    First I must thank Don Kartiganer and Ann Abadie for permitting me to insert myself into the proceedings belatedly, and for this I offer explanation. A year ago, when Don had very kindly reminded me of the opportunity to submit a paper I replied, too hastily, that I was so pressed with the completion of work on Robert Penn Warren and with other concerns that I thought I had better decline. Then, about a month ago, with those concerns long since met, I began to confront something that had begun to nag at the fringes of my consciousness. More than...

  8. Who Was William Faulkner?

    • Growing Up in Faulkner’s Shadow
      (pp. 6-11)
      W. Kenneth Holditch

      Who was Faulkner? A challenging question indeed, and it is one with which the participants in this conference have been struggling one way or another for twenty-four years. My response to that query makes me feel—to paraphrase an old and humorous description of North Carolina—somewhat like a valley of humility among these towering examples of Faulknerian erudition that are gathered here this week.

      My primary research has not been in Faulkner, but in other Southern authors—Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole, for example—for I was early steered rather forcefully away from Faulkner scholarship, for reasons that...

    • Faulkner, the Role-Player
      (pp. 12-17)
      Lothar Hönnighausen

      The rediscovery of Friedrich Nietzsche by Jacques Derrida is one of the characteristic manifestations of the spirit of our times, as is Tom Whalen’s enjoyment of writing as a putting on of masks. In fact, the pronouncement of the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, as transmitted through the deconstructive spirit of Jacques Derrida, and the casual remark of the contemporary American poet Tom Whalen on a writer’s pleasure in role-playing mark the wide range of our theme of Faulkner as role-player. It contains cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic aspects, centering on “masks and metaphors” and comprising the sociopsychic implications of Faulkner’s personae...

    • Was Not Was Not Who Since Philoprogenitive
      (pp. 18-25)
      Noel Polk

      One approaches such occasions as these, especially such a topic as this one—who indeed was Faulkner?—with lots of misgivings and misprisions. It is a topic at once both too broad and too specific and, more problematically, it calls for comment at one end or the other of the scale: either broad sweeping statements so general as to be banal and meaningless, or comments so particular as to be clinical and soulless. The topic allows for little in between, certainly not in the twenty minutes I’ve been allotted.

      Who was Faulkner? We’ve spent sixty collective years trying to figure...

  9. Defining Moment: The Portable Faulkner Revisited
    (pp. 26-44)
    Michael Millgate

    It is a privilege to be giving the opening lecture on this auspicious occasion and before this impressive audience. I had almost said, with standard oratorical redundancy, a proud privilege, were it not for the dark suspicion that my position on the program reflects my having been cast in the Dickensian role of the Spirit of Criticism Past, speaking, as Faulkner once put it, in a language you do not even need to not understand. If the theme of the conference is Prospect and Retrospect, I represent Retrospect. After this evening you will have Prospect all before you. On previous...

  10. Why Faulkner?

    • “A Sight-Draft Dated Yesterday”: Faulkner’s Uninsured Immortality
      (pp. 45-52)
      Philip M. Weinstein

      “Breathing is a sight-draft dated yesterday,” says Will Varner inThe Hamlet.¹ Webster defines a “sight draft” as a “draft payable upon presentation”; Varner is talking about the unpredictable moment of one’s own death. He figures our uninsured breathing as a check already signed, a resource the gods have issued and can recall at any moment as of “yesterday.” Mere “presentation”—or being in the present—threatens us utterly. I choose this passage in order to focus ontemporalityin three ways: as a central issue of this conference (Faulkner at 100), as a driving concern of modernism itself and...

    • Faulkner’s Playful Bestiary: Seeing Gender through Ovidian Eyes
      (pp. 53-59)
      Gail Mortimer

      Reading Faulkner is such an unquestioned and basic part of my life that it has undoubtedly been beneficial to me to be asked regularly, as my students do, why we are reading him. A woman, a Yankee, and a feminist, I am, at least in their view, an odd person to be fascinated with this Southerner whose fictive characters are so often eccentric or tormented, or both, and whose imagined world seems to them at times surreal. At first I have answered them by talking about my appreciation for Faulkner’s understanding of the possibilities of language, his exploration of its...

    • Faulkner’s Continuing Education: From Self-Reflection to Embarrassment
      (pp. 60-69)
      Richard C. Moreland

      The most common measure of Faulkner’s importance has been his probing literary critique of modern life, although the interpretation of that critique has changed and differed as his readers have. His formal and psychological experiments and their setting in a large social and historical context have made modern life in his fiction seem profoundly and pervasively unfamiliar, unstable, unworkable, arbitrary, outrageous. His writing questions the way we most conventionally perceive, think, write, speak, and act. It unsettles prevailing assumptions about time, space, language, loss, the self, the family, gender, culture, and history. The irony of his critique seems to cut...

