One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner - Jay Parini (2005)

Chapter 11. In His Time

A New Life

What I expected seems to have happened. I have run dry, I mean about the writing.

—Faulkner to Joan Williams,
December 31, 1952

The idea had been for Faulkner to arrive in Cambridge in October for two weeks of rewriting Requiem for a Nun with Albert Marre, the young director and friend of Ruth Ford. Rehearsals would begin in November, with the play opening at the Harvard Veterans’ Theater on January 10. Faulkner gamely settled into a suite at the Hotel Continental, a block from Harvard Square, not far from the spot where Quentin Compson had lost his sanity in The Sound and the Fury. The duo worked in Faulkner’s suite, with Marre blocking out scenes, trying to imagine how they might go. Faulkner listened intently and would often dictate dialogue, which Marre typed rapidly in his two-fingered style. Sometimes Faulkner wrote five or six pages of dialogue himself by hand in the early morning and presented it to Marre, who would rethink it. The work did not, however, go smoothly. Faulkner grew increasingly depressed by the obvious weakness of the script, which didn’t yield the sort of drama that a stage play requires. Faulkner sensed Marre’s disappointment as well, making the working sessions increasingly strained. Only a brief visit from Jill lifted Faulkner’s spirits.

Annoyed by their lack of progress, Faulkner thought of ditching the play and writing a comedy set in a Memphis whorehouse, but this went nowhere. As might be expected, frustration led to increased drinking, and Marre was quite stunned to see Faulkner with a whiskey bottle at 7:30 A.M., downing shots. Faulkner managed to stay fairly sober through the morning, but by the afternoon he was “swacked,” said Marre, who had never seen anyone consume alcohol in this quantity, day after day. One afternoon, Thornton Wilder (at Marre’s suggestion) turned up at the hotel suite, but Faulkner showed little interest in talking to him even when Wilder began to talk about how much he admired his work. Compliments turned the switch in Faulkner’s brain to off, and he behaved rudely, upsetting Wilder, who wrote plaintively to Marre a couple of days later; “Why did he hate me?”

Faulkner was just being defensive. He could not bear hearing his works discussed in any fashion. It was almost as though he preferred to have no readers, or invisible readers; the work existed for him alone, and readers were invaders of his privacy. There was also a sense of competition at work here: Faulkner pretended to Marre that he had never heard of Wilder, who by this time had written The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), a Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction, and Our Town (1938), which won a Pulitzer in drama. In truth, Wilder was infinitely more popular than Faulkner with American readers and had succeeded brilliantly in the theater, which at the moment may have struck Faulkner as something he had not done. He was in Cambridge trying to remedy this situation, and failing badly.

Another major award came his way at this time: the French Legion of Honor. Something of a Francophile, Faulkner agreed to accept the medal in person at the consulate in New Orleans. At the same time, plans were going forward for the rehearsals of Requiem for a Nun at the Brattle Theater. The intention was to stage the play in Boston, fix any problems with the script, then move to Broadway in February. This was a familiar procedure for plays, but the script simply was not coming along at a speed that would have made such a production schedule possible. Faulkner dashed to New Orleans, received the French award with Estelle and Miss Maud in attendance, then flew back to Boston. By early December, the play existed in very rough outline, though Faulkner knew it didn’t work. He also sensed that it would never be mounted at this time, in this form.

He was relieved to get home, and Christmas was made livelier by the presence of Jill and a friend she had brought home from Pine Manor. Faulkner had decided to return to A Fable in the New Year and to push through to the end of it, though Albert Marre came down to Oxford after Christmas to spend a few more days trying to wrestle with the Requiem for a Nun script. Plans for the play seemed only to become more and more entangled, with the likeliest venue for the drama now being Paris, where the French government would hold a festival in the spring. The problem was money: Faulkner would apparently have to pony up fifteen thousand dollars for the production, and he thought this would play havoc with his finances. Saxe Commins, shrewdly, advised against making such an investment in the play, and Marre agreed to look elsewhere for backing.

Work on A Fable began slowly. “Am at work on big book again,” he told Joan on January 20, 1952.1 He started by rereading everything he had written thus far, trying to assess where he was, what needed to be done. A couple of weeks later, he sent her a touching little poem:

From an Old Man to Himself

You have seen music, heard

Grave and windless bells? Your air

Has verities of vernal leaf and bird?

Well, let this fade; it will, and must, nor grieve:

You can always dream, and she’ll be fair.

It was signed: “Bill he wrote it.”2

One of the books Faulkner was reading at this time was The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, which he called “one of the best, most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language.”3 The complexities of a difficult love affair, so beautifully rendered by Greene, chimed with Faulkner’s own situation in life. Graham Greene himself valued Faulkner above all other contemporary American writers: “I read Faulkner avidly for many years, and liked almost everything. He was so inventive and strange,” said Greene in 1988. “I don’t think any other American of the same period compares in range or quality.”4

Faulkner wrote to Joan again in March, telling her about the difficulties with financial backing for the play. His tone was extremely intimate, abandoning the formalities of syntax and punctuation, letting his feelings course freely through the tip of his pen: “Joan, Joan, Joan, you sweet pretty I think easily of all the things to say to you, that perhaps no man ever said to a girl before, but when I try to say them this way, the damned machine the paper the postage the distance, the 80 miles, get in the way of it. My pretty love my sweet love my sweet. Here is a violet with a little star in it.”5 A month later, he wrote: “I am leading a dull, busy, purely physical life these days, farming and training a colt and working every day with a jumping horse over hurdles, a long time now since I have anguished over pretty words together, as though I had forgotten that form of anguishment. Which probably means that I am getting ready, storing up energy or whatever you want to call it, to start again.”6

The spring of 1952 wasn’t a writing time, with the prospect of another visit to Paris on the horizon, as Faulkner had been invited by the U.S. government to attend a high-profile Congress for Cultural Freedom. He would use that visit to rendezvous at his hotel with Else Jonsson. Most days in March and April Faulkner’s “dull, busy, purely physical life” began in the morning on horseback. Indeed, one morning in the woods he was tossed from his horse, injuring his back rather badly for the second time in two months. He quelled the pain, as usual, with doses of whiskey. He would drive over to Greenfield Farm by midday, where he supervised the planting of crops for this year and looked over accounts. Weekends were spent at Sardis Reservoir on the Ring Dove.

On May 15, Faulkner was driven to Cleveland to address a large conference at the Delta State Teachers College. He spoke to a large crowd in the Whitfield Gymnasium, playing the role of Lafayette County farmer to the hilt. His speech was notably political, arguing that it was “the duty of a man, the individual, each individual, every individual, to be responsible for the consequences of his own acts, to pay his own score, owing nothing to any man.”7 His politics moved in the direction of libertarian individualism, with a strong distaste for any kind of federal intervention. He praised “courage and endurance,” much as he had done in Stockholm. In this, his politics mirrored that of many middle-class Southerners, then and now. The New Deal had never appealed to him, and under the administration of Harry S. Truman, it appealed even less. Faulkner declined the four hundred dollars offered for the speech, suggesting instead that the organizers send a few bottles of good whiskey to Rowan Oak.

The next day Faulkner left for Paris and the international congress of writers that he had agreed to address. In the city of light, there was a good deal of anticipation for his visit. “In those days, French intellectuals sided with either Hemingway or Faulkner. Increasingly, they had shifted their allegiance to Faulkner. He was the most revered, the most deeply admired, of all American writers, and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of him,” recalls Ellen Adler. “I remember how Faulkner singled me out, stood close to me, and said, ‘Where did you get those impish eyes?’”8 As ever, he had an eye for beautiful younger women.

At the conference itself, he joined a cadre of other writers, including Robert Lowell, W. H. Auden, Katherine Anne Porter, and André Malraux. He also hoped to make some progress on his play, although the chance of getting it produced in Paris remained slim, even though Marre and the producer Lem Ayers had, with others, raised twenty thousand dollars. It soon, however, became obvious to Faulkner that the play was not going to happen. Yet he had another compensation for the journey: Else was there. She and Faulkner visited with Monique Salomon and her family, and Faulkner enjoyed trying out his French, which Marre once described as “fluent,” although “his accent was rotten.” Everything seemed to be going well enough, though because of continuing back pain and anxiety about the upcoming congress, Faulkner drank heavily and—if the letter that follows by W. H. Auden reflects the truth—he behaved badly at times.

