The Jefferson Society
DATE: 30 April 1957
OCCASION: Jefferson Society Meeting, Jefferson Hall
READING: "The Waifs" (from The Town)
Play the full recording:
Moderator 1: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Tonight we bring you [gap in tape]
Moderator 2: If ever there was no need for introduction I suppose it's tonight, so I won't. One thing before we begin: is anyone expecting to hear Mr. Faulkner discuss [...][audience laughter] [...] To begin I thought we'd ask Mr. Faulkner to read a part from his new novel that will be published in today's issue of The Saturday Evening Post [...] "The Waifs" [...] and he will read from that selection. Mr. Faulkner. [applause]
William Faulkner: Mr. [Noblet] was kind enough to say that the
amplifier might disconcert me a little, but I think that, as I told him
that—that nobody's here that don't want to be here, so there's no reason for
me to be disconcerted, and if I don't speak clearly enough be sure and tell me
and I'll try to do better. I'm not in the—not too accustomed to this sort of
thing. So anytime I get slack about speaking, please tell me.
Do we take the whole thing or have you [blue-pencilled in here]?
Frederick Gwynn: No, sir. [...] just where it begins where the children come.
And one more thing. One morning—it was summer again
now, July—the northbound train from New Orleans stopped and the first
man off was usually the Negro porter—not the Pullman porters, they were
always back down the track at the end; we hardly ever saw them, but the
one from the day coaches at the front end—to get down and strut a little
while—while he talked to the section hands and the other Negroes that were
always around to meet the passenger trains. But this time it was the
conductor himself, almost jumping down before the train stopped, with
the white flagman at his heels, almost stepping on them; the porter
himself didn't get off at all: he—just his head sticking out a window
about half way down the car.
Then four things got off. I mean, they were children. The tallest was a girl though we never did know whether she was the oldest or just the tallest, then two boys, all three in overalls, and then a little one in a single garment down to its heels like a man's shirt and made out of a flour- or meal-sack or maybe a scrap of an old tent. Wired to the front of each one of them was a shipping tag written in pencil:
FROM: BYRON SNOPES, EL PASO, TEXAS
TO: MR. FLEM SNOPES, JEFFERSON, MISSISSIPPI
Though Mr Snopes wasn't there. He was busy being a banker now and a deacon in the Baptist church, living in solitary widowerhood in the old De Spain house which he had remodeled into an ante-bellum Southern mansion; he wasn't there to meet them. It was Dink Quistenberry. He had married one of Mr Snopes's sisters or nieces or something out at Frenchman's Bend and when Mr Snopes sent I.O. Snopes back to the country the Quistenberrys came in to buy or rent or anyway to run the Snopes Hotel, which wasn't the Snopes Hotel any more now but the Jefferson Hotel though the people that stayed there were still the stock traders and juries locked up by the Circuit Court. I mean, Dink was old enough to be Mr Snopes's brother-in-law or whatever it was but he was the kind of man it just didn't occur to you to say Mister to.
He was there; I reckon Mr Snopes sent him. And when he saw them I reckon he felt just like we did when we saw them, and like the conductor and the flagman and the porter all looked like they had been feeling ever since the train left New Orleans, which was evidently where they got on it. Because they didn't look like people. They looked like snakes. Or maybe that's too strong too. Anyway, they didn't look like children; if there was one thing in the world they didn't look like it was children, with kind of dark pasty faces and black hair that looked like somebody had put a bowl on top of their heads and then cut their hair up to the rim of the bowl with a dull knife, and perfectly black perfectly still eyes that nobody in Jefferson (Yoknapatawpha County either) ever afterward claimed they saw blink.
I dont know how Dink talked to them because the
conductor had already told everybody listening (there was a good crowd
by that time) that they didn't talk any language or anything else that
he had ever heard of—heard of and that to watch them because one of them
had a switch knife with a six-inch blade, he didn't know which one and
he himself wasn't going to try to find out. But anyway Dink got them
into his car and the train went on.
Maybe it was the same thing they used in drugstores or at least with Skeets McGowan in Christian's because it wasn't a week before they could go into Christian's, all four of them (it was always all four of them, as if when the medicine man or whoever it was separated each succeeding one from the mother, he just attached the severed cord to the next senior child. Because by that time we knew who they were: Byron Snopes's children out of a—a Jicarilla Apache squaw in Old Mexico), and come out two minutes later all eating ice-cream cones.
