Southeast Missouri State University

Writing William Faulkner's Biography

Joseph Blotner

[Editors’ note:  Following the publication of his Faulkner:  A Biography in 1974, Joseph Blotner gave a number of presentations on the writing of the book.  None of those presentations has been previously published, and we are grateful for Professor Blotner’s permission to offer the one printed below to our readers, who continue to find Blotner’s biography extremely helpful in the reading and teaching of Faulkner.  The essay is based on a typescript that is a part of the Blotner Papers, which are now deposited in the Brodsky Collection at Southeast Missouri State University.]

If you would like to try to imagine what it was like for me at the beginning, picture yourself walking down a corridor of your office building as the dusk begins to fall on a December afternoon. As you are about to turn into your office, you glance ahead, and there, under the distant over­head light you glimpse for a moment a figure that is stunningly familiar. There is just a brief moment to confirm his identity as he turns to enter an office, but in that moment the carriage, the stature,  the face, make it obvious to you that you have glimpsed the novelist, or poet, or dramatist, the one in your field you admire most, or at the very least, one whose work you have studied and taught for a number of years. So it was that afternoon in 1956 when I glimpsed William Faulkner in Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia.  

It was not a complete surprise, because I was the junior member of the committee charged with bringing to Mr. Jefferson’s academical village its first writer in residence. I had helped with tentative selections and exploratory correspon­dence, but a favorable response had come with unexpected quickness and the negotiations had gone immediately to a higher level. Now I was tempted to lurk about the corridor on some pretext, to wait for an introduction or at least another glimpse, but I resisted the impulse. Not long afterwards I learned that he had indeed accepted the University’s modest offer and would soon be in residence. 

Early in the new year he began his duties, and it fell to my lot to arrange schedules, escort him to classes, introduce him to audiences, and sometimes shield him from unwelcome intrusions. Gradually the business activity shaded into the social, and he and my committee colleague, Fred Gwynn, and I began to have coffee together nearly every day, and then, as the semester wore on, to go to each other’s homes for drinks or for dinner.  

From the time William Faulkner’s reputation had begun to grow, he had been known for his reticence. And  though the legends had increased over the years, and though new honors enlarged his national and international reputation, he had not become much more vocal, especially that of his own work. So we had arranged to tape these sessions with the various groups which questioned him. Feeling some further sense of responsibility to Faulkner students yet unborn, Fred suggested one day that after Mr. Faulkner left Cabell Hall for home, we should go into our offices and note down things he had said, much as Boswell noted down remarks of Dr. Johnson, I suppose. So we did, but later, as we read to each other what he had said about the day’s newspaper headlines, or about a book he had been reading, we realized that this would not do. It was not fair to give the impression that we were engaged in spontaneous conversation when we were making mental notes of his informal and sometimes personal remarks. 

And  so we kept the two worlds separate. Inside the classroom he was, as he put it, “fair game.” Outside it, he was among friends, talking spontaneously, and not for the record. That was the way it continued, through the rest of that academic year and into the next when he returned to be writer-in-residence again. Each year thereafter I would accompany him as he made a few courtesy appearances before university groups. He was now spending half of each year in Charlottesville, where he had bought a house, and we would see each other often, going together to track meets and football games, to parties and to little league baseball games, and visiting with our wives and children back and forth in each other’s homes. This endedᾰthe most memorable association in our livesᾰwith his sudden, unexpected death in July of 1962. 

In the following months I continued to drop in at his home once or twice a week at drink time, as I had done for the past several years. One day in early March of 1963, as I sat there with Mrs. Faulkner, her daughter Jill, and her son-in-law, Paul, I asked them if they had seen that more books were coming out about William Faulkner, one by his brother John. No, they had not known this, and they seemed a little appalled at the amount of material in the offing. It was Paul, finally, who said, “Joe, you knew him. Why don’t you write a book about him as he really was?” Taken by surprise, I said nothing for a moment, while Jill and her mother looked at me with what I took to be expressions of polite and pleasant interest. “I don’t know what to say,” I finally said, “but let me think about it and tell you the next time I see you.” It did not take me long thereafter to realize that I wanted very much to do William Faulkner’s life. So, less than a week later, at drink time again, I told them that I would like to do the job. Not long afterwards, when I brought them letters to signᾰrequests that people provide me such help as they couldᾰ­Jill said to me, “We think it’s wonderful you want to do it. But I’m sorry for you, with that kind of a job.” 