The congress (partially funded by the CIA) was a strange event, drawing a large crowd of Parisian intellectuals. Auden recorded Faulkner’s peculiar behavior in Paris and the reaction to him in a letter home:

We had a most anxious time with [Faulkner] because he went into a bout on his arrival, shut up in his hotel room throwing furniture out the windows and bottles at the ladies and saying the most dreadful things about coons. However we managed to get him sober and onto the platform on the last day to say that the Americans had behaved badly but that he hoped they would behave better in the future and sat down. Malraux looked and spoke rather like Hitler but the public loved it. I was the first speaker at that meeting and as I rose a shower of pamphlets descended from the gallery. Naturally I thought it was the Commies starting up, but it turned out to be les lettristes accusing Malraux of being a sous-Gide and Faulkner of being a sous-Joyce.9

Despite the already injured back, Faulkner went for a ride on horseback and, once again, fell off. (One can only speculate about this, but it certainly appears as though he had some unconscious wish to injure himself, perhaps as a form of self-restraint. If he was hurt, nobody could blame him for drinking, for behaving badly.) This fall added insult to injury, quite literally. To alleviate the pain, he resorted to imbibing alcohol in massive doses. Monique Salomon realized that Faulkner was in bad shape and insisted that he get an X-ray, which revealed compression fractures in several vertebrae. Arthritic problems also showed in the X-rays. Faulkner was hospitalized and surgery was recommended, but he soon checked himself out and fled to England, feeling trapped by the whole situation in Paris: Else, the congress, the unproduced play, Monique, the fall, the back pain, the alcohol. But England didn’t help matters, though he enjoyed a long afternoon in the Kentish countryside with Harold Raymond, who planned to issue Requiem for a Nun in Britain. Restless, still in pain, Faulkner flew to Oslo, where Else joined him again. She recommended a week of massage therapy, which seems to have worked wonders. A few days after returning to the States, he wrote to Monique and Jean-Jacques: “I have no back pain at all any more, the first time in years, I realize now.”10

Robert Penn Warren met Faulkner for the first time on his two-day visit to New York en route to Oxford. “He was shy,” Warren recalled, “but had a remarkably exact knowledge of every book we talked about.”11 They were brought together by Albert Erskine, an editor and friend they had in common. “We all went for a ride on the ferry to New Jersey, and spent an evening in a bar, talking mostly about books but also about politics,” said Warren. “When Faulkner left, a man came up to Al Erskine very excited and said, ‘Wasn’t that John Steinbeck you were talking to?’”

Before he left New York, Harvey Breit implored Faulkner to review The Old Man and the Sea, which Hemingway was about to publish. Faulkner had always entertained mixed feelings about Hemingway, though he admired many of his works. He refused to write the review, saying he wouldn’t know how, but he wrote a letter to Breit in which he praised the stories of Men Without Women as well as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. He also claimed to like “the African pieces.” But he derided Hemingway’s notion that writers should stick together “as doctors and lawyers and wolves do.” Faulkner said that the writers who needed to band together or perish resembled “the wolves who are wolves only in pack, and, singly, are just another dog.”12 This remark, when passed along by Breit to Hemingway, infuriated him; he did not want to be called “just another dog,” as he put it. “Hemingway tries too hard,” Faulkner told Saxe Commins. “He should be a farmer like me and just write on the side.” He found the latest novel overly mannered and was glad he hadn’t consented to reviewing it.13 Oddly enough, a few months later he did consent to comment on the book briefly for Shenandoah, a little magazine, although even there he avoided making harsh judgments about the book or its author.

Hemingway and Faulkner were deeply competitive men, and they eyed each other warily. In short, Hemingway believed that Faulkner had the most impressive natural gifts of any writer of their generation; nevertheless, he believed that Faulkner wrote too much, took too little trouble over his work, and that the messiness of the texts revealed that lack of concentration. He himself, of course, worried obsessively over every comma and suffered huge bouts of writer’s block driven by a neurotic perfectionism. For his part, Faulkner believed that while Hemingway possessed great stylistic gifts, the moral center of his work was suspect. He didn’t like the notion of “grace under pressure” as an ideal of manliness. As did many readers, he found Hemingway’s work increasingly thin.

Faulkner settled into summer easily, not working very hard at his “big book,” as he often called A Fable. This was among the hottest of recent summers, and Faulkner had exhausted himself in the past six months. His back continued to heal, but he decided to go easy on himself, not riding or working at the farm as much as in the past, though he looked in several times a week. He wrote frequently to Else Jonsson and Joan Williams. On August 7, 1952, he confessed to Joan: “I have puzzled and anguished a good deal in trying to understand our relationship, understand you and what must have been your reasons (not deliberate reasons and motives. I do not and will never believe that you deliberately wanted or intended to baffle and puzzle me and make me unhappy and heartsick from bafflement and frustration and deferred hope; that was I who did that, not you) for your actions.”14

The back trouble flared up again in August, and by September he was in agony. He put the pain down to his “natural nervousness, inability to be still, inactive, and the farm-work.”15 He told Else that he had not really worked in a year, that he had lost interest in everything literary. It seems that while sailing the Ring Dove, he had exacerbated the back injury. Now he attempted to treat himself with large doses of alcohol and Seconal, a dangerously addictive sedative. In mid-September, a seizure sent him into convulsions, and he was taken to the Gartley-Ramsay Hospital in Memphis—a small psychiatric hospital. Some effort was made to regulate his use of sedatives, and he was given therapeutic massages and physical therapy. He was back at Rowan Oak at the end of the month, still exhausted. “I still feel rotten,” he told Joan, attempting to crank up her level of guilt, “and will until I see you again. I dont think it is my back really, I think my heart broke a little.”16

Faulkner planned to return to A Fable as soon as possible, but fell again during the first week in October, this time tumbling down a stairwell at home, landing himself in the Memphis hospital a second time. Frantic, Estelle cabled Saxe Commins about the fall, and he flew immediately to Memphis to assist in any way he could. Obviously alcohol had been involved in the fall, and Faulkner was forced to dry out, although other drugs were administered to ease the pain of withdrawal and allow him to sleep. He lay in bed for two weeks, refusing to allow surgery on his back. Fitted with a brace, he was at Rowan Oak by the end of the month.

Within days, a film crew arrived to make a documentary about Faulkner and his county. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, it featured the stiff-backed author talking to old Uncle Ned (who mended a fence while Faulkner stood by, smoking his pipe), the author in his study, the author walking through Oxford and talking to an assortment of good old boys, most of whom had known him for more than five decades. There was a touching interview with Phil Stone in his law office, with Stone trying his best to perform well and honorably, obviously under strain. He bellows that Faulkner was “not only a great writer but a great man as well,” repeating a familiar line as Faulkner looks on dispassionately. There are some good scenes with Moon Mullen, the local newspaper editor, and Mac Reed, Faulkner’s old hunting buddy. This documentary creates a strong sense of the author’s physical presence, his dignity, and—indeed—his sweetness.

Faulkner recovered well enough to travel to Princeton in November, where he stayed with Saxe Commins and his wife briefly, then moved into the spacious, old-fashioned Princeton Inn, where he was interviewed at length by a French doctoral student, Loïc Bouvard. Faulkner showed that he had read widely in French literature, saying he had no real familiarity with Sartre or Camus but loved Rimbaud, Bergson, Proust, Valéry, Malraux, and others. As ever, he claimed Balzac as his great model. There were visits at the Princeton Inn from Joan and others, and Faulkner managed occasionally to turn his attention to the large unfinished manuscript of A Fable, which he had lugged in his suitcase from Oxford. For a while, he seemed quite well, but his drinking picked up again; by the time he had Thanksgiving with the Commins family, he was clearly in bad shape, his hands shaking, his walking unsteady. Only days after Thanksgiving, Saxe drove him to the Westhill Sanitarium, in the Bronx, where he underwent electroshock therapy. Electrodes were taped to his temples, and a rubber bit stuffed between his teeth. Jolts of electricity were passed through his brain, in an attempt to reshuffle the deck. This was, in the fifties, not an uncommon approach to treating depression, although it now seems barbaric.

Faulkner moved from the hospital to the New Weston Hotel, in Manhattan, where he continued work on his novel, often while sitting in Commins’s office at Random House. But he found it difficult to make progress and returned reluctantly to Oxford in time for Christmas. As ever, he wanted to be at Rowan Oak with his family during the holiday, the one time when he really felt at home. He found himself unable to work on the novel, however, and was eager to get back to New York, where he now had a warm circle of friends. He stayed through the end of January, while Estelle had cataracts removed from her eyes, then left on January 31 for New York, where he had the use of Hal Smith’s apartment. He had only one thing in mind now: to finish A Fable. He planned to stay away six months this time, aware that he could hardly abide his life at Rowan Oak just now. He was, in a sense, fumbling for a new life.

The End of the Affair

I love you. Don’t lie to me. I dont know which breaks my heart the most: for you to believe that you need to lie to me, or to think that you can.

—Faulkner to Joan Williams,
September 4, 1953

Arriving in New York on the last night in January, Faulkner eagerly took possession of Hal Smith’s apartment on East Sixty-third Street, just off Fifth Avenue, setting himself up at the dining room table with the rough draft of A Fable. Unfortunately, he felt no better than before, physically or mentally, and could not control his drinking. He had only a week in the apartment by himself, while the Smiths were on vacation in Bermuda; after that, his plans were deeply uncertain. While he could shift his body from Mississippi to the East Coast, he could not change how he felt. The drinking spiraled out of control, and Faulkner soon began to experience lapses of memory and blackouts, which led to a succession of hospital stays.

There were frequent and frantic phone calls from Estelle, who wanted her husband to return to Oxford, but Faulkner refused to listen. He wrote to his stepson, Malcolm, and apologized for all the trouble he seemed to be causing. “I know that I have not been quite myself since last spring,” he said, referring to his “spells of complete forgetting.”17 He tried to pin the problem on the various spills from horses, but this was simply a way of not confronting his alcoholism. He shifted around among friends now, moving in with Bob Haas after he returned from the private Charles B. Townes Hospital on Central Park West. As ever, he managed brilliantly the task of finding friends to pick up the pieces whenever he fell apart.

