Private: Revisiting The Sound and the Fury

Earlier this month, for The Hindu, Ravi Vyas revisited William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and quoted some of the author’s own thoughts about it:

In the Paris Review interview in early 1956 in which he explained his methodology, Faulkner said that “the fact that I have moved my characters around in time successfully… proves to me my own theory that time is a fluid condition which has no existence except in the momentary avatars of individual people. There is no such thing as was — only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow.” It is time dramatised more specifically in the varying reactions of the Compson children to their individual and overlapping pasts — pasts that are made to look like a lost paradise in the remembering than in what was actually experienced.

I believe The Sound and the Fury is Faulkner’s masterpiece. Faulkner apparently thought so, too. He referred to the novel as his “most splendid failure.” In his 1933 introduction to the book, he said:

I set out deliberately to write a tour-de-force. Before I ever put pen to paper and set down the first word, I knew what the last word would be and almost where the last period would fall. Before I began I said, I am going to write a book by which, at a pinch, I can stand or fall if I never touch ink again.

He also described the experience of starting to write Light in August two years after finishing The Sound and the Fury. He discovered that he was unable to recapture “the ecstasy, that eager and joyous faith and anticipation of surprise which the yet unmarred sheet beneath my hand held inviolate and unfailing waiting for release.” He said:

I seemed to have a vision of [Light in August] and the other ones subsequent to The Sound and the Fury ranked in order upon a shelf while I looked at the titled backs of them with a flagging attention which was almost distaste, and upon which each succeeding title registered less and less, until at last Attention itself seemed to say, Thank God I shall never need to open any one of them again. I believed that I knew then why I had not recaptured that first ecstasy, and that I should never again recapture it; that whatever treenovels I should write in the future would be written without reluctance, but also without anticipation or joy: that in The Sound and the Fury I had already put perhaps the only thing in literature which would ever move me very much….

This is the only one of the seven novels which I wrote without any accompanying feeling of drive or effort, or any following feeling of exhaustion or relief or distaste. When I began it I had no plan at all. I wasn’t even writing a book. I was thinking of books, publication, only in the reverse, in saying to myself, I wont have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all. Four years before I had written Soldiers’ Pay. It didn’t take long to write and it got published quickly and made me about five hundred dollars. I said, Writing novels is easy. You dont make much doing it, but it is easy. I wrote Mosquitoes. It wasn’t quite so easy to write and it didn’t get published quite as quickly and it made me about four hundred dollars. I said, Apparently there is more to writing novels, being a novelist, than I thought. I wrote Sartoris. It took much longer, and the publisher refused it at once. But I continued to shop it about for three years with a stubborn and fading hope, perhaps to justify the time which I had spent writing it. This hope died slowly, though it didn’t hurt at all. 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.

A hypertext edition of the novel is available online.