They were always together and anywhere in town or
near it at any time of day, until we found out it was any time of night
too; one night at two oclock in the morning when Otis Harker caught them
coming in single file from behind the Coca-Cola bottling plant; Otis
said he didn't know how in the world they got into it because no door
was open nor window broken, but he could smell warm Coca-Cola syrup
spilled down the front of the little one's nightshirt or dressing-sacque
or whatever it was from five or six feet away. Because that was as close
as he got; he said he hollered at them to go on home to the Snopeses, I
mean the Jefferson Hotel but they just stood there looking at him and he
said he never intended anything: just to get them moving since maybe
they didn't understand what he meant yet. So he sort of flung his arms
out and was kind of jumping at them, hollering again, when he
stopped himself just in time, the knife already in one of their hands
with the blade open at least six inches long; so fast that he never even
saw where it came from and in the next minute gone so fast he still
didn't even know which one of the three in over-alls—the girl or the two
boys—had it; that was when Mr Connors went to Dink Quistenberry the next
morning and told him he would have to keep them off the streets at
"Sure," Dink said. "You try it. You keep them off the streets or off anywhere else. You got my full permission. You're welcome to it!"
So when the dog business happened, even Mr Hub Hampton himself didn't get any closer to them than that. This was the dog business. We were getting paved streets in Jefferson now and so more new families, engineers and contractors and such like the little Riddell boys' papa—the little Riddell boys that gave us that holiday two years ago, had moved to Jefferson. One of them didn't—them didn't have any children but they had a Cadillac and his wife had a dog that they said cost five hundred dollars, the only dog higher than fifty dollars except a field-trial pointer or setter (and a part Airedale bear dog named Lion that Major de Spain, Mr de Spain's father, owned once that hunting people in north Mississippi still talked about) that Jefferson ever heard of, let alone saw—a Pekinese with a gold name-plate on its collar that probably didn't even know it was a dog, that rode in the Cadillac and sneered through the windows not just at other dogs but at people too, and even ate special meat that Mr Wall Snopes's butcher ordered special from Kansas City because it cost too much for just people to buy and eat.
One day it disappeared. Nobody knew how, since the only time it wasn't sneering out through the Cadillac window, it was sneering out through a window in the house where it—they—lived. But it was gone and I dont think anywhere else ever saw a woman take on over anything like Mrs Widrington did, with rewards in all the Memphis and north Mississippi and west Tennessee and east Arkansas papers and Mr Hampton and Mr Connors neither able to sleep at night for Mrs Widrington ringing their telephone, and the man from the insurance company (its life was insured too so maybe there were more people insured in Jefferson than there were dogs but then there was more of them not insured in Jefferson than there was dogs too) [audience laughter] and Mrs Widrington herself likely at almost any time of day or night to be in your back yard calling what Aleck Sander and I thought was Yow! Yow! Yow! until Uncle Gavin told us it was named Lao T'se for a Chinese poet. Until one day the four Snopes Indians came out of the Christian's drugstore and somebody passing on the street pointed his finger and hollered "Look!"
It was the collar with the gold name-plate. The
little one was wearing it around its neck above the nightshirt. Mr
Connors—Connors came quick and sent about as quick for Mr Hampton. And
that was when Mr Hampton didn't come any closer either and I reckon we
was all thinking about what he was: what a mess that big gut of his
would make on the sidewalk if he got too close to that knife before he
knew it. [audience laughter] And the four Snopes Indians
or Indian Snopeses, whichever is right, standing in a row watching him,
not looking dangerous, not looking anything; not innocent
especially at nobody—especially and nobody would have called it affectionate, but
not dangerous in the same sense that four shut pocket knives dont look
threatening. They look just like four shut pocket knives but they dont look
lethal. Until Mr Hampton said:
"What do they do when they aint eating ice cream up here or breaking in or out of that bottling plant at two oclock in the morning?"
"They got a kind of camp or reservation or whatever you might call it in a cave they dug in the big di—big ditch behind the school house," Mr Connors said.
"Did you look there?" Mr Hampton said.