He felt better by the end of the month and made his way each day to Saxe Commins’s office at Random House, where he sat in “a small, warm, smoke-filled room” that had “green walls, a maroon carpet, and a single window.” Commins slumped at a desk with his back to the window, reading proofs, while Faulkner sat “in a straight-backed chair at right angles to the desk, facing a wall of bookshelves,” as Lillian Ross noticed when she came to interview Faulkner for a piece she was writing for the New Yorker. He explained to Ross that he had been “unwell,” having fallen off a horse. “Isn’t anythin’ Ah got whiskey won’t cure,” he told her. “He was hunched over a typewriter,” she observed, “a study in gray, brown, and blue: neatly parted gray hair, brown-rimmed glasses, a shirt with blue stripes, a blue tie, gray suspenders, gray tweed trousers, and brown shoes.” Faulkner explained that he was working on a novel that had thus far taken ten years and already amounted to five hundred thousand words. “The work is gettin’ itself done here,” he said, coyly.18

In early March, he collapsed again, and was taken home to Princeton by Saxe Commins, who put him to bed with a jug of lemonade and a bottle of aspirin. Commins had acted as nurse to Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O’Neill during similar periods of collapse in their lives, and he knew what to do. With his incredible powers of recovery, Faulkner felt remarkably better in a day or so and insisted on returning to New York and A Fable. This hasty return only made matters worse, however, and he collapsed within days of his arrival. This time he was hospitalized for a week at Doctors Hospital in Manhattan, where a psychiatrist, Dr. S. Bernard Wortis, concluded that most of the author’s problems were psychological, not physical. He had conducted an exhaustive array of tests, and nothing obvious showed up. Even the author’s liver seemed in remarkably decent shape, given the demands made upon it. On March 31, Faulkner wrote to Else Jonsson: “According to the doctor, the tests show that a lobe or part of my brain is hypersensitive to intoxication. I said, ‘Alcohol?’ He said, ‘Alcohol is one of them.’ The others are worry, unhappiness, any form of mental unease, which produces less resistance to the alcohol. He did not tell me to stop drinking completely, though he said that if the report had been on him, he would stop for 3 or 4 months and then have another test. He said that my brain is still normal, but it is near the borderline of abnormality. Which I knew myself; this behavior is not like me.”19

One can read through all of this to see what Dr. Wortis was really saying to his difficult, anxious patient. Faulkner was a sensitive man, an artist with acute feelings. He suffered from periods of intense anxiety. Alcohol was a form of self-medication, a way of fending off the pains of his own past as well as the continuing agony of his personal life. But the alcohol had by now become the main problem, and Faulkner could not easily control the use of it; his body was breaking down ever more quickly—as evidenced by the regular collapses, which had become a routine part of his life. In general, one sees in Faulkner at this point in his life a man unhappily married, hooked on alcohol, and frustrated by a sense of inadequacy. It is worth noting that when he was taken home by Saxe Commins, the first thing he said to Dorothy Commins when she greeted him at the door was: “Dorothy, I’ve misbehaved.”20Clearly a sense of shame overwhelmed him—a feeling often found in alcoholics.

Faulkner had sublet an apartment from the writer Waldo Frank in Greenwich Village, at 44 West Sixteenth Street, and he now withdrew to that space to work on various pieces of journalism and the long novel. One night, Faulkner had dinner at the apartment of a young poet, David Lougee, another friend of Erskine’s. The lure this time was E. E. Cummings, whom Faulkner had never met. Alastair Reid, the Scottish poet, was also present, and he recalls “that Faulkner was on his best behavior. He was neatly dressed, wearing a jacket and tie. He was not drinking at all, and exuded a certain sweetness. He and Cummings seemed very pleased to meet each other, and they talked with animation. Both were terribly graceful. Faulkner was almost decorous, soft-spoken, courtly. He had such polite manners, and he behaved in a respectful way toward everyone.”21

With some reluctance, Faulkner returned to Oxford in mid-April when Estelle suddenly collapsed. She was hemorrhaging internally from an unknown cause—an ulcer or perhaps a broken blood vessel. Jill had flown home from Massachusetts to help, and there was a frightening period when Estelle seemed in grave danger. But she recovered, and Faulkner was soon at his desk at Rowan Oak, working on the book he thought might be his “last major, ambitious work,” as he wrote to Joan. By the second week in May, he felt at liberty to return to New York City, where he believed he had a better chance of completing the novel than at home in Oxford, where everything—Estelle, his mother, the farm—competed for his attention in ways that hampered his creativity. He explained to Joan that he needed “complete focus now.”

He moved in with Hal Smith, resuming his daily trips to Random House, where he seemed to like working in the company of Saxe Commins, who would sit quietly at his own desk, reading or writing letters or making phone calls while Faulkner typed away. One evening, with Joan, he went to the 92nd Street Y to hear Dylan Thomas read from his poems. Thomas admired Faulkner, and his friend (and, later, biographer) John Malcolm Brinnin arranged for them to meet afterward in a room offstage. The room was fairly crowded, and everyone was drinking whiskey in paper cups, listening to Thomas as he chattered in his mesmerizing way. Faulkner was delighted by this, and at one point rose with his cup in hand to propose a toast. The toast lasted a good five minutes, but Faulkner’s soft voice and deeply southern accent combined with the alcohol to make the toast utterly incomprehensible. When nobody responded to whatever he proposed, Faulkner asked Thomas: “Will that do?” Thomas understood the gesture, if not the words, and raised his cup in acceptance. “Thanks to my favorite American writer,” he said, “a Welsh writer in Mississippi clothing.” The company applauded the two men, and the drinking continued well past midnight.22

By June, Faulkner was back in Oxford, determined to spend the entire summer on his fable of the Great War. He guessed that two or three months would see him through to the end. Among the highlights of June was a mission aboard the Minmagery, which he drove to an obscure bay in Sardis Reservoir, where the Ring Dove had drifted over the winter months and partially sunk in a reedy cove. Four young men from Ole Miss helped him, addressing him as “Captain Ahab.” The sailboat was hauled out of the water, emptied, and sailed back to its home mooring. Later that week, the four boys and some others joined Faulkner and Estelle at Rowan Oak for a party to celebrate the salvage operation, and the party ended with Faulkner doing a soft-shoe dance with one of the young men. Clearly, his back was feeling much better.

Faulkner wrote a remarkably organized, detailed outline of A Fable on the wall of his study at Rowan Oak, focusing on this project during the hot summer months, while covertly planning a trip to Mexico with Joan that never came off. In midsummer, Estelle herself went to Mexico with Jill, leaving her husband alone to work. She was aware of the miserable quality of their marriage and felt embarrassed by catty remarks about her husband’s affair with Joan that acquaintances would sometimes make as they pretended to commiserate. For his part, Faulkner worked intensely, though he began to slip into depression again. The loneliness of his situation was more than he could bear, with nobody around but his mother, whom he visited each afternoon as briefly as possible. He knew that if he didn’t make a final push on the novel, it might languish for years. So he pulled out every stop, nursing his mood with doses of whiskey and Seconal: a potentially fatal combination. “One more chapter,” he wrote to Commins, “and the mss. will be finished.”23

By the end of the first week of September in 1953, he was back in the hospital, having been taken to the Gartley-Ramsay Hospital in Memphis by Jimmy, his nephew, who had just returned from the Korean War. Fortunately, Faulkner had gotten to the hospital rather earlier than usual, and he responded quickly to the treatment. Within a week, he was back at his desk at Rowan Oak, where he got a call from Howard Hawks asking him to come to Paris to work on a film tentatively called The Land of the Pharoahs. Faulkner liked the notion of returning to Paris, where he might rendezvous with Else Jonsson, and agreed to come as soon as the novel was finished. Hawks understood and said there was some time before they would need him. This was good, because Faulkner was back in the hospital—the drying-out clinic in Byhalia—in October, having once again collapsed. It was not that Faulkner was necessarily drinking more now, but he was older and his body was less resilient. He would find it harder and harder to cope with the amounts of alcohol he had become used to consuming.

Faulkner’s mood was certainly not enhanced by the appearance of the long profile of him in Life by Robert Coughlan. It was full of photographs of the family, the house, and various Oxford landmarks. Called “The Private World of William Faulkner,” it infuriated Miss Maud and upset Faulkner deeply.24 He wrote to Phil Mullen about the article: “I tried for years to prevent it, refused always, asked them to let me alone. It’s too bad the individual in this country has no protection from journalism, I suppose they call it. But apparently he hasn’t. There seems to be in this the same spirit which permits strangers to drive into my yard and pick up books or pipes I left in the chair where I had been sitting, as souvenirs.” The letter grew darker: “No wonder people in the rest of the world dont like us, since we seem to have neither taste nor courtesy, and know and believe in nothing but money and it doesn’t much matter how you get it.”25 This was a damning commentary on the United States as Faulkner regarded it now, feeling invaded and cheapened by his exposure in Life. Miss Maud, as might be expected, canceled her subscription.

In early November, he returned to Princeton, staying as usual with Saxe and Dorothy Commins. Commins had recently suffered a heart attack, but he seemed to recover nicely. He and Dorothy welcomed Faulkner into their home once again, and he set to work conscientiously, spreading the manuscript out on the long mahogany table in their dining room. Commins stood beside him, offering suggestions, as Faulkner began to shift scenes, often rewriting passages in pencil or circling paragraphs that needed to be moved elsewhere in the narrative. On the day after Faulkner’s arrival, Joan Williams paid a visit, and she helped to sort and renumber pages. “Bill was a little helpless,” she recalled, and welcomed any assistance he could get. Within just three days, the novel was—at long last—complete. With not a little sense of ceremony, Faulkner scribbled on the final page of the manuscript: “December 1944 Oxford, New York Princeton November 1953.” Nine years of work came to an end.

