Blotner and Gwynn's Classes, tape 2

DATE: 13 April 1957

OCCASION: Joseph Blotner's Novel and Frederick Gwynn's American Fiction Classes

TAPE: T-115

LENGTH: 17:13

Play the full recording:

Unidentified participant: Is there any purpose in the repetition of the same types of characters throughout your writing?

William Faulkner: No, only that I have led a—all of my life has been lived in a little Mississippi town, and there's not much variety there. A—a writer writes from his experience, his—his background, in the terms of his imagination and his observation. That would be the explanation, I think.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in line with that, some of your novels pick up [the] characters where you left them off in other novels that you had written a good number of years before. For example, most of the incidents involving the Snopes, as I understand it, were written from 1929 on and yet you've come out with a book this year about the Snopes. Do you find it difficult to, over a period of years, pick up those characters and carry their personalities through along the same vein?

William Faulkner: No, no, those characters to me are—are quite real and quite constant. They are in my—my mind all the time. I don't have any trouble at all going back to pick up one. I—I forget what they did, but—but the character I—I don't forget, and when the book is finished, that character is not done, he's still going on at some new devilment that sooner or later I will find out about and write about. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: It's been said that you write about the secret of the human heart. Is there one major truth of the human heart?

William Faulkner: Well, that's a question almost metaphysical. I would say if there is one truth of the human heart, it would be to believe in itself, believe in its—its capacity to aspire, to be better than it is, it might be. That it does exist in all people.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, it has been said that at certain points in the evolution of society, an author is within the society describing his immediate surroundings and what he sees at that time, but as that society degrades and goes down, the author is thrown out and looks as an outsider on his society such that you might see when you look at the [South] [...]? What do you feel is your position in society today? Are you looking from within or are you out of the society looking at it objectively, the South in particular?

William Faulkner: I think that I'm still a part of society. I think that as I grow older I know more, and I see more, understand more of what I see, but I am as much involved in society as I was when I was a young man. I just—just know more of what I see now, because I'm older.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in light of the question out here and your answer about writing about Jefferson because that's what you know, I've always been interested in why you switched [then] to France with A Fable, which is another treatment of the human heart? Why did you feel that a European setting would be best for that theme?

William Faulkner: The Fable was the only book I ever wrote on an idea, and the idea was, who might that man be under the splendid cenotaph with the eternal fire burning over him? That if he had been Christ returned again and crucified again for the second time, then maybe we would have only one more chance. That was the only book I ever wrote from an idea, and that idea had to—since the idea was, who might be under that cenotaph, it had to take place in France.

William Faulkner: Sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, on the inside of the cover of A Fable, I read the comment that this work might possibly become a classic in the lifetime of the author. I never finished the book, and so I don't have an opinion of it to comment. Do you care to comment?

William Faulkner: I don't think it's a—a very good book because it's—as I say, that's the only book I ever tried to write on ideas, and I'm not an idea man. I'm not a—a cerebral man. I write from—from—from here, and so I don't consider that a very good book myself. It was the best I could do with the idea, and I had to write it because the idea worried me.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I was wondering whether Charles Bon in Absalom, Absalom! ever had [concluded] who his father was, Sutpen—

William Faulkner: I think he knew. I don't know whether he—his mother probably told him. I think he knew.

Unidentified participant: Was it a conscious knowledge, would you say, or an unconscious knowledge?

William Faulkner: Probably it—it was a—a conscious knowledge, in the sense that his mother had told him who his father was. It may be that he didn't believe it or didn't know or didn't care. I think—I don't believe that he felt any affinity with Sutpen, as father and son, but probably his mother had told him and—that she had been deserted and if anything, if he did believe it, he hated Sutpen, of course.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, do you think—according to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the greatest sin was the violation of the human heart. Would you say that you think along those lines as far as what the greatest sin could be or the greatest [crime a character could commit]? Would you agree with that statement?

William Faulkner: Yes, yes, I agree with that.

Frederick Gwynn: Sir, did you feel any connection between the servant Nancy in Requiem for a Nun and the servant Nancy in "That Evening Sun"?

William Faulkner: She is the same person, actually.

Frederick Gwynn: They both have that incident about Mr. Stovall in the street.

William Faulkner: Yes, she is the same personal actually. These people I figure belong to me, and I have the right to move them about in time when I need them.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, throughout your work there seems to be a theme that there's a curse upon the South. I was wondering if you could explain what this curse is and if there's any chance of the South of escaping it.