"Sure," Mr Connors said. "Nothing there but just some trash and bones and stuff they play with."
"Bones?" Mr Hampton said. "What bones?"
"Just bones," Mr Connors said. "Chicken bones, spare rib, stuff like that they been eating I reckon."
So Mr Hampton went and got in his car and Mr Connors went to his that had the red light and the sireen on it and a few others got in while there was still room, and the two cars went to the school house, the rest of us walking because we wanted to see if Mr Hampton with his belly really would try to climb down into that ditch and if he did know how he was going to get out again. But he did it, with Mr Connors showing him where the cave was but letting him go first since he was the sheriff, on to where the little pile of bones was behind the fireplace and turned them over with his toe and then raked a few of them to one side. Because he was a hunter, a woods man, a good one before his belly got too big to go through a thicket. "There's your dog," he said.
And I remember that time, five years ago now, when
we were all at the table and Matt Levitt's cut-out passing in the street
and Father says [now] Uncle Gavin: "What's that sound I
smell?" Except that Mr Snopes's brass business at the power-plant was
before I was even born: Uncle Gavin's office that morning and Mrs
Widrington and the insurance man because the dog's life had been insured
only against disease or accident or acts of God, and the insurance man's
contention (I reckon he had been in Jefferson long enough to have talked
with Ratliff; any stranger in town for just half a day, let alone a
week, would find himself doing that) was that four half-Snopeses and
half-Jicarilla Apache Indians were none of them and so Jefferson
him—itself was liable and vulnerable to suit. So I had only heard about
Mr Snopes and the missing brass from Uncle Gavin, but I thought about
what Father said that day because I had been there then: "What's that
sound I smell?" when Mr Snopes came in, removing his hat and saying
"Morning" to everybody without saying it to anybody; then to the
insurance man: "How much on that dog?"
"Full pedigree value, Mr Snopes. Five hundred dollars," the insurance man said and Mr Snopes (the insurance man himself got up and turned his chair around to the desk for him) sat down and took out a blank check from his pocket and filled in the amount and pushed it across the desk in front of Uncle Gavin and got up and said "Morning" without saying it to anybody and put on his hat and went out.
Except that he didn't stop there. Because the next
day Byron Snopes's Indians were gone. Ratliff came in and told us.
"Sho," he said. "Flem sent them out to the Bend. Neither—neither of their grandmaws, I mean I.O.'s wives, would have them but finally Dee-wit Binford"—Dewitt Binford had married another of the Snopes girls. They lived near Varner's store—"taken them in. On a contract, the Snopeses all clubbing together pro rata and paying Dee-wit a dollar a head a week on them, providing of course he can last a week. Though naturally the first four dollars was in advance, what you might call a retainer you might say."
It was. I mean, just about a week. Ratliff came in again; it was in the morning. "We jest finished using up Frenchman's Bend at noon yesterday, and that jest about cleans up the county. We down at the dee-po now, all tagged and the waybill paid, waiting for Number Twenty-three southbound or any other train that will connect more or less or thereabouts for El Paso, Texas"—telling about that too: "A combination you might say of scientific interest and what's that word?" until Uncle Gavin told him anthropological "anthropological coincidence; them four vanishing Americans coming durn nigh taking one white man with them if Clarence Snopes's maw and a few neighbors hadn't got there in time."
He told it: how when Dewitt Binford got them home he discovered they wouldn't stay in bed at all, dragging a quilt off onto the floor and lying in a row on it and the next morning he and his wife found the bedstead itself dismantled and leaned against the wall in a corner out of the way; and they hadn't heard a sound during the process. He—Dewitt—said that's what got on his mind even before he begun to worry about the little one: you couldn't hear them; you didn't even know they were in the house or not, when they had entered it or left it; for all you knew, they might be right there in your bedroom in the dark, looking at you.
"So he tried it," Ratliff said. "He went over to Tull's and borrowed Vernon's flashlight and waited until about midnight and he said he never moved quieter in his life, across the hall to the door of the room, trying to not even breathe if he could help it; he had done already cut out [three] sighting notches in the door-frame so that when he laid the flashlight into them by feel it would be aimed straight at where—where the middle two heads would be on the pallet; and held his breath again, listening until he was sho there wasn't a sound, and snapped on the light. And them four faces and them eight black eyes already laying there wide open looking straight at him.