Faulkner left Princeton for Joan’s Greenwich Village apartment. She now had an editorial job at Look. The romance was winding down, and she had little interest in maintaining a physical relationship: much to Faulkner’s disappointment. She wanted him as a friend, not a lover. The obvious painfulness of this situation brought on a bout of depression, though Faulkner managed to keep the wolf at bay by visiting bars and restaurants with friends. One night, he ran into Dylan Thomas, and they greeted each other warmly; a few nights later, on November 9, 1953, Thomas was dead, the victim of an acute alcoholic “insult to the brain,” as the doctors put it. Faulkner attended the funeral with Joan. A day or so later, he left for Princeton, deeply unhappy about Joan, about his own upcoming trip to Paris, and about his health, which had been terribly uncertain for some time.

In Princeton, he made final arrangements for the trip to Europe, signing power of attorney over to Commins, so that any contracts could be executed in his absence. At one dinner party, he met the wild-eyed, wild-haired Albert Einstein and his sister, who were living in Princeton at this time. Faulkner was horribly shy but deeply impressed by Einstein’s kindly, soft-spoken manner. “Where do you get your stories?” Einstein wondered. “I hear voices,” Faulkner said. Einstein nodded, with a slight smile, having understood.26 After the great scientist’s death in 1955, Faulkner wrote to Commins that Einstein was “one of the wisest of men and one of the gentlest of men. Who can replace him in either let alone in both?”27 In truth, Faulkner’s heart, if not his mind, was on Joan, on the end of their affair. He decided it was better not even to see her before he left for Paris. Better just to go.

Continental Drift

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me.

—FAULKNER, Lion in the Garden

Howard Hawks planned to meet Faulkner at Orly, on December 1. He waited there with Harry Kurnitz, who would cowrite the script with Faulkner, and with Robert Capa, the famous war photographer. When Faulkner didn’t appear after several hours, they returned to their hotel, frustrated and worried. It transpired that Faulkner had flown to Geneva instead of Paris, then hopped a train to Paris while his luggage (for mysterious reasons) continued on to Zurich. In Paris, he wandered drunkenly around Montmartre, collapsing in a bar. The police realized who he was, having searched for his passport, and he managed to communicate to them that he needed to find Howard Hawks at his hotel. They took him there in a police van, depositing him at Hawks’s hotel door in a confused, disheveled state, with a four-inch slash across his forehead.

Hawks was not encouraged. He knew that if Faulkner was to be any use to him, he must get him by himself in a quiet place, away from the attractions and distractions of Paris. After giving his author a few days of rest and recovery, he took him (with Kurnitz) to a villa in Stresa, on Italy’s Lago Maggiore. Faulkner had of course been to Stresa before, as a young man in his twenties. “We stay here two weeks,” he wrote to Joan, “then go to St. Moritz in Switzerland to ski. We are living in the summer house of an Egyptian millionaire with three servants, the house is all ours, three stories tall.” To his mother, he wrote on a postcard: “This is Stresa, where I stayed for a while one summer back about 1924 I think it was. Weather is good, cold, foggy in morning but warms later.”28

Not surprisingly, the writing of the script fell to Kurnitz, who seemed not to mind. He was a pro, well paid for his efforts. Furthermore, he liked the chance to work with Faulkner, one of the most admired American writers of his time. The story outline came swiftly, and before long a script began to accumulate, with much of the dialogue by Kurnitz. By the third week in November, the writing corps had moved to Switzerland, staying at the elegant Suvretta House in St. Moritz, where the guests included King Farouk of Egypt and Gregory Peck. Faulkner managed to acquire thirty-six bottles of Montrachet from the hotel’s capacious wine cellar, and—according to Kurnitz—drank two martinis and half a bottle of Montrachet each day at lunchtime. Work continued on the script, but rather sporadically.

Hawks and his wife, Slim, were incredibly social, and they had gathered around them quite a few celebrities. Among the Hollywood crowd were Charlie Feldman, a movie agent, and his wife, Jean, who invited Faulkner to a party on Christmas Eve. This was one of the few times Faulkner had not been home for Christmas, and he was feeling melancholy; but he went to the party in search of company. Much to his pleasure, he met a nineteen-year-old girl called Jean Stein, whose father was Jules Stein, the wealthy founder of Music Corporation of America (MCA). Jean admired Faulkner’s work and was herself a precocious intellectual, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris. She had come to St. Moritz for the holidays with her uncle, David Stein, and was staying with him at the Palace Hotel. Always sensitive to young women, especially ones as striking as Jean Stein—a tall, thin girl with dark hair and beautiful features—he spent much of the party talking to her. Faulkner would write about this night to Joan Williams on January 11, 1954:

A curious thing has happened, almost repetition, her name is even Jean. She is 19. At a Xmas party of people nearer my age, the hostess told me that she had asked to be invited, the only young person there. It was a dull stuffy party, so I invited her to go with me to a midnight mass at a Catholic church, which she did. I fetched her back home and left her, thought no more about it. Then when I got back here last Monday, she had sent me a Xmas gift, a leather carved traveling clock, much too expensive, also a letter, and by now a telephone call. I think an infatuation partly with my reputation and partly with the fact that I try to be gentle and serious with young people. It will run its course.29

Faulkner moved on to Stockholm for Christmas with Else Jonsson and hoped for obscurity, but in Sweden, as he told Joan, “the artist is like the athletic champion at home,” and he could not avoid reporters and photographers. Even crowds of schoolchildren gathered outside his hotel, waiting for a glimpse of the great American author. Of course he liked being with Jonsson again and felt relieved to be away from the movie crowd for a brief while. After a stop in England, where he met with his editor, he was back at the Suvretta House by the end of the first week in January, contemplating the pharaohs of Egypt—a very unlikely story for the God of Yoknapatawpha County—and working on a new case of Montrachet.

The galleys of A Fable, scheduled for publication in September, arrived at the hotel, and Faulkner read them quickly in the evenings, after spending the day with Kurnitz and Hawks. Soon a rough draft of the script was complete, and Hawks made plans for everyone to shift to Rome for casting. Always restless, Faulkner decided to travel to Rome via Paris, where he could see Jean Stein again, thus cementing their connection. He also spent time with Monique and Jean-Jacques Salomon who, according to Stein, seemed to adore him. In Rome by January 19, he checked into an elegant hotel on the Via Veneto, where Hawks and Kurnitz awaited him. He and Kurnitz spent a good deal of time on foot in the city, stopping one evening at the Excelsior, where they met up with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were delighted to see their old companion from the set of To Have and Have Not, the film that had brought them together as a couple.

Rome mesmerized Faulkner, who loved its architecture and atmosphere, “the sound of water, fountains everywhere, amazing and beautiful—big things full of marble figures—gods and animals, naked girls wresting with horses and swans with tons of water cascading over them.” He admitted to feeling “childlike, stunned” by the ambience of the city.30 In these happy surroundings, he found himself able to work on the script quite easily, and by mid-February he and Kurnitz had much of the work completed. The next stop on the journey was Cairo itself, where Faulkner had agreed to go with rest of the company. Hawks would begin shooting with the scriptwriters present to make any necessary adjustments.

Against the wishes of Hawks, Faulkner planned a little detour to Paris on the way to Cairo, saying he would meet Hawks and Kurnitz at the pyramids. He did so, but leaving Paris had so upset him that he drank a bottle and a half of brandy before departure, more or less pouring himself onto the plane, where he passed out completely, alarming the service staff. The pilot sent a message ahead, and Faulkner was met at the airport by an ambulance and taken to the Anglo-American Hospital, where he dried out for a few days before continuing on to Cairo. At the Mena Hotel, near the pyramids, Faulkner helped with final adjustments to the script. Not far from the hotel, the film crew worked hard, fashioning replicas of ancient artifacts. The filming would begin soon, and Faulkner would be released from duty, swearing this was absolutely the last time he would take on any Hollywood assignment.

The plan was for him to return to Paris, where he would be available to Hawks through June, if needed, for further script changes. This was a strange and melancholy time for him, full of transitions. Joan Williams had written that she and Ezra Bowen, a young writer and war veteran, would be married on March 6. Later in March, he learned that his daughter, Jill, had fallen in love with a young West Point graduate named Paul Summers, whom she had met at a wedding in Fort Bragg in February (at which she had been a bridesmaid). A gentleman, Summers had written to Faulkner and Estelle, seeking their consent. They agreed, of course, and were delighted, but they insisted that the wedding not take place until Faulkner returned from abroad.

Faulkner left Cairo at the end of March and flew to Orly, where once again he was surrounded by his young friends, Jean Stein and the Salomons. Else Jonsson also flew to Paris to meet him. This would seem an idyllic situation, but the fantasy quickly dissolved in drink, landing Faulkner in the American Hospital within days of his arrival. He was relieved when Hawks told him he would not be needed back in Cairo, and on April 19—sufficiently recovered from the latest episode—he flew home. Within a week, he was back in Oxford, almost desperate now to return to his usual routine, which—as he wrote to Jean Stein from Rowan Oak—included “farming, building fences, training a colt and so forth.”31 He knew in his gut that health and sanity lay in that direction.