William Faulkner: The—the curse is slavery, which is a—a—an intolerable condition. No man shall be enslaved, and the South has got to work—work that curse out, and it will, if it's let alone. It—it can't be compelled to do it. It—it must do it of its own will and—and desire, which I believe it will do, if it's let alone.

Unidentified participant: Sir, along that line, how will it do it, and what will [it do] to adjust its relationship with the Negro? Will it take the Negro into society or what will [...]?

William Faulkner: No, it will—it will never take the Negro into society. It will give the Negro the right for equality, which to me is something different. It will—will teach the Negro the responsibility of equality, of the—the Negro's own people will teach him that. Then he will—will receive equality. He—I think that the Negro doesn't want to mix with the white man any more than the white man wants to mix with the Negro, but I do think that the Negro wants to be equal with the white man and have the right to, that once—once he has the same right to enter the white man's house that—that another white man does, he won't want to, that his—his grief is that he knows that he has not that right. No matter how clean he is or how intelligent, he has not that right, to enter the white man's restaurant, the white man's hotel. Once he has that right, he won't want to. He'll prefer his own, I believe.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, so many of your books have certain characters of mixed blood. Do you consider miscegenation absolute—an absolute wrong or is it just a mistake with the current social [...]?

William Faulkner: It's—no, not wrong. It's a mistake only in the current social scheme. There's—there's no law that is going to—to prevent Romeo and Juliet no matter what color they are. There's no wrong in it. It's simply a mistake and an error as conditions are now, and an individual suffers because of it. That's the tragedy of it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: In Absalom, Absalom! [...] reaction to Sutpen's marriage because of their concern for their [...] because there's [...]?

William Faulkner: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear that too well.

Unidentified participant: Was the reaction of the people to Sutpen's second marriage, when they had—no one showed up at the [wedding] [...]—was that reaction caused by people's—the people's dislike of his [life] or his social errors or because of their not being told why—where he got his money [...]?

William Faulkner: Oh, he had violated the local mores. They—they feared him, and they hated him, because of his ruthlessness. He made no pretence to be anything else except what he was, and so he violated the local mores, and they—they ostracized him. Not in revenge at all, but simply because they wanted no part of Sutpen.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you say that you feel that there is hope for the South, yet the Snopeses have taken over Frenchmen's Bend, Flem is president of the bank in Jefferson. Are those the men that are going to lead the South out of the darkness in [...]?

William Faulkner: They are the—the men that can cope with the new industrial age, but there will be something left, as this—we mentioned a while ago, of—of the old cavalier spirit that will appear, that does appear. I—by cavalier spirit, I mean people who believe in—in simple honor for the—for the sake of honor, and honesty for the sake of honesty.
Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Do you think [those] people will band together, or how do you think they will accomplish this feat? [Don't you feel that]—that there is a curse and that it should be removed? How do you feel [that they will eventually overcome]?

William Faulkner: They—they won't band together. I doubt if people accomplish very much by banding together. People accomplish things by individual protest.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Is Sutpen meant to be a completely depraved character, something like Claggart in Billy Budd or Iago in Othello, or is he meant to be pitied?

William Faulkner: To me, he is to be pitied. He was not—depraved. He was—was amoral. He was ruthless, completely self-centered. To me he is to be pitied, as anyone who ignores man is to be pitied, who does not believe that he belongs as a member of—of a human family, of the human family, is to be pitied. Sutpen didn't believe that. He was Sutpen. He was going to take what he wanted because he was big enough and strong enough, and I think that people like that are destroyed sooner or later, because one has got to belong to the human family, and to take a responsible part in the human family.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: [If you were] to explain mechanization in the South after the Civil War as a destructive force, part of the degeneration, do you think this is inherent of mechanization in a society when it shifts from an agrarian society or do you think this is because, as a person in the South, that it is this way in the South?

William Faulkner: Well, the South is—is a part of the United States, and I think that—that we are—the whole world is going through a—a tragic time now, not because of mechanization, but because we became slaves to—to the machines—[at]—which we invented for man's good. Instead of they being our slaves, we are their slaves. And we will have to—but man is tougher even than the machine, that he will—will endure and will outlast the—the age in which that machine dominates.

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, I'm sure we're all very grateful to you for coming down and answering our questions this morning. Thank you, sir. [applause]

[end of recording]