It was fortunate that I could not know how much of a job it would be. The research would take me into sixteen states and six foreign countries. Completing the biography would take me more than ten years. What I propose to tell you now are some of the things that happened along the way. 

As I began, I regretted several things. One was that I had noted down, usually in my pocket date book, only the kind of thing for Faulkner that I would for one of our other friends: that we were due for dinner there at 6:30 P.M. on Saturday, or that he and Paul were picking me up at 6:30 A.M. on the following Saturday to spend the day touring battlefields. I would have to scour my memory for some of the memorable things he had saidᾰoften stunningly perceptive, outrageously funny, or deeply melancholy. I would have to learn an enormous amount, for I knew about his life only what he had told me or what appeared in the secondhand accounts I had read. Prior to his death, I had not been in Mississippi since the war, (World War II, that is) and then it had not been his part of the state, and there had been little about Kessler Field, in Biloxi, to suggest anything remotely literary. To make matters worse was a circumstance which would have occasioned rejoicing at any other time: in less than half a year we were leaving the country, returning to Denmark for another Fulbright. Copenhagen was my favorite city, but for those twelve crucial months I should be instead in places such as Memphis, Oxford, Greenville, Jackson, Pascagoula, and New Orleans.  But it was too late: too late to get me put back into the budget at home and too late, in good conscience, to get me replaced abroad. 

As time began to accelerate I did what I could:  accumulated books to take with me, made photocopies of relevant correspondence from Faulkner’s New York agent’s files, and talked to his publisher. I did not talk business with the publisher because that spring, on the Adriatic, during a Yugoslav-American seminar, one of my American colleagues had given me a bit of advice. Mark Schorer, biographer of Sinclair Lewis, said, “Of course I have no personal interest in this, but you really should have a literary agent. If you like I’ll write to mine and you can see her when you get back to New York.” So, when we boarded ship for Europe, I had a literary agent but no publisher, and, already a thousand miles from William Faulkner’s homeland, I preparing to put three thousand more miles between myself and the place I thought I needed most to be.   

But it turned out all right. The agent arranged the contract I wanted with Random House, his publisher, which was vital for access to files and economical for permissionᾰ and if I could not do the American field work during this year, I could do the European. So, rather than tracing William Faulkner’s steps through the country of his childhood, I traced some of the route he had followed on his first sojourn in Europe in 1925 and much of the that which he had followed when he had returned 25 years later to accept the Nobel Prize. It was there in Stockholm, where he had received his greatest accolade, that I began to see that this kind of research could involve discovery as well as digging. 

From Copenhagen I had written to the diplomat who had been American Ambassador to Sweden in 1950. He had answered my questions and, almost as an afterthought, told me I might want to try an Englishman who had been butler in the Embassy at that time.  The Ambassador had assigned him to Faulkner rather like a batman for his brief stay there, and Faulkner had developed a sort of attachment to him. Whether he might still be available was something else, for the Ambassador had heard that the butler had begun drinking heavily, had fallen (or thrown himself) into one of the canals, and when last heard of had been working, half-time, at the Indian Embassy. I wrote to him along with the others before I left Copenhagen. 

Arriving in Stockholm I enjoyed a series of fruitful interviews, so that in three or four days I had most of what I thought I needed. Somewhat to my surprise, the butler had responded to my letter, and I decided that before I left I might as well see him too. He arrived at my hotel one afternoon, a tall, thin, stooped man with a fiery complexion. I ordered coffee, and while we sat over it he tried very conscientiously to dredge up what he could remember of William Faulkner’s stay fourteen years before. As I refilled the cups, he drew a sheaf of folded papers from an inner pocket and said, “you might be interested in these, sir.” Then he went on to tell me how one of his duties was to check Mr. Faulkner’s wastebasket because he seemed to deposit all incoming mail there, including an invitation to a reception from King Gustaf. I assumed that the sheaf of papers was probably a mimeographed schedule of Nobel activities and waited until there was a lull in the butler’s quiet recital. Then I opened them and found that I was holding seven pages, some of them plain paper, some of them Hotel Algonquin stationery, on which William Faulkner had written, in pencil and in pen, early drafts of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. The butler had retrieved them from the wastebasket. I asked him if he had ever thought of disposing of this material. No, he had not. Would he like me to act for him in disposing of it? “Whatever you think, sir,” he said. I would later act as the intermediary in a transaction by which he profited considerably and by which William Faulkner’s grandsons would, in time, acquire additional mementos of their grandfather. In the process I acquired Xerox copies which would make my chapter on the Nobel Prize considerably more thorough. 