The summer was largely taken up with preparations for the wedding, which included a trip to Virginia to meet with the family of Paul Summers. The groom’s mother had died in childbirth, and he had been raised by wealthy foster parents, who threw a party for the visiting Faulkners in celebration of the engagement. A columnist from the Washington Evening Star was at the party, and she reported that Faulkner had presented himself straightforwardly as a proud Democrat who despised Sen. Joe McCarthy and his hearings. “Nobody should be afraid to say what he thinks,” she reported him as saying. The party, as she noted, included a fair number of influential Republican senators, all “looking prosperous and worried.” When asked how the people of Mississippi felt about the Army-McCarthy hearings, Faulkner said: “We feel shame down there just as you do here.” Estelle, for her part, was “turned out in starched gray organdy and a fetching gray hat,” said the reporter, adding that “she was easy to visualize against their white-columned antebellum house in Mississippi.”32

Faulkner seemed to adore baiting this reporter. When she asked him what was the most he had ever “penned” in a day, he gave her a wonderfully Faulknerian answer. The most he’d written, he said, was “when he climbed to the crib of the barn one morning with his papers, pencils, and a quart of whiskey, and pulled the ladder up behind him. When daylight began to fail he had torn off 5,000 words.”

Faulkner did little writing in June or July, having to focus on the upcoming wedding and some urgent farm chores. He was nervously anticipating the publication of A Fable, which appeared in bookstores during the first week of August. A few reviewers, such as the poet Delmore Schwartz, regarded this novel as “a unique fulfillment of Faulkner’s genius.”33 More critics, including Malcolm Cowley writing in the New York Herald Tribune, saw the book as a magnificent effort but, finally, not a fully realized novel. “It is likely to stand above other novels of the year like a cathedral,” he wrote, “if an imperfect and unfinished one, above a group of well built cottages.”34 Others regarded the book as “a failure” (Charles Rolo in the Atlantic Monthly) or even worse, “a calamity” (Brendan Gill in the New Yorker.) Only a few critics (such as Noel Polk) have been willing to rank this monumental antiwar epic, written at the height of the cold war, as one of Faulkner’s successes. “Faulkner’s penchant, during this stage of his career, for abstract statements about man and life produces, in A Fable, too many exasperatingly obtuse passages and too many dull abstract speeches that induce more irritation than thought,” Edmund L. Volpe suggests, putting succinctly the majority view of critics about this difficult novel.35

A Fable

I dont fear man. I do better: I respect and admire him.


One wishes that A Fable were better, as it contains elements of a majestic work. The essential idea for the book was suggested to Faulkner by a couple of friends in Hollywood in the early forties. The notion that Christ might actually be the Unknown Soldier was the germ of the story, which Faulkner originally conceived of as being “a fable, an indictment of war.”36 But the novel proved hard, even impossible, to write, and Faulkner’s original sense of the book kept shifting over the years. In the end, he insisted (somewhat defensively) that the novel was “not a pacifist book,” adding that “pacifism does not work.”37 The author’s ambivalence here did not help unify the book, ultimately a novel with many brilliant scenes and many obscure, abstract passages.

The action in A Fable takes place in 1918. The World War I setting takes us back to Soldiers’ Pay and many of the short stories. For anyone the political and cultural events that occur in late youth remain central throughout life, a touchstone of sorts. Certainly the Great War lodged in Faulkner’s imagination as a seminal event. The horrors of that conflict (and its botched resolution at Versailles) precipitated the terrible devastation of World War II. That the twentieth century had become a scene of utter ruin struck Faulkner forcefully, and A Fable represents a confused but nonetheless fierce response to that ruin.

The fabulist aspect is apparent in the plot, which moves through Easter week of 1918 in ten chapters. The hero is a Christ figure, the Corporal (his first name is Stefan, like the martyr of Christian tradition). The Corporal is a pacifist who has gathered twelve disciples around him like the twelve who followed Christ. Indeed, there are even three women who trail him: Marthe, Marya, and one nameless prostitute from Marseilles: versions of the biblical Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. The Corporal organizes soldiers on both sides of the trenches to lay down their arms and turn the other cheek. These men refuse to fight when they are ordered to take a German hill by Maj. Gen. Charles Gragnon, who is infuriated by their response, ordering each of them arrested and shot as traitors. The Germans mysteriously don’t attack, and peace seems to break out along the western front.

The Corporal, after an investigation, is shot at a fence post between two thieves, betrayed at the last minute by one of his disciples, a Judas figure. He is even denied by another, as Peter denied Christ. He is buried in a sepulcher at a farm—not unlike the cave where Jesus lay. In the same vein, his body disappears from its burial place in a barrage of artillery. If anything, Faulkner adheres too strictly to the mythic pattern, which is perhaps too familiar. There is a patness to the symbolic structure that seems almost crude at times, as though the author had given up on fresh thought, letting myth carry the work forward.

Nevertheless Faulkner, being himself, interpolates many stories, one of them the tall tale about the horse thief that Faulkner had already published in a small edition as Notes on a Horsethief in 1951. Much revised, that story brings a novel of the western front back to Mississippi, and these unlikely pages remain the liveliest in the novel, a reminder of what Faulkner can do when standing on native soil. The miraculous horse in that tale manages to win races on only three good legs; interestingly, Delmore Schwartz regarded the horse as a counterpart to Corporal Stefan, “the cause of belief and nobility in other human beings.” This, to me, seems far-fetched, and Notes of a Horsethief might have been better left out of this novel. By itself, however, it represents a fine piece of writing.

As John T. Irwin has stressed, Faulkner cannot resist father-son issues. He cannot stop debating whether or not a man can exceed, or even recover from, the powers of the paternal. In what is (for me) the most vivid scene here, which in some ways recalls the majestic Grand Inquisitor scene of The Brothers Karamazov—a favorite novel of Faulkner’s—the Corporal stands before the Old General. The commander-in-chief realizes that the young man before him is his son and tries to tempt him away from his peaceful ways, without luck. The Corporal’s refusal to acquiesce means that the Old General must order his execution, but that seems less important than the debate between them, which recalls the give and take between Gavin Stevens and Chick Mallison in Intruder in the Dust. This debate also brings to mind the talks between Quentin Compson and his father in The Sound and the Fury or the exchanges between Henry Sutpen and his father, which form the emotional center of Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner, even in a novel that mostly takes place far from Yoknapatawpha County, returns to familiar moral grounds, reworking potent material.

Faulkner attempted a long allegorical fable, duly giving his characters largely generic identifications. The major figures have no surnames or histories, no familial or cultural ties. The problem, of course, is that Faulkner was a novelist, not an allegorical fabulist in the tradition of John Bunyan. All of his narrative instincts run in the direction of embedding a narrative in time and place, in the specifics of an individual consciousness. These instincts rub against the demands of a largely symbolic structure, and the characters in this book are lifeless. Their voices blend into each other. The Christ story, so familiar, lacks narrative momentum; one knows the fate of the Corporal from the beginning, and the unfolding of the drama remains undramatic. The reader never learns the details of how the Corporal and his disciples actually manage to get the soldiers along the western front to go along with their scheme. In fact, most of the real drama happens offstage, giving the novel an oddly empty and ceremonial effect, like watching an Easter pageant in church. When, in the end, the Corporal’s body is unearthed and transformed in the Unknown Soldier, the irony is lost, this turn of plot seeming as unreal as it is obvious.

A Fable has attracted a good deal of scholarship in recent years, such as Keen and Nancy Butterworth’s impressive study38 of its allusions and sources, but the book is unlikely to interest readers except as an indication of where Faulkner’s imagination wandered in the decade 1944-1954. The novel nevertheless has biographical interest, suggesting various things. As already noted, it shows that the Great War continued to hold the author in its spell. He perceived that war, the dominant event of his youth, as a testing ground for manhood, a place where a boy of his era could relive the excitements that had been afforded a previous generation in the Civil War. The Old Colonel was Faulkner’s real father, in a sense; he felt strongly compelled to compete with the Old Colonel on his own ground: the field of battle. When that test failed to materialize, he suffered from decades of emptiness, attempting to seize the ground in other ways, becoming a hero of the novel, the warrior-as-man-of-letters. In late middle age, he had come to realize that the Great War was, in effect, a fraud, and that there was no real point to killing people for abstract political reasons.

One can possibly see in the Corporal’s defiance of conventions and social whims the idiosyncratic artist in his struggle against the world. Faulkner always stood his ground as an artist. He had been interrogated by the Old Generals of the South a thousand times in his life, at least in his dreams. He would not fight their stupid wars, and he would not accede to their rules for judging value. As the outsider in Oxford, the man who did not really make it to the war, the Count of No ’Count, the town outcast, the academic failure, Faulkner had always lived on the margins of his world. Yet he did not, like Stark Young, leave Oxford and go east. He stayed at home, licking old wounds, reliving old scenes of confrontation, taking on some of the trappings of conformity, but regarding himself in his heart as the man who said no, the man who became a hero on his own terms, on the fields of his own creative battles. The world might have come to him at last, but he rejected that world. He didn’t want the profiles in Life or Time. He didn’t want cheering crowds. He wanted to smoke his pipe, sail his boat, and write his books. He wanted his own vices: whiskey and women. He wanted peace—as did the Corporal—although his restlessness suggests that another part of him pulled against this wish.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on the parallel story of the horse thieves, which remains the most vibrant part of the novel. The heroic figure here is the English groom, who appears rather unheroic on the surface: a fairly unpleasant man “to whom to grant the status of man was merely to accept Darkness’ emissary in the stead of its actual prince and master.”39 Yet this dark creature undergoes a transformation of sorts, marked by his baptism and acceptance into the Masons. He enters into a relationship with the injured horse that seems almost mystical, “no mere rapport but an affinity, not from understanding to understanding but from heart to heart and glands to glands.”40 In the company of a black man, Sutterfield, and his boy, the English groom, called Harry, spirits the horse away, and their little group becomes amazingly successful on the remote country racetracks that Faulkner obviously knew well.