"And Dee-wit said he would like to have give up
then. But by that time that least un wouldn't give him no rest a-tall.
Only he didn't know what to do because he had done been warned about
that knife even if he hadn't never seen it. Then he remembered them
pills, that bottle of knock-out opium pills that Doc Peabody had give
Miz Dee-wit that time the brooder lamp blowed up and burnt most of her
front hair off, so he taken eight of them and bought four bottles of
sody pop at the store and put two capsules into each bottle and druv the
caps back on and hid the bottles jest exactly where he figgered they
would have to hunt jest exactly hard enough to find them. And by dark
the four bottles was gone and he waited again to be sho it had had
plenty of time to work and taken Vernon's flashlight and went across the
hall and got on his hands and knees and crawled across to the pallet—he
knowed by practice now exactly where on the pallet that least un slept
or anyway lay—and reached out easy and found the hem of that nightshirt
with one hand and the flashlight ready to snap on in the other.
"And when he told about it, he was downright crying not jest skeer so much as pure and simple unbelief. 'I wasn't doing nothing' he says. 'I wasn't going to hurt it. All in the world I wanted was jest to see which it was—'"
"Which is it?" Uncle Gavin said.
"That's what I'm telling you," Ratliff said. "He never even got to snap on the flashlight. He jest felt them two quick thin streaks of fire, one down either cheek of his face; he said that all that time he was already running backward on his hands and knees toward the door he knowed there wouldn't even be time to turn around, let alone get on his feet and run, not to mention shutting the door behind him; and when he run back into his and Miz Deewit's room there wasn't—there wouldn't be no time to shut that one neither except he had to, banging it shut and hollering for Miz Dee-wit now, dragging the bureau against it while Miz Dee-wit lit the lamp and then come and holp him until he hollered at her to shut the windows first; almost crying with them two slashes running from each ear, jest missing his eye on one side, right down to the corners of his mouth like a great big grin that would bust scab and all if he ever let his face go, telling how they would decide that the best thing would be to put out the lamp too and set in the dark until he remembered how they had managed somehow to get inside that locked-up Coca-Cola plant without even touching the patented burglar alarm.
"So they jest shut and locked the windows and left the lamp burning, sitting there in that air-tight room on that hot summer night, until it come daylight enough for Miz Dee-wit to at least jump and dodge on the way back to the kitchen to start the fire in the stove and cook breakfast. Though the house was empty then. Not safe of course: jest empty except for themselves while they tried to decide whether to try to get word in to Flem or Hub Hampton to come out and get them, or jest pack up themselves without even waiting to wash the breakfast dishes, and move over to Tull's. Anyhow Dee-wit said him and Miz Dee-wit was through and they knowed it, four dollars a week or no four dollars a week; so, it was about nine oclock, he was on his way to the store to use the telephone to call Jefferson, when Miz I.O. Snopes, I mean the number-two one that got superseded back before she ever had a chance to move to town, saved him the trouble."
We knew Clarence Snopes ourselves. He would be in town every Saturday or every other time he could ge a ride in according to Ratliff—a big hulking man now eighteen or nineteen who was all a gray color: a graying tinge already to his tow-colored hair, a grayish pasty look to his flesh, which looked as if it would not flow blood from a wound but instead a pallid fluid like thin oatmeal; he was the only Snopes or resident of Frenchman's Bend or Yoknapatawpha County either, for that matter, who made his Texas cousins welcome. "You might say he adopted them," Ratliff said. "Right from that first day. He even claimed he could talk to them and that he was going to train them to hunt in a pack; they would be better than any jest pack of dogs because sooner or later dogs always quit and went home, while it didn't matter to them where they was.
