Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Unvanquished

I have misplaced my copy of "The Unvanquished." I may just have to go down to the used book store down the street an buy another copy. I was half way through the book, set it down for a while, and then got caught up in other things. After all, Faulkner is not the easiest read in the world.

As usual, it was very difficult for me to figure out what was going on in the story, not because it isn't well written, but because it is Faulkner. I sort of had a sense of what was going on, but needed the cliffnotes to be sure.

It turns out I was right about my hunch. The grandmother has some sort of scam she was pulling on the Union soldiers where she was selling them mules and stealing them back an selling them back to them all over again. I got the sense that she was only getting away with it because the captain had a soft spot in his heart for this spitfire granny.

Part of what makes Faulkner so hard to understand is, he's not trying to make sure you understand. I get the impression he could care less. He's telling a story, and if you're smart enough to figure out what's going on, you get to listen in. He almost makes you feel more like an eavesdropper than a reader, like if you're not careful, he might reach right out of the book and swat you away for being so nosy, if you bother him with questions.

Another thing that makes Faulkner challenging for me is the preposterousness of the situation. It really does make you want to do a double take to read what Granny is doing to those Unions soldiers. Is she for real? How is she getting away with that?

Yet another reason it is difficult to understand is, Granny seems to be doing this on the sly, trying to hide it from everyone in the story, reader included, and if she makes her plans too loudly everyone might find out!

Ringo is my favorite character. I don't mean to give the story away if you plan to read it, maybe don't read the rest of this blog, but one of the most memorable lines of dialogue is from Ringo. Granny is killed, and I didn't realize how attached to her he was. He was the same age as her white grandson, and every bit as much part of the family. After Granny is murdered, Ringo, the grandson, and Snopes, the man who originally seemed to get Granny involved with the scam she'd been running, all go on a quest to find the killer or killers and avenge her death. At one point, the grandson is trying to figure out how many notches are on the stick he is using to keep track of how many days they'd been gone. He forgets how many days it's been. He asks Ringo to help. How many notches are on his stick.

"I only got two notches. One for the day Granny was killed, and one for the day we find that son of a bitch that killed her."

I really didn't know how he felt about her till then. What a great writer Faulkner is, to keep that affection that Ringo had for Granny withheld till the moment he says that, while whittling on that stick.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yoknapatawpha County

I'm an escapist. I love chess. Nothing makes me happier than playing a six hour chess game except maybe one thing. Escaping to Yoknapatawpha County. That's where I want to be.

When I go to Yoknapatawpha County, and immediate feeling of peace washes over me. And I don't just plan to go there in my head either. I plan to go there for real. I've already driven to Oxford, and gone to see Rowen Oak, Faulkner's home, but that was before I had read The Sound And The Fury.

When I went to see the plantation, I looked at the rooms, the kitchen, the upstairs bedroom, the room where Faulkner wrote on the walls. I imagined things from The Mansion, because that's certainly what this was. Ok, I even acted a little silly. I imagined that everyone who'd ever read Faulkner felt the way I did. I asked the plantation tour guide if she knew anything about who the character of "Flem Snopes" was based on. She looked at me like I was crazy. Oh well, that wasn't the first time anyone had ever looked at me like that, and as I get further and further into my Faulkner obsession, I'm sure it won't be the last. But I'll be honest, I don't even think she knew who Flem Snopes was.

Now that I have read The Sound And The Fury, my determination to go to searching Mississippi for clues has grown. I want to see the tree that Caddy climbed, and even more, I want to see the window on which Lettie scratched the words "Lettie was here." I've heard it's still there. I've heard that scene appears in several of his books, and I haven't encountered it yet. It is supposedly a scene where a little girl scratches her name in the glass while the confederate soldiers march by. It's from real life, as real as it gets. A friend of Faulkner said when he saw that glass he said, "She's still there, like a ghost." I have to read more by Faulkner, and find that scene, and then, if it still exists, I have to find that glass window and see those words scratched there.

I love books. I am currently reading Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding. Amazing book. I'm enjoying it. I'm also reading lots of indie books. I don't want to wait till I finish all these other books to get back to Faulkner. Maybe I will set aside a little time each day to visit Yoknapatawpha County.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Rose For Emily

While I was visiting Oxford I stopped into a bookstore. I'm an author, and I was trying to convince his book store owner to sell my book in her store. She and I got to talking. I told her I was obsessed with Faulkner and had come to Oxford to learn more about the town that Jefferson was at least partially modeled after. This opened up the conversation to where Faulkner got his ideas for his characters. This bookstore owner then claimed that she knew the woman that inspired him to create Emily, from "A Rose for Emily." She claimed that he hated this woman, and that this woman who was the real life person of Emily, was the wife of some lawyer that he knew.

I have no way to verify this claim, and I've heard other accounts of who the real Emily is, so I don't necessarily believe her story, but I was certainly intrigued. Such a small town as Oxford, everyone probably knows everyone and such a rumor probably doesn't come from nowhere. The name of that bookstore was Square Books, and it sat right on the square. It is said that William Faulkner and his friend used to walk around that square trying to sell his books and poems. Talk about self-promoting. I bet Faulkner would have loved the internet. I loved being there on that square in Oxford.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Bedroom at Rowen Oak, or perhaps an office. I remember seeing this when I was there. I remember the words were red, although I may be remembering them incorrectly. I thought it was a plot outline, although from the look of it now it doesn't look like that. Seeing those words written on the wall was thrilling, and I can't wait to go back there and have more time to spend in that house. I will do more research to find out what the exact meaning of those words on Faulkner's wall mean. I love the idea that it was a plot outline from one of his books.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Diary of Francis Terry Leak

At the time I visited the town of Oxford and the plantation called Rowen Oak, I don't think the Leak diary had been discovered yet. This diary is called the literary discovery of the century. It is said it will change the course of Faulkner scholarship. The diary was discovered by Emory English professor Sally Wolff-King. She obtained verbal, eye-witness confirmation that William Faulkner regularly visited the great grandson of Leak and looked through the diary. In this diary are the same names and events found in Faulkner's works.

Francis Terry Leak was a wealthy plantation owner living in the 1800's near Salem, Mississippi. Although I don't know for sure yet, my guess from the brief, quick bit of research I've done on google is that the plantation is no longer standing, but the location on the map seems easy to find.

Looks like I've found my next destination.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oxford, Mississippi

During a family trip to Florida, on a last minute impulse as we drove through Mississippi, I dragged my family with me to Oxford to see the imaginary town of Jefferson that I had read so much about. It wasn't hard to find the Faulkner home, there were signs all over town pointing to it. I immediately recognized the home when I saw it. It was the plantation I had imagined, and seen in so many of his novels, from "A Light in August," to "The Mansion," to "The Sound and The Fury." We arrived late in the day so I didn't have time to see much. Too late to take a tour but that was fine with me. Just like when I read Faulkner, I wanted to experience everything for myself, by myself, and without a guide.

I went running through the house, knowing that I only had fifteen minutes to see it all. I saw the kitchen and so was able to see the kitchen I had imagined when I read the unforgettable description from "A Light in August," of the slave who had been freed, who returned twenty years later and simply walked into the kitchen and started preparing soup.

I ran through the yard looking for the tree Caddy climbed to look in the window the "night Damuddy died." I looked in the gracious rooms upstairs and saw for myself the probable office room where Flem Snopes put his feet on the desk and his hands behind his head and looked out over the fields and said "I just had to find out why anybody needed all this."

I only had fifteen minutes. Now I need a lifetime to read Faulkner some more and head back to Oxford to see more of Jefferson, Mississippi.