When we returned to the United States I began teaching again and prepared to plunge into my American field work. Thanks to the Guggenheim Foundation, I would be free from January to September of 1965. A few years later, when I made an exploratory visit before joining the University of North Carolina, a very eminent professor at Chapel Hill would ask me, “How does it happen that a Yankee like yourself is writing the biography of William Faulkner?” I tried to explain briefly and then said, “I realize sir, that most Southerners are born knowing some things in their bones that a Northerner can’t acquire, but I’m doing the best I can.” It was for this reason, among others, that I would spend most of my research trips where I needed most to be: in the Deep South. I came to feel a deep fondness for Oxford, but this is not to say that I did not at times experience ambivalent feelings about it. As I think back, one sequence of incidents in November of 1965 epitomizes some of them. 

I was pursuing my research on many different levels, reading Faulkner manuscripts in Virginia, interviewing everyone I could find in Oxford who had known him at all well, and trying to get some sense of the life he had known there. But even this was not enough. I had to have some sense of life in North Mississippi during the years when his family had become one of the most prominent in that region. So I found myself in the ante-bellum Oxford courthouse, the analog of which figures in so many of the novels. There I read wills, checked other records, and began to read the Oxford Eagle from 1885-1962. The County Clerk, who presided over these records, was a man who had come in from the country as a boy and worked at a series of jobs until he lost an arm in some farm machinery. His employer paid the medical bills and only a few hundred dollars more. There was no insurance or compensation, but the kind-hearted electorate of Lafayette County soon installed him in the job which he had capably filled for years. He held forth there in his domain: talkative, an adept with the records, and a genial office manager. He was as kind to me as he was to the county lawyers who used his rooms. I worked there all day at the start and soon realized I could not cover as much ground as I wished, so I asked him if there was any chance that I could return that night for a few hours more work. He said he would be glad to come back with me from 7 to about 9:30 and use the time to catch up on some back work of his own. This pattern continued for two more days. When I asked on the following afternoon if I could return that night, he said he was supposed to go to his son’s house out in the country for supper. He scratched his head. “I’ll tell you what, Joe,” he said, “I’ll give you the key and you can let yourself in tonight and then lock up when you’re through.” 

So it was that I found myself in a completely new research situation. After dinner, when darkness had fallen, I would return to the Square, let myself into the Courthouse, and then open the metal door into the room where the records were housed. This went on for two more nights. I would work for two or three hours, then put out the lights, lock up the Courthouse, cross the quiet Square, and walk two blocks past the lighted windows of the locked stores to the mote.  It had grown cold by the last night of this work, and as I locked up the courthouse for the last time, I pulled up the collar of my trench coat against the November wind. Briefcase in hand, I walked to the curb, waited for the patrolling police car to pass, and crossed the street.  It was so cold that I stopped before the jewelry store window, set my briefcase down, and reached into my pocket for the black ski band which would protect my ears against the cold. I adjusted it, picked up the briefcase, and turned the corner away from the Square. Before I had gone a block and a half I realized that the patrol car had circled the Square and was pulling up to the curb beside me. It stopped. I stopped and looked, but the policeman did not look at me. He resembled exactly the actor who would later gain wide recognition as the Southern sheriff in the Dodge tv commercials. Looking straight ahead, he inclined his head and crooked his finger at me. As I walked to his window he said, “Where are you going?” 

“To the motel,” I said. “I’m staying there.”

“Got any identification?”

I handed him my driver’s license. “Hassell Smith in the motel knows me,” I said. “He can identify me.”

“Whatcha doin’ in Oxford?” the policeman asked.

“Well,” I said, “I’m doing some research because I’m writing Mr. Faulkner’s biography.”

“Oh,” he said, “Oh. That’s very interestin’.” He handed back my license and put the car in gear. “If we can ever be of any help to you, just let us know,” he said, and drove off.  In an instant he had turned genial and hospitable, but I had had a sense, suddenly, of what it might have been like for a suspicious-looking stranger without those credentials. 