The success of Harry and his friends, aided by the country crowds who cheer them on, frustrates the “millionaire owner” of the horse, who wants to turn it into a stud. It seems that love itself, the love of man and animal, and the love shared among this unlikely trio of grooms, transcends the law. What leads to the demise of this perfect love is money, of course; the tycoon puts up a huge reward, and the law closes in, only to be frustrated. Harry shoots the horse, then disappears himself. The black man and his son are captured and jailed, but a mob releases them. Authority is once again frustrated: the innermost wish of Faulkner’s soul. His anarchic spirit prevails, as it always did. The forces of convention might try to restrain him, to rein him in. He might give way to the conventions: marriage, the Big House, church attendance. But the spirit of the hunting camp prevails, the spirit of boys loose on the Continent, having a good time, or on the rampage in New Orleans. The spirit of the artist, which rejects the status quo and which bears witness. This spirit inhabits the black groom, who is questioned by a lawyer. “Are you an ordained minister?” the lawyer asks.

“I dont know. I bears witness.”

     “To what? God?”

     “To man. God dont need me. I bears witness to Him of course, but my main witness is to man.”

     “The most damning thing man could suffer would be a valid witness before God.”

     “You’re wrong there,” the Negro said. “Man is full of sin and nature, and all he does dont bear looking at, and a heap of what he says is a shame and mawkery. But cant no witness hurt him. Some day something might beat him, but it wont be Satan.”41

Around the World

So if I go anywhere as simply a literary man or an expert on literature, American or otherwise, I will be a bust. I will do better as a simple, private individual, occupation unimportant, who is interested in and believes in people, humanity, and has some concern about man’s condition and his future, if he is not careful.

—Faulkner to Harold E. Howland, July 8, 1955

With the upcoming wedding of Jill out of his hands, Faulkner turned his attention to an invitation from the U.S. Department of State to attend an international conference of writers in Brazil that would take place in August. Faulkner had to get back for the wedding, but he liked the notion of traveling to South America. Robert Frost had already agreed to go, and Faulkner glamorized the abstract notion of public service. He wrote to Bennett Cerf with levity that he hoped “to strike a blow of some sort for hemispheric solidarity.”42 (One can hardly imagine him saying such a bizarre thing in the thirties and forties.) In late July, Peru was added to the itinerary, with a brief stopover in Lima.

He began the trip with gusto, arriving in Lima on August 7, where he was put through an exhausting series of meetings and press conferences, at which he apparently performed very well, answering the usual questions from reporters about his working habits and preferences, literary and political. He called André Malraux his favorite European writer and said he voted for Adlai Stevenson in the last election. At a large cocktail party after his press conference, Faulkner’s weariness took hold, and his anxieties caught up with him. He began to reach for a drink from the silver tray of brandy glasses every time it passed within a few feet, drinking steadily through the evening; he carried two bottles of Pisco—a fine brandy—on the plane the next day. This was a bad sign, and he arrived in São Paulo the next evening in poor condition, wobbling as he stepped into the airport. Faulkner was taken straight to his hotel room, where he remained for two days. A Brazilian physician ministered to him, and he emerged after forty-eight hours of seclusion with a fresh face and smile.

Faulkner strode into public view at a press conference covered by radio, television, and the press, with reporters from around the world in attendance. “Solidarity is imperative for men of all creeds, color, and social conditions,” he said, adding that what most concerned him was the problem of racial prejudice, which “eats at a nation from within.” He saw the race issue as the most disturbing aspect of contemporary culture. The next day, he spoke before a huge crowd at the União Cultural Brazil-Estados Unidos, where he fielded the usual questions about his writing and claimed to admire Mozart, Beethoven, and Prokofiev among musicians. He said that T. S. Eliot’s play, The Family Reunion, did not appeal to him, nor did he care for the work of Truman Capote, who made him “nervous.” About his latest novel, A Fable, he told one questioner: “It does not please me,” adding that failure only produced a “stimulation to try to do better in each new book.” The response to Faulkner was hugely enthusiastic.43

The visits to Peru and Brazil went so well that Faulkner immediately wrote to Harold E. Howland at the Department of State and offered to go on further cultural missions. The offer appealed to Howland, who learned from internal reports that Faulkner had been deemed a success by the Peruvians and Brazilians. But all attention was now focused on Jill and her groom, who were married in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, with a huge crowd of family and friends in attendance. Faulkner enjoyed the pomp and ceremony, dressed in a double-breasted waistcoat and tails. His old friend Ben Wasson had helped him dress, and stood by him. Saxe and Dorothy Commins came down from Princeton. Writer Shelby Foote, who had become close to Faulkner in recent years, was also there. The day concluded with a dinner back at Rowan Oak and the wedding couple’s departure for a honeymoon in Mexico.

The wedding over, Faulkner left for New York as soon as he could, checking into the Algonquin. He wanted to write again and to see Jean Stein. In addition to a hunting story, “Race at Morning,” he wrote a piece for Holiday and worked on a television script. At last, he was earning money again, and this seemed to please him inordinately. He had no real money worries, but the wedding had cost a good deal, and he wanted to replenish his funds. While in the city, he recorded some of his work for Caedmon Publishers, a new company which had begun to make recordings of authors reading from their work. He read aloud the Nobel speech as well as excerpts from As I Lay Dying and “Old Man.” His high, peculiar voice and deeply southern accent did not impede the force of these presentations.

He continued working on stories and articles back in Oxford in October, writing a fiery essay called “The American Dream: What Happened to It?” He had been outraged by the Life story, which he finally got around to reading. For him, it seemed a huge intrusion on his privacy, and he despised the manner in which the fabled American liberty had been replaced by mere license. As Karl F. Zender writes, “Stung into print by the publication of a journalistic account of his own life that he considered intrusive, Faulkner expands his personal indignation into a generalized indictment of contemporary American life. Arguing that the serious artist has no place in mainstream America except to the extent that his ‘notoriety [can be used] to sell soap or cigarettes or fountain pens,’ Faulkner connects privacy as a social value to reticence—to difficulty—as an artistic value.”44 Interestingly, the privacy thing became an unconscious self-defense of his own artistic method, which remained complex, even hermetic.

The article, as he quickly realized, was not fit to be published, but he hoped to deliver it as a lecture now that offers to speak regularly began to come his way from colleges and universities around the country. He had rarely in his life accepted such invitations, which had come before, but he thought he might try it now. He had something to say that might work in such a context.

November brought the annual hunt, which Faulkner attended without much relish. “I dont particularly want to go, but since I am head of the club (by inheritance now) I will go,” he told Jean. “I dont like to kill anything anymore, and probably wont.”45 Jean seemed to preoccupy him now, as Joan Williams had before, and Meta Carpenter before that. Not surprisingly, he was back in New York at the Algonquin again in December, visiting with Jean. “He was often seen with her at dinners,” recalled Ellen Adler. “He came to our apartment one time, with Jean, in New York. He told a story about why cats are so complacent. In prehistoric times, he said, it was the cats who ran the world. Eventually, their power receded. Now it’s mankind who runs the show, but because man has made such a mess of things, the cats go around with that look of complacency.”46

Faulkner was having a good time in New York, and decided—an astonishing thing for him—to spend Christmas away from Rowan Oak. Jill was married now and would have Christmas in Charlottesville with her new husband, so there was no draw there. Estelle was on the wagon, which was no fun for him. So he spent the holiday in Princeton with Saxe and Dorothy Commins, visited by Jean. But he was not happy. He seemed to struggle daily with “a feeling of impending doom,” as he noted to Jean. “That’s usually an omen that some disaster is about to befall me. But sometimes it’s a good sign, so I told myself that I’ve got no reason to feel oppressed.”47

Faulkner returned to Manhattan at the beginning of the new year, staying at the Algonquin, as usual, working sporadically in Saxe Commins’s office at Random House. “He seemed very distracted, in a daze,” said Elaine Steinbeck, who invited Faulkner to a gathering in early January.

He told one of the guests at our party, who had asked him about A Fable, that he couldn’t explain his book to her because he only wrote his books, he didn’t read them. He came to our townhouse one night for dinner, and he was so peculiar. I tried to get him talking about his work, about the South, where I’d grown up, but this only seemed to panic him. He kept filling his glass with the whiskey I’d put on the coffee table in front of him. He wouldn’t answer me, and seemed frightened. When it was time for dinner, John helped him to his seat, but before the food was served he put his head down on the table and wouldn’t say anything. He really couldn’t eat a thing or even talk, so John got him into a cab. We were very worried about him, but he called the next morning and was apologetic. He kept saying how sorry he was. I was sorry for him.48

Although A Fable had received many tepid, even dismissive, reviews, it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for the best novel of 1954. By this time, Faulkner’s reputation as a literary giant was so high that nobody on the committees that chose the recipients for these awards was willing to go against him. He had not received such recognition in the past, for better work; now amends would be made. In an irony of ironies, Faulkner was presented with the National Book Award at the Commodore Hotel on January 25 by Clifton Fadiman, the very reviewer who had gone out of his way to attack book after book in the New Yorker. Faulkner had sat unhappily on the stage, as one reporter observed: “On his face was an expression of such grimness, of such resignation as I have never witnessed before, and never expected to see again.”49

Faulkner refused to socialize with the other winners or mingle with the massive crowd of guests and journalists. Such events were a horror to him, even though a fair number of old friends were there, including Conrad Aiken, Hodding Carter, Malcolm Cowley, Hal Smith, and Saxe Commins. Faulkner rushed back to the Algonquin to pack, leaving the next day without fanfare. Home by the end of the month, he was received coolly by Estelle, who had begun to live her life without him. For his part, Faulkner intended to get away from home as often as he could, and hoped to begin a new novel soon. For a few weeks, he reworked his essay on privacy, which would appear the next summer in Harper’s as “On Privacy: The American Dream: What Happened to It.”50