"So he trained them. The first way he done it was to
set a bottle of sody pop on a stump in front of the store with a string
running from it to where he would be setting on the gallery, until they
would maneuver around and finally bushwack up to where one of them could
reach for it, then he would snatch it off the stump with the string and
drag it out of their reach. Only that never worked but once so then he
would have to drink the bottles empty and fill them again with muddy
water or some such, or another good training method was to gather up a few
throwed-away candy-bar papers and wrap them up again with mud inside or
maybe jest not nothing a-tall because it taken them a good while to give
up then, especially if now and then he had a sho enough candy bar or a
sho enough bottle of strawberry or orange shuffled into the other
"Anyhow he was always with them, hollering at them and waving his arms to go this way or that way when folks was watching, like dogs; they even had some kind of a play house or cave or something in another ditch about half a mile up the road. That's right. What you think you are laughing at is the notion of a big almost growed man like Clarence, playing, all of a sudden—that's right. What you think you are laughing at is the notion of a big almost growed man like Clarence, playing until all of a sudden you find out that what you're laughing at is calling anything playing that them four things would be interested in.
"So Dee-wit had jest reached the store when here
come Clarence's maw, down the road hollering 'Them Indians! Them
Indians!' jest like that: a pure and simple case of mother love and
mother instinct. Because likely she didn't know anything yet and even if
she had, in that state she couldn't a told nobody: jest standing there
in the road in front of the store wringing her hands and hollering Them
Indians until the men squatting along the gallery begun to get up and
then to run because about that time Dee-wit come up. Because he knowed
what Miz Snopes was trying to say. Maybe he never had no mother love and
mother instinct but then neither did Miz Snopes have a last-night's
knife-slash down both cheeks.
"'Them Indians?' he says. 'Fore God, men, run. It may already be too late.'
"But it wasn't. They was in time. Pretty soon they could hear Clarence bellowing and screaming and then they could line him out and the fastest ones run on ahead and down into the ditch to where Clarence was tied to a blackjack sapling with something less than a cord of wood stacked around him jest beginning to burn good. [audience laughter]
"So they was in time. Jody telephoned Flem right away and in fact all this would a formally took place yesterday evening except that Clarence's hunting pack never reappeared in sight until this morning when Dee-wit lifted the shade enough to see them waiting on the front gallery for breakfast. But then his house was barred in time because he hadn't never unbarred it from last night. And Jody's car was already standing by on emergency alert as they say and it wasn't much trouble to toll them into it since like Clarence said one place was jest like another to them. "So they're down at the dee-po now. Would either of you gentlemen like to go down with me and watch what—what they call the end of a erea, if that's what they call what I'm trying to say? The last and final end of Snopes' out-and-out unvarnished behavior in Jefferson, if that's what I'm trying to say."
So Ratliff and I went to the station while he told
me the rest of it. It was Miss Emily Habersham; she had done the
telephoning herself: to the Travellers' Aid in New Orleans to meet the
Jefferson train and put them on the one for El Paso, and to the El Paso
Aid to get them across the border and turn them over to the Mexican
police to send them back home, to Byron Snopes or the reservation or
wherever it was. Then I noticed the package and said, "What's that?" but
he didn't answer. He just parked the pickup and took the cardboard
carton and we went around onto the platform where they were: the three
in the overalls and what Ratliff called the least un in the nightshirt,
each with a new shipping tag wired to the front of its garment, but
printed in big block capitals this time, like shouting this time:
FROM: FLEM SNOPES, JEFFERSON, MISS.
TO: BYRON SNOPES, EL PASO, TEXAS
There was a considerable crowd around them, at a safe distance, when we come up and Ratliff opened the carton; it contained four of everything: four oranges and apples and candy bars and bags of peanuts and packages of chewing gum. "Watch out, now," Ratliff said. "Maybe we better set it on the ground and shove it up with a stick or something." But he didn't mean that. Anyway, he didn't do it. He just said to me, "Come on; you aint quite growed so may—they may not snap at you," and moved near and held out one of the oranges, the eight eyes not once looking at it nor at us nor at anything that we could see; until the girl, the tallest one, said something, something quick and brittle that sounded quite strange in the treble of a child; whereupon the first hand came out and took the orange, then the next and the next, orderly, not furtive: just quick, while Ratliff and I dealt out the fruit and bars and paper bags, the empty hand already extended again, the objects vanishing somewhere faster than we could follow, except the little one in the nightshirt which apparently had no pockets: until the girl herself leaned and relieved the overflow.