My research in California was absorbing in a different way. There I worked in the script libraries of several of the studios where Faulkner had been employed. Each noon I would go to lunch in the studio commissaries, where actors in top hats and actresses in hoop skirts ate their hamburgers carefully so as not to smear that makeup that made them look like waxworks figures. Most of my labor involved checking the screenplays on which Faulkner had worked and reading correspondence that filled in for me his assignments and salary scale. By now the actors he had like best were dead or departed for other climes: Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, Hoagy Carmichael and Ronald Colman. But there were still writers and directors who had known him. I learned not only about my subject but about them as well.  One, who had begun as a novelist and short story writer, had felt something like hero worship. “Bill gave me some advice once,” he told me. “He said, ‘John, you’ve got some talent. You ought to get out of this town and write.”’ My informant said it with a melancholy smile. Faulkner had left Hollywood for good as soon as he had achieved some financial security. His young collaborator had never left and had never returned to writing his short stories and novels.  

[Besides learning more about human nature in California, I also had to learn – actually, relearn – a simple research rule: No matter how complicated, manifold, or diverse your research problem, exercise the discipline to be careful of your materials. Early in my first stay in Hollywood I had set out in my host’s Volkswagen with a brief case full of files, maps, and pads to negotiate the dangerous freeways and make my way that day from West Los Angeles to Santa Monica, from Santa Monica to Burbank, and from Burbank back to West Los Angeles, traveling from studio to private residence to office. During a brief lunch, en route from one place to another, I used one of the restaurant’s pay phones to confirm the afternoon’s appointments. Not long afterwards, as I got out of the car for my first appointment, I checked my briefcase. I found that one folder was missing. It was the one that contained all of the dates of William Faulkner’s employment at the different studios and all of the California phone numbers I would need, many of them unlisted. I retraced my steps immediately, but the ledge where I had rested my folder below the restaurant’s telephone was bare, and the manager told me that no one had turned it in. I finished the day’s work in something like despair. That evening when I got back to my host’s home he greeted me and said, “Oh, yes, there was a call for you. It was some girl, but she wouldn’t say what she wanted, just left her number.” I called immediately and found that it was the person who had found my folder. “I was an English major in college,” she said, “and I knew it was too important to just leave it there.! That may have been true, but later, after I had driven into one of Los Angeles’ poorer sections and met the young divorcee who had found my folder, talked with her as her small child played on the floor, I realized that she just might have been counting on the reward I handed her. It was a lesson re-learned at relatively little cost, when much of my trip might otherwise have been ruined or made very difficult. Always be CAREFUL, I told myself, and to this day, whenever I go on a research trip, I check and recheck my materials like a man with a tic.]1 

The trips I made to the North in that year of scholarly roaming were exciting in a different way. Though William Faulkner had often sounded like a country boy, he had spent a good deal of time in New York, from cheap flats in Greenwich Village to the round table at the Algonquin. Always an intriguing man and often an engaging one, he had left many friends. It gave me great pleasure to interview them, people as different as Robert A. Lovett and Bennett Cerf, actresses such as Lauren Bacall, writers such as Dorothy Parker and Anita Loos. In Connecticut, working at the home of my editor, I would use Westport as a base for visiting critics like Malcolm Cowley and then, that evening, with my host and hostess might find myself in the company of sophisticated suburbanites such as John Hersey, David Wayne, Richard Rogers and Peter De Vries. I was working hard, but I couldn’t say there weren’t rewards along the way. 

I was gradually putting together my own scholarly apparatus, working in libraries from New Haven to Austin, and returning from these pleasing and exhausting trips to eat, sleep, kiss my family and retreat into my study. There I would write my thank-yous, transcribe my notes and tapes, and deposit the transcriptionsᾰsometimes in triplicateᾰin my tripartite files: one copy to the Faulkner work concerned, another to the year involved, and a third to the folder of the relevant actor in the drama of his life. There was of course a lifetime of research involved if I wished to do it, but I prepared deter­minedly for the date when I would confront the first sheet of blank paper in my typewriter. My agent had urged that we sign a contract promising delivery of the manuscript in three years. I had held out for five. If I meant to keep that schedule, I should soon begin the next phase.  The pages began to pile up as, beginning with the Faulkner begats, I worked my way through the nineteenth century and to his birth near its end. Summer became fall and fall became winter. Then, in January of 1968, thanks to the generosity of the Guggenheim Foundation again, I began eight more months when I could devote myself to my typewriter and files, emerging from study only for brief trips to clean up details as required. The day after St. Patrick’s day of that year I finished my draft of Chapter 25. I was, though I did not know it, one third of the way through. That summer we uprooted ourselves and moved to Chapel Hill, my files in my car and insured to the hilt. In mid-January of 1969 I finished Chapter 50. I was now two thirds finished, though at times I wondered if I would ever work my way through the mass of material at once so fascin­ating and seemingly intractable. On July 21 the Astronauts reached the moon. Two days later I reached Chapter 64. The fall came, and on November 18, with my wife in bed with one illness and myself two steps from bed with anotherᾰlobar pneumoniaᾰ I finished my manuscript. 