Back in New York, Faulkner’s agent fielded a round of inquiries about film rights to various books. Producers were interested in Requiem for a Nun and The Wild Palms. Options on Pylon, The Sound and the Fury, and Soldiers’ Pay were sought by Jerry Wald, who had known Faulkner in Hollywood. An offer came from ABC for a television script. There were also invitations to speak at campuses, and one of them in particular—an offer to spend a week at the University of Oregon—appealed to Faulkner, since it offered a way to get away from Estelle on legitimate business. He boasted to Else Jonsson in mid-February: “I do a lot of moving about these days, doing jobs for magazines in New York, and international relations jobs for the State Department, have been in South America and there is a possibility of Europe some time soon I understand.”51

One of the projects that had come to him was Big Woods, a collection of four previously published hunting stories: “The Bear,” “The Old People,” “A Bear Hunt,” and “Race at Morning.” The fourth section of “The Bear” as it had appeared in Go Down, Moses, was removed (the part about the lineage of Buck and Buddy McCaslin). A few deft changes were made elsewhere; for example, Lucius Provine in “A Bear Hunt” becomes Lucius Hogganbeck, thus making him the son of Boon Hogganbeck, giving the story an added dimension. Faulkner linked the stories with lyrical passages, mostly drawn from published sources, but evocatively revised and structured. “No wonder the ruined woods I used to know don’t cry out for retribution,” he wrote in one of them. “The very people who destroyed them will accomplish their revenge.” Indeed, this entire collection might be considered an elegy for the challenged wilderness, an ecologist’s lament. In an odd way, this remains one of Faulkner’s most compelling books, ingeniously reworked from previous material. While critics have complained about the obvious commercial angle in publishing such a book, I would argue that Faulkner sought passages of great power in previous work and, as always, revised and juxtaposed them in imaginative ways. His powers of revision were, it seems, as important as his powers of vision.

In March, he made a short trip to New York to work on the script for ABC, returning home via Philadelphia, where Jean Stein was spending a few weeks during the previews of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The play, directed by Elia Kazan, was on its way to Broadway and had created a stir already. Faulkner himself didn’t much care for it, claiming not to like stories about “the problems of children,” and he believed the “real” story at hand was that of the father, Big Daddy. Faulkner dined in Philadelphia after one rehearsal with Jean, Carson McCullers, and Christopher Isherwood. Gore Vidal was in town at the same time, having come to see the play by his good friend Williams. “The headlines in the paper caught everyone’s attention as we came out of the theater,” he recalled. “Joseph Stalin had just died.”52

Faulkner had become increasingly agitated by national politics as segregation began to emerge as a major national issue. As he did more frequently now, he wrote letters to various newspapers on the matter, always siding against segregationists. In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” notion in a landmark decision that had strong implications throughout the South. Faulkner expressed his opinion on this subject in a letter to the Memphis Commercial Appeal in mid-February, noting that “We Mississippians already know that our present schools are not good enough.” His remarks provoked a deluge of nasty letters, to him personally and to the newspaper’s editor. As always, Faulkner never worried about speaking out firmly and clearly. He was remarkably courageous and, for his time, farsighted in his approach to the racial problem. He found the idea of two tracks, one black and one white, repulsive and foolish. “If we are to have two school systems,” he said in one public statement, “let the second one be for pupils ineligible not because of color but because they either can’t or won’t do the work of the first one.”53 To Else Jonsson, he tried to explain the racial problem in the South: “We have much tragic trouble in Mississippi now about Negroes. The Supreme Court has said that there shall be no segregation, difference in schools, voting, etc. between the two races, and there are many people in Mississippi who will go to any length, even violence, to prevent that, I am afraid. I am doing what I can. I can see the possible time when I shall have to leave my native state, something as the Jew had to flee from Germany during Hitler.”54

In April, Faulkner traveled to Oregon to deliver his lecture on “Freedom American Style” and spend a week talking to students and faculty at the University of Oregon. On his way home he stopped at the University of Montana at Missoula, where he gave the same lecture. It is worth paying attention to his sudden, unprecedented wish to lecture. The impulse seems far from any impulse that drove him to fiction; it seems to have arisen from the ashes of his creativity: a wish to declare, to declaim, to sum up experience. Fiction for him arose from opposite impulses: a wish to explore, to embody, to qualify, to question his own perceptions of reality by allowing a range of voices to present their versions of reality.

He had recently decided to accept another invitation, even farther afield: Harold Howland had written on March 2 to say that a conference of professors in Nagano, Japan, had requested his presence. They wished to build a conference around his appearance and to question him about the nature of his work. Faulkner was delighted, and wrote back to accept the offer, wondering if he might even extend the trip: “If there is something I can do in Europe, could I attend the seminar first two weeks in August, then go on to Europe?”55

His busy spring included another trip to New York (where he learned that A Fable had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize) and one to Kentucky, where he reported on the Kentucky Derby for Sports Illustrated, which brought him a fee of twenty-five hundred dollars—the price of a small house in most states in those days. In mid-June, he attended the premiere of Land of the Pharaohs in Memphis, looking out of place in a rumpled cotton jacket and gray cotton trousers. He brought Estelle and Jill, Malcolm and his wife, Gloria, Jack and Suzanne, and Aunt ’Bama to the event, where he dutifully posed for photographs with Howard Hawks and spoke perfunctorily to newspaper and television reporters. He managed to put on a good front, although he told one reporter that the film was “Red River all over again. The Pharaoh is the cattle baron, his jewels are the cattle, and the Nile is the Red River. But the thing about Howard is, he knows it’s the same movie, and he knows how to make it.” He thought the film “worked very well in the terms it set.”56

The summer was mainly spent on the farm, with only a couple of mornings a week spent in his study at Rowan Oak. He also did some sailing on the Ring Dove with Jill and her new husband. In a sense, he was pulling himself together for the big trip to Japan, which had begun to seem daunting. He wrote to warn Harold Howland about his lack of practice as a lecturer: “I am not a lecturer, no practice at it, and I am not a true ‘literary’ man, being a countryman who simply likes books, not authors, nor the establishment of writing and criticism and judging books.”57 He was, perhaps, worried about a book in the planning stage called Faulkner at Nagano, which would track his visit and would be published by a textbook firm in Japan. To his mind, this seemed like overkill.

Faulkner flew by himself to Japan aboard a Pan American flight from Los Angeles that took nearly twenty-four hours. Exhausted, he stepped into the blazing sunlight and a noisy crowd of photographers and reporters on August 1, 1955. He worried that the Japanese expected something of him that he could not deliver, as he was not a “literary man” in the usual sense, somebody with sharp opinions on a range of writers, with a broad knowledge of culture. He parried the questions of reporters by saying “I can’t answer that” or “I’ll have to think about that.” Worn out, he was expected to begin a round of public appearances at once, attending a play and giving a formal press conference, where he fielded a barrage of questions from a gang of thirty reporters. They wanted to know his opinion of Hemingway, his impressions of Japan, his view of racial problems in the American South, and a host of other things. There was a big dinner, followed by radio and television interviews as well as a party, where Faulkner ate little and drank heavily.

Unsteady, he was taken to his hotel room by his host from the embassy. The next morning, when this host reappeared, it was obvious that the author could not possibly attend the lunch that had been arranged for him, even though 170 guests had accepted the invitation. Faulkner complained that his back had “gone out” and asked the somewhat startled official to jump on his back while he stretched out on the floor of the hotel room. The official reported to the embassy that Faulkner was suffering from the heat and would not attend the lunch in his honor. He did, however, manage (barely) to attend a reception in his honor that evening, though he seemed present in body only. The next day he collapsed completely and was treated by doctors. He recovered with astonishing speed, much to the relief of his minders, and was able the next day to meet with half a dozen Japanese authors from the PEN club. He told them, in a slow, thoughtful manner, that he was an author himself but also “the head of the family and must look after it. The land has been handed down from my forefathers, and I have a responsibility toward my forefathers.” His statements struck most of those assembled as old-fashioned, but they realized he was being genuine and showed him immense respect.58

The main event took place at Nagano City, a hundred or so miles northwest of Tokyo, where Faulkner put up at the simple but elegant Homeikan Hotel for twelve days. Leon Picon was Faulkner’s minder, and he had booked a room next to the author. Each room had a long, low table with cushions around it for taking tea or sake. Guests slept on futons, which were rolled up by housemaids in pastel kimonos during the day. There was a lush garden outside of Faulkner’s room, where he liked to sit quietly in the evening, smoking his pipe, drinking sake. The conference sessions took place at the nearby Japan-American Cultural Center, where about fifty Japanese literature professors met with four American scholars to discuss the work of five contemporary American novelists, including Faulkner, whose visit was the highlight of the seminar.