  11. Whose America? Faulkner, Modernism, and National Identity
    (pp. 70-92)
    John T. Matthews

    A deracinated Quentin Compson drifts throughThe Sound and the Fury, no longer a Southerner, since the South he knows belongs to the past, and not yet a modern American, to whom regions hardly matter.¹ At moments, his usual gloom over the loss of place flares into the kind of social resentment more characteristic of his brother Jason. Quentin jokes bitterly, for example, that the ultimate consequence of ending Southern slavery is that blacks like Deacon, unlike “whitefolks,” no longer have to work for a living.² Elsewhere he notes nastily that he can hear Julio, his immigrant accuser, “scratching himself”...

  12. The Career of William Faulkner

    • “Faulkner before Faulkner”: The Early Career as a Construction in Retrospect
      (pp. 93-99)
      Hans H. Skei

      The early years of William Faulkner’s literary career would be of little or no interest if they were not followed by the major years. It is inevitable and understandable that much energy has been devoted to an examination of the apprenticeship period in relation to the great novels and stories. It is valid and worthwhile to study the texts Faulkner wrote beforeThe Sound and the Fury, but one does not have to look for signs of the later genius in any and all texts, and one should not expect regular and continuous growth from text to text or causal...

    • Absalom, Absalom! and the Challenges of Career Design
      (pp. 100-108)
      Judith Bryant Wittenberg

      In 1956, in a prelude to his now excessively quoted statement about finding his “own little postage-stamp of native soil” and learning to sublimate “the actual into [the] apocryphal,” Faulkner told Jean Stein that, after completing his first novel,Soldiers’ Pay, he discovered “that 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” and that he thus went on to create “a cosmos of my own.”¹ Faulkner’s late-life affirmation of the need for careful planning of individual novels is intriguing, given the limited evidence that...

    • Faulkner’s Career: Concept and Practice
      (pp. 109-119)
      Karl F. Zender

      What do we mean when we speak of a writer’s career? I first became aware of this question as an issue for contemplation some twenty years ago, when reading Gary Lee Stonum’sFaulkner’s Career: An Internal Literary History. “Does the term [career],” Stonum asks, “actually name some phenomenon that may become a specific object of study?” In common usage, the answer seems to be no. “Modern criticism,” Stonum says, “employs the word ‘career’ regularly and innocuously, but only rarely asks what is meant in saying that writers have such things. In fact, the term does not usually designate a concept...

  13. Faulkner’s Grim Sires
    (pp. 120-131)
    Carolyn Porter

    I have been at work for some time on a manuscript whose working title is “Grim Sires and Spectral Mothers: The Family in Faulkner.” I am trying to comprehend the unfolding problematic of gender in Faulkner’s work fromThe Sound and the FurythroughGo Down, Moses, understanding “gender” not only as the cultural institutionalization of sexual difference, but further, and alongside race and class, as a major historical predicate for both social power and cultural dysfunction. The story has led me up to and intoAbsalom, Absalom!, from whence I still hope someday to emerge—no doubt grim, and...

  14. Faulkner and America

    • Reading the Absences: Race and Narration in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!
      (pp. 132-139)
      Doreen Fowler

      The African American, Quentin Compson observes, is “a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among.”¹ With startling candor, Quentin names the object status that Euro-Americans have conferred on African Americans. African Americans, Quentin says, have been assigned the role of facing a mirror in which a white can locate a self-image. Black has been constructed as what white is not, the other that makes possible the normative. From Quentin’s mirror-image we can infer that the African American is denied the subject position and relegated to the shadowy role of marginalized other.

      InPlaying in the Dark,...

    • The Strange, Double-Edged Gift of Faulkner’s Fiction
      (pp. 140-153)
      David Minter

      In this brief essay, I want to focus on two scenes from Faulkner’s fiction, one fromAbsalom, Absalom!(1936), and one fromSanctuary(1931), hoping that we can revisit them with eyes slightly altered by two quotations, one from M. M. Bakhtin’sThe Dialogic Imagination(1981), the other from W. H. Auden’sThe Dyer’s Hand(1962). The statement from Bakhtin deals with the dynamic relations that define and situate literary texts:

      we may call this world the world thatcreatesthe text, for all its aspects—the reality reflected in the text, the authors creating the text, the performers of...

    • Not the Having but the Wanting: Faulkner’s Lost Loves
      (pp. 154-164)
      John T. Irwin

      Let me speak for a moment about a recurring aspect of Faulkner’s life and art, namely, his affinity for a type of romantic attachment best characterized as “troubadouresque,” an attachment in which the love object is idealized and often unattainable, or is ultimately denied to the lover (because he is rejected), an amorous involvement in which the lover’s devotion is absolute, the measure of his love the suffering it causes, and the ultimate form of this love a consummation that is death, aLiebestod. Critics have pointed out the influence of the Decadent poets (especially Swinburne), of Walter Pater, and...