Then the train came in and stopped; the day coach vestibule clanged and clashed open, the narrow steps hanging downward from the orifice like a narrow dropped jaw. Evidently, obviously, Miss Habersham had telephoned a trainmaster or a superintendent (maybe a vice president) somewhere too because the conductor and the porter both got down and the conductor looked rapidly at the four tags and motioned, and we—all of us; we represented Jefferson—watched them mount and vanish one by one into that iron impatient maw: the girl and the two boys in overalls and Ratliff's least un in ankle-length single garment like a man's discarded shirt made out of flour- or meal-sacking or perhaps the remnant of an old tent. We never did know which it was.[applause]
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, the first question that interests us—interested us was this statement you made that one time in your career you felt that to write is a good thing. Could you tell us about that experience?
William Faulkner: Well that was more or less with humorous intent. I was—was running a—a launch for New Orleans bootlegger then, [audience laughter] down—across Pontchartrain down the Industrial Canal into the Gulf, to an island and where we would pick up the—the raw sugar cane alcohol that came up from the Caribbean and bring that back to his kitchen and he would turn it into scotch and gin and bourbon, whatever you wanted. I met Sherwood Anderson who lived in New Orleans at that time, and I liked him very much, just as you meet a man and you know that you get along with him. We would meet in the afternoons and sit in parks, and he would talk, and I would listen. We would meet again in the evening, and we'd go to a—a well known, very elegant brothel then, and the—the madam had literary aspirations, and the three of us would sit in [audience laughter] —would sit in the courtyard and she would supply the—the whiskey, and we would drink, and Anderson would talk, and she would talk, and I would listen. Then the next morning, I wouldn't see him. He was in seclusion working. That would go on day after day, the afternoons we would meet, in the evenings we'd sit over the whiskey, and he would talk, and I would listen, and I thought that if that was the life it took to be a writer, that was the life for me. [audience laughter] And so I wrote my first book, and when I finished it Mr. Anderson said, "I'll make a trade with you. If I don't have to read it, I'll tell my publisher to take it." So he—I said, "Done" and he told his publisher to take it. That's how I got printed the first time.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, the publication of Sanctuary [...]—some of that story, that it began and then you took it up again, along that same line is the idea of producing something good came [in there] [...] —
William Faulkner: Yes, I wrote the other books, I was still a bachelor and—and footloose and a tramp and there were things I could do. I could be a bootlegger and I—I flew airplanes, barnstorming airplanes, stunting and hauling passengers out of cow pastures. I was a housepainter and I had apprentice seaman's papers. I could go as a forecastle hand in freighters, things like that. Then I got married, and my father died, and I had to settle down and become respectable. [audience laughter] And so I thought I would write a book that would make money, see if I could make a little money writing, and so I wrote Sanctuary, thought of the most horrific notion I could invent and wrote it, sent it to the publisher. The publisher said, "Good Lord, if we print this we'll both be in jail." This was in '27, '28 when you couldn't—couldn't print what you can nowadays. So I forgot it. I wrote two more books, and they were printed, and then one day I got the galleys for Sanctuary. And I read it, and I didn't need money so badly then, and anyway I had enough perspective to see that it was a—a base notion, basely conceived and executed. And I wrote the publisher that we'd throw it away, it was no good. And he said, "We can't do that, I have had plates made. I've got money tied up in it." I said, "Well, I'll—I'll rewrite it then." He said, "All right, I'll pay half the new plates, and you pay half the new plates." So I said all right, and I got a job and earned enough money to pay my half of the new plates and rewrote the book, and I made the best book I could out of it so that—that its inception was basely conceived, but now I'd done the best I could with it, and I'm not ashamed of it. I don't like it, but I'm not ashamed of it anymore. It was the first book that sold any, and I had a statement that I was going to get more—more money than I'd ever seen before, and before the money came the publisher went bankrupt, which served me exactly right. I felt that that was exactly what I deserved, that whole thing. Taught me a lesson.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, I [have a comparatively easy question:] the story you just read "The Waifs" was [...] tall story—tall stories. Does it have any other meaning other than just being a tall story?
William Faulkner: No, to me it was just funny. Funny and a little terrible too, those waif children with—with absolutely no future. I—it was funny, yes. As it —yes, that's right, a tall story. But with the tragic implications, assuming that—that any—any infant human is of some value, should be of some value in any culture.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner?
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: I understand that in the last year or so you've—you've done some work cooperating with the State Department.
William Faulkner: Yes.
