William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury & The Unvanquished
Tuesdays, November 13 – December 18, 2012 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington Street
In reading The Sound and the Fury alongside The Unvanquished, we’ll see Faulkner at his most and least experimental. Though both novels are set in his imagined Yoknapatawpha County, aesthetically they seem worlds apart. Nonetheless, between the ardent subjectivity of the one and the crafted storytelling of the other, we will find in them a wealth of common themes and allusions, as well as Faulkner’s ongoing fascination with “the problems of the human heart.”
GUIDE: Lucas Bernhardt holds MAs in English and in Writing from Portland State University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He teaches writing at Portland State.
LUCAS BERNHARDT on WILLIAM FAULKNER: William Faulkner began his literary career so overdressed and underemployed that locals nicknamed him “Count No’ Count.” After his debut poetry collection and first two novels attracted little notice, he decided to stop trying to impress the literary movers and the reading public. He later reflected:
One day I seemed to shut a door between me and all publishers’ addresses and book lists. I said to myself, Now I can write. Now I can make myself a vase like that which the old Roman kept at his bedside and wore the rim slowly away with kissing it. So I, who had never had a sister and was fated to lose my daughter in infancy, set out to make myself a beautiful and tragic little girl.
The girl was Caddy Compson, and the story was The Sound and the Fury, now ranked 6th on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best English-language Novels of the 20th Century.
Faulkner’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Sound and the Fury was Sanctuary, a page-turner that sold well. It would be tempting to assume that at this point he had overcome his confused and unpromising start as a writer. However, the Great Depression took its toll on the publishing business, and Faulkner’s popularity was further undermined by his habit of writing stories that seemed to offer no cures for the nation’s social and economic ills.
Throughout the ‘30s, Faulkner doggedly pursued the literary vision guiding The Sound and the Fury, composing a series of novels set in the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, most of which soon fell out of print.
In order to pay the bills, he cranked out short stories and did stints as a screenwriter in Hollywood. His 1938 novel, The Unvanquished, is a curious marriage of his concerns about his characters and his wallet. Constructed from a collection of Civil War stories that the author himself called “trash,” Faulkner aggressively revised his materials to reflect his more serious concerns.
The result is an engaging and accessible introduction to the world of Yoknapatawpha County. In the coming seminar, we will first read The Unvanquished and then the more challenging The Sound and the Fury. By tackling the books out of chronological order, we’ll have the chance to get our toes wet before hazarding deeper waters and swifter currents.