I thought I was home free. I still had a lot to learn. Three weeks after May Day, 1970, I flew to New York and walked into the offices of Random House with an antiquated suitcaseᾰthe bellboy at the Algonquin said it reminded him of his high school trombone caseᾰcontaining my 2000 pages of manuscript. I turned it over to my editor, who also happened to be the editor of John O’Hara, Robert Penn Warren, and James Michener. Each one of them also had a new book that year, and my manuscript was put into the holding pattern in my editor’s office. It was early fall before I had all of his notes, and by the time I could complete the revisions it was St. Patrick’s Day, 1971, when I took the revised typescript back to New York once more. 

 [On Halloween the first batch of galley proof arrived, and I retired to my study, not yet to begin work, but to experience first that joy that has not yet cloyed for me, of seeing my words in type again, seeing the imperfect typescript transformed into a sheet that bears the magical authority of print. It began to pall, of course, as I slogged my way through the printer’s errors and author’s errors that sometimes made me despair of ever setting it right. Then, just before Christmas, we moved from Chapel Hill to Ann Arbor. I went through the business of insurance once more, but by this time I could not quench the memory of a remark made by a magazine writer I knew about another biographer, one whose opus had been in the works since 1948: “this has taken longer than anything since the Book of Kells.”] 

By January, 1972, I had all of the galley proof of my text, and I thought I could begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had reckoned without the unexpected. One day I learned that the New York Public Library had acquired what was designated as a new Faulkner archive. It turned out to include a hitherto unknown first typescript of his first novel, some early poems, one essay, and three short storiesᾰall unpublished.  So I went back to New York for several days work and then rewrote the appropriate galleys. I did not knowᾰand still do not knowᾰwhat this cost me and Random House. It was just as well:  there was nothing else I could do. 

Actually, I was already inured, as much as I could be, to such vicissitudes of fate. Not long before, I had learned that another archive had turned up. Here my chagrin was deeper. When I had attended my friend’s funeral in Oxford, in July, 1962, I had stayed on for a few days at his home, Rowan Oak, to help his daughter and son-in-law put his literary effects in some kind of order. This had involved not only books and letters but manuscripts and typescripts. The latter were scattered all over the big old 1840 house: in drawers downstairs in his study, in a richly decorated Korean chest in the hall, in big cardboard cartons upstairs in the attic. I could identify most of these materials and determine with what other manuscripts they belonged. To this day I can remember vividly one hot afternoon when our task was almost done. It was probably close to drink-time. We had gone through the Korean chest downstairs and examined every likely storage place upstairs. Descending the big staircase again, I noticed what seemed to be a small door near the base of the wall which supported it. “What’s that?” I asked. 

 “Oh, that’s just a kind of broom closet,” Jill said. “There’s nothing but brooms and mops and wax in there.” 

A few years later the University of Mississippi had assumed a custodianship over Rowan Oak. One day, in the summer of 1971, before the monthly vigil of the Orkin man, the custodian  opened that little door, for the first time since no one knows when, peered into the dark aperture, and withdrew a cardboard carton which contained two thousand sheets of work by William Faulkner. Eventually, through the unfailing kindness and cooperation of the Faulkner family, I  spent several days going over Xeroxes of all of them. Fortunately, many of them were carbons of work I had already seen: typescripts of novels and short stories. But there was also material that was new to me: the missing manuscript of one of his novels (I had theorized in my text that he had bypassed the manuscript stage with this work), plus unknown short stories, one an autobiographical fragment and another a story which was clearly an early version of what some consider his greatest novel. So I had to rewrite more of my galley proof, almost simultaneously cursing the sequence of events and thanking God that I had been spared such egregious errors. I got it all done, and learned again to be thankful for the galley proof stage of a book. 