Unidentified participant: [...] Person-to-Person diplomacy I believe it's been referred to, trying to have—produce better relations between individuals in this country and different fields in the arts and sciences. Could you tell us a little bit about that and do you think—how successful it can be, and how [it has been run]?
William Faulkner: It's interesting work and very necessary work. Our culture in this country is so different from European culture in that there's really no place in it for the artist, for a man of—of simple ideas or even, probably, of principles. Ours is a culture of success, of—of—of power and strength, and the representatives of that culture are not understood by the people in the rest of the world. We—we seem gauche and—and crude and ill-mannered, which I don't think we are. It's simply because we are alien to the culture of the rest of the world. And the purpose of this was to—to let the people in the rest of the world see that there were other sorts of American beside successful chairmen of General Motors and—and congressmen and senators. It is the reason for sending people like Louis Armstrong that—that blow horns and—just for the sheer pleasure of blowing horns and writers and people that are interested in something else besides success, interested in things of the human spirit rather than in things on—in—the black ink on the ledger. It was interesting work. I myself of course can't see just how much good it does. The report from it is that it does a lot of good, but I—I don't—am not aware of it myself. I do know that—that the—the foreign people I have—have visited have—have seemed quite anxious to—to learn things about our country, which I would have thought they could have known easily. Then I realized that the usual travelled American is not interested in these things and had no reason to tell them, and they were too timid to ask. But to someone who approaches them in their own cultural terms of believing that things of the spirit are important, they have less shyness about asking these questions. And so in that sense, it probably does a lot of good to give the foreigner a truer picture of what this country actually is.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: I wonder if you'd care to elaborate on that, sir, and indicate a few of the questions that they sometimes ask.
William Faulkner: They are questions about the—the experiences the young writer might have, as though they expect to find that his problems in America would be different from the problems of a young writer or young painter anywhere. And they are not really. I explain to them that—that to be a good artist of any sort you've got primarily be an individualist and an individualist who is demon driven to where he wants to be a good writer or a good philosopher or a good anything else is going to resist the mass pressure to belong to a mass. And so he does that, and that is no problem to him. They expect that—that his greatest problem will be to—to resist the pressure of General Motors. Which it's not really. His problem is the same as the problem of the artist anywhere, which is to understand why people as individuals, not as members of groups, do what they as individuals do. The same— [gap in tape]
William Faulkner: Well, I think the first would be to believe in—in me, in "I," rather than "we," to be oneself, to resist the pressure to relinquish individuality. That's the first thing, and maybe that's all anyone has to do to combat communism. That is, I think that it can be combated, must be combated and conquered, if it is to be conquered, not by people forming mass movements and groups but by individuals. That if the—the—we who would try to proselytize our fellows into resisting communism, I think that's all we have to teach them, the importance of "me," of "I," of "myself." That—that the individual is more important than any mass or group he belongs to. That the individual is always more important than any state that—that he belongs to. That the state must never be the master of the individual, it's a servant of the individual. That the individual—and to retain that superiority over the state, the individual must be independent of the state, he mustn't accept gratuity from the state, he mustn't let the state buy him by pensions or relief or dole or grant of any sort.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I'd—I'd just like to find out what the people in the deep South—how they react to your books, whether [they read them as much, say, as] much as people in the North or people in Europe. I know that people in Europe think that you are the greatest writer in the United States. I was wondering how the people in the deep South think about you.
William Faulkner: Someone has said that—that people in the South don't read books, they write them. [audience laughter] In my own little town there are a few people that—that read the books. They read them for different reasons, some because they—they like me as a friend, some because they are convinced that sooner or later they will find the people in the town in the books, because they don't believe anybody can invent enough people to write for thirty or forty years, that you might invent one, but the rest of the time you'll be copying somebody you knew. And they still think that sooner or later they'll catch me having put somebody that they know into a book. Others read the books in a sort of outraged bafflement. Our country is poor country. Nobody is rich there and few people ever have as much as thirty thousand dollars. They know they'll never have as much as thirty thousand dollars, and if they ever did they would have got it out in the sun, doing hard work. And a foreign government suddenly gives me thirty thousand dollars just for sitting on my backside, writing books, and they simply cannot get over that [audience laughter] and they will really never forgive me or Sweden for that. That somehow that was an outrage to all the proprieties. And they read the book to see why in the world anybody should have given anybody thirty thousand dollars for writing the books like that.