The conference had scheduled seven afternoon sessions, which usually began with a brief written statement by Faulkner, followed by wide-ranging questions about his work, his reading, his feelings about American and Japanese societies. Faulkner repeatedly warned the company that he was not “an intellectual” but someone who might speak to them about “man’s hope and aspiration.” He did his best to pay honest tribute to Japanese traditions, literary and cultural. Throughout, he seemed to prefer the younger scholars to the older, whom he found stiff and impassive. To one reporter, he noted: “I have noticed in the younger Japanese writers I have talked to a doubt that they can stand alone, individually yet, that they have got to confederate. If I have done any good talking to them, I have tried to tell them that they don’t have to confederate. They can confederate as artists, but they must stand on their own feet.”59

Again and again, Faulkner sang the praises of individualism, which must have seemed shocking to a nation used to regarding conformity as a major virtue. The Japanese reverence for the writer as a “wise man” interested him, and he informed his audience several times that in America “nobody pays attention to [the writer.] He has no part in our ideology and our politics.” He wished that it were true that in America the writer had respect. “In my country,” he explained, “instead of asking the artist what makes children commit suicide, they go to the Chairman of General Motors and ask him.”

When the expected question came about what writers he would recommend to the Japanese, he replied: “I would recommend the French and prerevolutionary Russian writings and our Bible and Shakespeare, and I would recommend the French literature by Flaubert.” With his usual combination of candor and slyness, he parried questions about his method with this somewhat disingenuous reply about his “method” of writing: “It is ignorance. I have had no education. I never did like school and wouldn’t go and I have had to teach myself my trade, I suppose, and I haven’t got rid of a certain amount of trash in me.”60

Faulkner delighted and surprised the Japanese, who found his responses to their questions remarkably fresh and candid, so unlike anything a distinguished Japanese intellectual might offer in a similar situation. Once, for example, he passed a crowd of high school students outside a library, and he asked the driver to pull over. He wanted simply to chat with them. Without the slightest hesitation, he turned the meeting into an impromptu press conference, taking up a wide range of issues from the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan to writing books. He was asked for a “motto” by one of the students, and he left them with this: “Never be afraid of anything and believe in people.” He had, indeed, throughout his life been strikingly unafraid of things. He said whatever he thought, despite the consequences. The notion of believing in people seems more debatable: he trusted himself more than anyone else, though he also put a good deal of faith in close friends, from Phil Stone and Ben Wasson in the early days to Saxe Commins now.

Back in the company of the professors, he often took informal questions and answered with frankness and, sometimes, a touch of absurdity. Asked about his hobbies, he listed horses, hunting, and sailing. When one irreverent young man asked about his drinking, he said, with good humor: “I consider drinking a normal instinct, not a hobby. A normal and healthy instinct.”

On the last Sunday of his stay in Nagano, he was taken to Lake Nojiri in the mountains, where he attempted to sail a small boat. He wrote about this experience later. “The bowl of mountains containing the lake is as full of hard rapid air as the mouth of a wind-tunnel,” he observed. The hard wind, in fact, drove him into a muddy and shallow part of the lake, where his centerboard got stuck. Taking off his shoes and rolling up his trousers, he leaped overboard and pushed the boat free.

Faulkner was often followed around Japan by Harry Keith, a cameraman who shot a brief film of the author’s tour. He captured Faulkner wandering in a garden, stopping beside a goldfish pond, feeding pigeons. Still photographers seemed everywhere in evidence, taking snapshots. Journalists hovered, and Faulkner’s casual remarks made their way into newspapers around the world. For a man who valued his privacy so intensely, Faulkner had put himself into the center of the world’s eye, yet he seemed to like it. His performance was, by every account, superb. He even managed to drink moderately—a feat of remarkable self-control.

In Tokyo again after the conference, the public eye seemed only to widen, as over a period of several days Faulkner gave press conferences and interviews, met various politicians and intellectuals, and played the role of cultural ambassador with considerable aplomb. At the American Cultural Center, he spoke to a large group of teachers and high school students, fielding the usual questions about his generation of writers, about the distinctness of southern literature, about his writing habits and preferences as a reader. After a solid week of public and private events, he was understandably tired, scarcely able to summon much enthusiasm for a two-day stopover in Manila (where he would visit Victoria, his stepdaughter) before turning back toward Europe.

Faulkner wanted to make a good impression in the Philippines, having had such a success in Japan, and he succeeded. He was greeted at the airport in Manila by a large press corps, who interviewed him respectfully. He gave a lecture the next day—his essay on “The American Dream”—and attended a panel discussion where he fielded questions from a large audience. He had learned by now that most of the questions put to him would follow a similar pattern, and he had developed a public persona that worked, managing to convey a sense of interest in the new culture before him, giving a solid impression of himself as a man of letters. Having read Faulkner’s work, many of his interviewers had expected a severe and difficult man; instead, they found a lively and engaged, sympathetic fellow. The internal report of the United States Information Service (USIS), which had sponsored the visit, described him as “sincere, kind, humble and unfailingly patient.”61 The author had obviously become comfortable with his newfound role as cultural ambassador. He had also accepted the role of instructor and come to like “scenes of instruction,” as Zender calls them: moments of exchange between the old and young. This played out especially in his later teaching at the University of Virginia, but also seems relevant to his wish to give part of his Nobel Prize money to found scholarships for black students. It also, erotically, played out in his relationships with Joan Williams and Jean Stein, who were both “students” of his.

Faulkner looked forward immensely to Rome, where he would meet up with Jean for ten days of genuine rest and fun. The one official meeting he attended during this period was a luncheon in his honor held by the U.S. embassy, where Clare Boothe Luce was in charge. Faulkner sat amiably through a long meal of many courses and a great deal of wine with Alberto Moravia, Ignazio Silone, and other well-known writers. Perhaps he was exhausted by the visit to the Far East, but he seemed in no mood for idle chat, and Ambassador Luce found him rude and unapproachable. He apparently ate and drank in silence, refusing to answer in anything but monosyllables. Moravia, for his part, did not take offense, having long admired Faulkner’s novels. “I always think of William Faulkner as the primary novelist of America in the twentieth century,” he later said, “but he was no conversationalist.”62

During his time in Rome, the infamous Emmett Till case broke, and Faulkner was approached by the press for comment. Till was a young teenager from Chicago who went to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi, outside of Greenwood, where he supposedly made the mistake of whistling at a white woman and making a rude remark to her as well. For his sins, he was brutally murdered by two white men related to the offended white woman. In keeping with tradition, a local jury refused to convict the men of murder. The savage nature of the incident and the obvious injustice of the acquittal caught the world’s attention at a time when the civil rights movement was beginning to catch fire. Having played the role of statesman for the past month, Faulkner did not back away from the case but issued a four-hundred-word statement on September 6, 1955, calling the acquittal “a sorry and tragic error” and asserting that such incidents threatened the survival of American culture: “Because if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive, and probably won’t.”63 (Later, Faulkner would withdraw somewhat from this position during a radio interview, where he said: “The Till boy got himself into a fix, and he almost got what he deserved. But even so you don’t murder a child.”)64

Having had a semiholiday from public events, Faulkner plunged into the role of cultural ambassador again with onstage interviews in Rome, Naples, and Milan. During this time, he also met with his Italian publisher, Alberto Mondadori, and helped him to plan a complete edition of his work in Italian. Overall, Faulkner found himself warmly welcomed in Italy. Indeed, he left for Germany on September 17 with considerable reluctance, taking the train over the Brenner Pass. This particular leg of the journey ended in Munich, where he attended a performance of Requiem for a Nun in German, stopping only briefly. Germany held no appeal, and he was eager to get back to France, where the USIS had planned a visit of two weeks.

Faulkner was well into the diplomatic mode by now, and he performed eagerly in a country that had long been familiar and welcoming to him and his work. One of the highlights of this visit was an extensive interview with Cynthia Grenier, an American who worked for the USIS in Paris. The two sat on the lawn behind the USIS building on a hot summer morning in late September, Faulkner in his blue Brooks Brothers shirt, the sleeves rolled up above the elbows. “I feel like Paris is a kind of home for me,” he said. “There’s the liberty here to be an artist. It’s in the air.” He spoke freely about his reading and writing, paying special tribute to Balzac, who had provided an obvious model for his own work. “I like the fact that in Balzac there is an intact world of his own,” he observed. “The same blood, muscle and tissue binds the characters together.” As always, Faulkner maintained that he wrote only to outwit death, to write “Kilroy was here” on the “last wall of the universe.”65

He attended parties and dinners with Jean Stein, whose uncle had a lovely apartment on the Avenue Newton. Faulkner also socialized with many old friends, including Monique Salomon, recently divorced and remarried. He saw Anita Loos again, and met Tennessee Williams, Albert Camus, and others. One can hardly imagine a more glittering cast of literary characters, though Faulkner always remained diffident, cool, self-restrained. Indeed, Williams would tell Hemingway that he was deeply unsettled by Faulkner and struck by the man’s “terrible, sad eyes.”66 Camus, who had sought permission to mount a French version of Requiem for a Nun, later noted the extreme politeness and reserve of Faulkner, which formed a barrier between him and the rest of the world. He considered that politeness a southern trait.

The world tour ended with a four-day stop in London, where he met with agents and editors, then a weeklong stay in Reykjavik, where he lectured at a university, gave several press conferences and onstage interviews, and met with the president of Iceland. By now, Faulkner had learned how to put himself on automatic pilot, repeating lines that had been well-rehearsed and preferring to sidestep complicated political questions in favor of literary ones, which were usually focused on his work. Faulkner’s mind was not on the business at hand, however. He was thinking of home, where some unsettling developments compelled his attention. Estelle, after years of illness and alcoholic dependence, had joined Alcoholics Anonymous—a move that must have been threatening to Faulkner. Jill was pregnant, but she had not been well. Malcolm also had been unwell. But the most shocking news came when Faulkner was in New York on the last leg of his journey: Miss Maud had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and the doctors were not optimistic about her survival.