I have spared you some of my anguishes: illnesses in the publishing house which delayed the editorial process when I was free to work on what­ever they sent me, schedule changes which took my material off the desk and printer’s rack for a rush book on the Pentagon papers, production schedules involving more of a time lag than I had expected. But by the fall of 1972 I had finished the page proof of the text of both volumes.  During the next year I, and my editor and copy editor, got through all of the typed and printed versions of the notes and index.  At last my desk was clear.  And one January day we drank champagne when the first boxed set stood on our living room coffee table. 

I have speculated from time to time about what I would do differently if I had it all to do over. I have concluded that there is not a great deal that I would do differently, but there are some things. One is the sense of place. I did know the Virginia Faulkner knew, but I think I would have tried early to arrange an extended stay in Mississippiᾰof some kind. I think I know much of Oxford fairly well, but I would have liked the kind of in-depth feeling for a place that can be developed only over a long span. Another thing I would do differently lies at the other end of the spectrum. It involves a faulty information-handling system: the human memory. One indication of my inadequate estimate of the task ahead of me I can still see in one of my most dog-eared manila folders. I had labeled it simply “Things to do.” Another, almost as imprecise and naive, I had inscribed “Location Sheets.” This latter proliferated, of course, as I devised bibliography after bibliography of books and articles, letters and clippings, documents of all kinds. But though they helped me through the work, they were not sufficient to avoid many lost minutes and hours spent searching through one file after another for an item of information I needed before I could put one more word on the page in my typewriter. As I look back I think it might almost have been worth it to keep a running index of every item of information I put into my files, but in that way, probably, lies madness.  

I suppose a more fundamental question would involve not just how to do the job but whether to do it at all. There was no question about the importance of the subject, but the expenditure involved is something else. When I began the work my oldest daughter was just barely a teenager. By the time I was finished she was married, and both her sisters were in college. I spent a great deal of time in my study or on the road that I could have spent with them and with my wife. But then again, the nature of this profession being what it is, I suppose I would have spent that time on some such pursuit. If it had not been Faulkner, it would have been something else. 

And it might not have been as rewarding, not just in terms of possible value to others, but in terms of human and intellectual enrichment for myself. I think back to some of the places I’ve been and people I’ve known. I think back to one night, careening in a taxi around the narrow mountainous road from Taxco out into the Mexican countryside, returning from a long session with an old and close friend of Faulkner’s, returning on a road which, on another night, would claim that man’s life. I think about still another night cruising by car with a newspaperman and a businessman through the area that once housed the city of Memphis’s spectacular Tenderloin. These experiences were not in themselves exactly enriching or uplifting, but I came back from each with more knowledge, more information for the eventual book, and another increment in the sense of life lived. In memory too I can summon up other vignettes:  the bulky matron in her living room of comfortable respectability, recalling for me the old days when, if my suspicions were right, she worked not as a hairdresser but in that Memphis Tenderloin. There was the man who in the Twenties had strolled with Faulkner past the bookstalls overlooking the Seine, and who now sat, alone and impoverished, in a rented room. There was the author, fighting age and alcohol and illness, recalling the past for me in the small apartment littered with old newspapers bearing the tokens of the dogs who were her only companions. There was the actress, handsome, kind, and commanding, in the cubbyhole of her Broadway dressing room, who remembered for me old days on the set with her famous husband and with William Faulkner.  There was the onetime producer-director, wearing a black fedora of a style long out of fashion, driving a big, much-dented black Cadillac, who took me to lunch in a studio commissary where he had once sat in an exclusive area, but where now he was the object of merely curious and unrecognizing glances. 

Some of you may recall a television series of some years ago called “I Led Three Lives.” It dealt with a man who was an ordinary citizen, a secret Communist, and a still more secret FBI agent. As I look back over the past ten years, I have led not just one life, my own, or two,  mine and William Faulkner’s, but, in a sense many. At least I have been privileged to enter them, those of members of the Faulkner family, to whom I feel as to the cousins and uncles and aunts of my own family. And then, stretching out to the periphery, the other lives into segments of which I have been admitted.  I feel almost like Tennyson’s Ulysses, who says, “I am a part of all that I have met...” If I were to ask myself the question, knowing how long it would take and how hard it would be, would I do it all again, I would model my answer, I think, after Yeats’s “A Dialogue of Self and Soul,” where the poet declares, “I am content to follow to its source.  Every event in action or in thought...” Or to put it less grandly, in the poem’s strongest line, “I am content to live it all again...”


Notes


1  Bracketed material is included in another typescript version of this essay.

APPLY VISIT DONATE