  15. Race Cards: Trumping and Troping in Constructing Whiteness
    (pp. 165-179)
    Thadious M. Davis

    For many years, I resisted what seemed to be mandatory attention toGo Down, Mosesfor Faulkner scholars who addressed issues of race. My sense of that text was that its overwhelmingly self-conscious sermonizing and cobbling together of disparate parts made it somewhat suspect and clearly problematic. I valued the text precisely because of its instability, permutations, uncertainties, and fissures, basically for its modernist aesthetic and intellectual stance, so none of the claims for unity or coherence ever seemed compelling to me, but beyond that, as a reader with a particular social identity (black, female, Southern), I found the representation...

  16. Untapped Faulkner

    • What Faulkner Read at the P. O.
      (pp. 180-187)
      Thomas L. McHaney

      Chief among the matters Faulknerian that remain untapped is his intellectual life, especially the development of Faulkner’s mind as he made his way into the culture of writing. This is difficult, if not impossible, to document with precision, but what I would recommend is closer looks at the general intellectual ambience during short periods of his life that we suspect were particularly stimulating: the years 1914 to 1918, when the World War and the initial tutelage of Phil Stone were both extremely important; the months in New Haven in 1918; the months in Toronto in 1918–1919; the initial postwar...

    • Faulkner and Love: The Question of Collaboration
      (pp. 188-194)
      Judith L. Sensibar

      Today I will talk about work in progress. This summer I’ve been revising some chapters of my book project, “Faulkner and Love: A Family Narrative.” This paper is about the process of trying to piece together the complicated intellectual and emotional relationship that existed between Estelle Oldham and William Faulkner during one of the most crucial periods in Faulkner’s imaginative development, the years 1921–25. An essay drawn from these chapters and focusing on one of Oldham’s short stories and the story itself, which is called “Star-Spangled Banner Stuff,” will be published inProspects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies...

    • Faulkner’s Other Others
      (pp. 195-203)
      Arthur F. Kinney

      “The Indians are the neglected people in Faulkner,” Lewis M. Dabney wrote in 1974. “They are the first phase of his Yoknapatawpha legend, the point of departure of his novels, and they have even been called his most successful creations, yet their world has never been explored.”¹ This is still largely true, although Indian mounds, still scattered around northeastern Mississippi, appear inIf I forget thee, Jerusalemand are important features in “Gold Is Not Always” andGo Down, Moses; they are discussed in Calvin S. Brown’s book onArchaeology of Mississippi, a book that Faulkner owned. Occasionally Faulkner’s knowledge...

  17. Faulkner in the Singular
    (pp. 204-218)
    André Bleikasten

    Most of the twentieth-century writers whom we have come to value as major figures were somehow ahead of their time. And even now, after their work has at last found an attentive audience and won public recognition and respect, they manage to be still a step ahead of any attempt to trip them up or pin them down, having accumulated enough potential to keep critics busy for generations, if not for centuries. “We are still learning to be Joyce’s contemporaries,” wrote Richard Ellman at the beginning of his biography. In much the same way, we are still learning to be...

  18. Response

    • Whose Faulkner Is It Anyway?
      (pp. 219-225)
      Susan V. Donaldson

      We’ve titled our collective response to the conversation held in Oxford commemorating Faulkner’s 100th birthday “Whose Faulkner Is It Anyway?” And we’ve done so precisely because that conversation is as much about ourselves as readers of Faulkner and about the politics and pleasures of reading Faulkner as it is about the work and multiple personae of the master himself. We are all, as Noel Polk suggests, only half-humorously, latter-day Chaucerian pilgrims “telling each other tales that we pretend are about Faulkner when they are mostly about ourselves—whoweare, where we come from, what we believe, what we seek,...

    • Whose Faulkner?
      (pp. 226-230)
      Minrose C. Gwin

      [I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block this week. Maybe it’s the enormity of the task, not to speak of a growing sense of Faulknerian doom—the paralyzing knowledge that anything I may say here will be by its very nature hopelessly inadequate, both to the auspiciousness of the occasion and the rich proliferation of the ideas we’ve heard this week. I’ve had several suggestions from my esteemed colleagues for my part of this response panel. These range from “What can you say but: ‘They came, they gave papers, they left,’ ” to “maybe you should have written something...

    • A Response in Forbidden Words
      (pp. 231-237)
      Warwick Wadlington

      [What follows is a transcription of my response, made from a few notes, to the preceding conference papers. To preserve one participant’s spoken reactions at the moment, I have resisted the later temptation to add to or subtract from the substance of what I said on the occasion. I have edited the transcript only to reduce repetitousness and side remarks to the other panelists, to rephrase here and there for greater clarity, and to add a clarifying summational sentence to a paragraph and brief transitions elsewhere.]

      In conclusion …

      Had you going there for a minute, right? That’s our favorite...

  19. Me and Old Uncle Billy and the American Mythosphere
    (pp. 238-249)
    Albert Murray

    There was nothing at all avuncular about the impression he made on me when I began reading William Faulkner during the first term of my freshman year at Tuskegee in the fall of 1935. At that time he, along with Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce, and also such poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Archibald McLeish, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and such playwrights as Eugene O’Neill, Maxwell Anderson, Robert E. Sherwood, and Clifford Odets of Broadway, and William Butler Yeats and John Middington Synge of the...

  20. Coda

    • William Faulkner Centennial Celebration The University of Mississippi Fulton Chapel September 25, 1997 2:00 p.m. PROGRAM
      (pp. 250-252)
    • Welcome
      (pp. 253-254)
      Robert C. Khayat

      It is a great pleasure to welcome you today. Please join me in thanking the Oxford Piano Quartet for their beautiful music.

      Please welcome our platform party….

      It is humbling to celebrate William Faulkner’s one hundredth birthday. He is so much a part of this University and this community. However, today gives us an opportunity to be even more reflective of his impact on us, our literature, and the world.

      In his Nobel Prize Award Speech in 1950, Mr. Faulkner stated that the prize was not being given to him but to his work. Today, we pay homage to him—...

    • A Eulogy for Faulkner
      (pp. 255-260)
      Duncan M. Gray Jr.

      It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of this one hundredth birthday celebration of a man whose writings have meant so much to me over the years and whom I was privileged to know during the last five years of his life. As many of you know, I served as Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church here in Oxford from the fall of 1957 until the fall of 1965, and this was the parish church with which the Faulkner family was affiliated. I officiated at the funeral of Mr. Faulkner’s mother, Maud Butler Falkner, and...

    • “He Was Writing”
      (pp. 261-263)
      Donald M. Kartiganer

      Sherwood Anderson once said to Faulkner: “You’ve too much talent. You can do it too easy, in too many different ways. If you’re not careful, you’ll never write anything.” As we look back now on Faulkner’s life and career, it is abundantly clear that indeed he had talent, enormous talent, and that he could realize it in many different ways. He might have done it “easy”—as Anderson shrewdly warned him—but instead he became one of the most daring, most innovative writers of his time, in virtually every novel trying something new, something he had not done before, often...

    • For Literature, for Faulkner
      (pp. 264-266)
      Richard Howorth

      In the process of preparing the commemorative booklet I hope you received when you came in, and in thinking about what on earth I might say here today, I’ve done a bit of research, a good deal of ruminating, on William Faulkner, his books, his life here in our town, the life of our town, the life of the bookstore, and how—regarding William Faulkner—those things and perspective about those things, have grown, changed, affected each other, and so on.

      It’s complicated, and fortunately for you there isn’t time here for me to fully expound on all that.


    • A Tribute to William Faulkner
      (pp. 267-271)
      Larry Brown

      A long time ago when I was a boy, I was an avid reader of “boy and dog” stories likeGoodbye My Ladyby James Street,Old Yellerby Fred Gipson,Where the Red Fern Growsby Wilson Rawls, andStormy, by Jim Kjelgaard. I had dogs of my own and when I wasn’t in school I prowled the river bottoms and wooded ridges around Tula, the vast hardwood forests known by their names almost like people: the Big W, London Hill, Round Station, Old Dallas, the Crocker Woods. There were little sand roads that curved through these holdings of...

    • “Like a Big Soft Fading Wheel”: The Triumph of Faulkner’s Art
      (pp. 272-284)
      Robert W. Hamblin

      Upon the occasion of his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm in 1950, William Faulkner responded with a speech which is now generally acknowledged to be the best (certainly it is the most famous) ever given by a Nobel recipient. In the memorable phrasing of that speech Faulkner celebrated both finished works of art and the artists who craft them, calling attention to artistic achievement that is made even more impressive and ennobling because it is produced through “anguish and travail,” “in the agony and sweat of the human spirit.” Few in Faulkner’s 1950 audience could know how...

    • Faulkner Centennial Celebrations
      (pp. 285-288)

      The centennial of William Faulkner’s birth on September 25, 1987, in New Albany, Mississippi, was celebrated throughout the world. A sampling of events follows.

      Oxford, Mississippi—January 9, 1997

      Square Books sponsored the first observance of the year with a program of readings on the occasion of the publication ofWilliam Faulkner and the Tangible Past: The Architecture of Yoknapatawphaby Thomas S. Hines. The author, a noted architectural historian, talked about Faulkner’s buildings during a program that also included readings of relevant passages from the fiction of Yoknapatawpha.

      Ashland, Virginia—March 3–6

      Randolph-Macon College’s “The Achievement of William...

  21. Contributors
    (pp. 289-294)
  22. Index
    (pp. 295-299)