Unidentified participant: Sir, along these lines how do you think the position of the artist in the South, in the deep South, compares with that of the artist in, say, the North, or in Europe?
William Faulkner: Well I would say that in our culture there's really no place for the artist. In Europe, the old cultures, there's a definite place, the artist quite often—because he is a good artist, he suddenly find himself a power in politics. Which never happens in this country because he is a good artist, a good writer, or a good painter, or a good philosopher. He—he becomes a power in politics in our culture, so far, because he's been successful. It doesn't matter what he's successful in. That's because we still haven't quite exhausted the natural resources to where we have got to use the best in people. When we reach the point where we have exhausted natural resources and all we have left will be people, then the artist, I think, will find a—a place for himself in the—the fabric of the culture. So far he hasn't.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, in light of the same thing, when this point is reached when our natural resources are exhausted, and people begin to develop, do you think individuality will begin to develop also?
William Faulkner: Well individuality must have developed or we'll never reach that point. We will—will have been—be sunk by then, we will be conquered.
Unidentified participant: I'm sorry, I didn't state that very clearly. Do you think that what [...] faculty has developed in some people, artists who have been successful, will have developed on a larger scale, a broader scale?
William Faulkner: I believe I know what you mean. I would say that—that we will—we will reach a point where we will say that America was the greatest country in the world, but we couldn't keep on affording it, that we will have to change and then the natural resource which we will have to fall back on, which may be our salvation, will be the—the will of the few that have insisted on being individuals against all the pressure. They will come to the top then. That—that will to be individual was there. It—it won't need to develop. It'll—suddenly it will come to the top where we will need that. As a—as a nation we will need that.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, you state that in order to be an artist one has to be individualistic, and then you said that in order to combat communism one must foster or foster the spirit of individualist—individualism. Now I was wondering if there was a contradiction between this. In the case of the Soviet artists, if we can call them artists, do they have individualism or if they have—are they communists?
William Faulkner: The ones that we know about, whose work we see are not individualists. They have—have been compressed, repressed into the mass. I'm convinced that the—the heirs to Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy are still writing the—the good books. They are hidden in out-houses, under floors in Russia, because they don't dare let the government find them, that some day they will appear, and those people are the ones who insist on being individualists, even in a totalitarian condition like Russia. I think that no condition, no government can destroy the will among a few to be individuals.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, your theory to combat such a political and social theory as Communism by being an individual sounds very good, but is it possible to achieve today in our society, for an individual to do that, without isolating himself from our society? If—if it is possible, what means would you [...] for becoming an individual [...]?
William Faulkner: Well I will use an analogy. There are some people, writers, who believe they have talent, they believe in the—the dream of perfection. They get offers to go to Hollywood where they can make a lot of money. They begin to acquire junk, swimming pools and imported cars, and they can't quit their jobs because they've got to continue to own that swimming pool and the imported car. There are others with the same dream of perfection, the same belief that maybe they can match it, that go there, and—and they—they resist the money. They don't own the swimming pool, the imported cars. They will do enough work to—to get what they need of the money without becoming a slave to it. And that, in that sense, it's—as you say, it is going to be difficult to go completely against the—the grain of the current of a culture. But you can—can compromise—you—you—without selling your individuality completely to it. You've got to compromise because it makes things easier.
Unidentified participant: [...] In social legislation how can you combat something like that, such as pensions or social security? What can an individual do about that?
William Faulkner: Well you—
Unidentified participant: [...]
William Faulkner: Your—you probably can't, but you can insist on—on yourself keeping free of it.
Unidentified participant: I would still have to be paying taxes [...]—
William Faulkner: Sure you'd have to pay taxes but—but then we haven't quite reached the stage where one has got to accept social benefits. You can—you can do work, you can join a union. Of course, you have got to acquiesce to an extent to—to a mass if you join a union. But you don't have to accept a social benefit, you can still be an individualist and belong to a union and work. And there probably is somewhere in the country still ways that a man can—can earn a living without having to belong to a union. [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, a few minutes ago you mentioned that people in your hometown were looking into your books for familiar characters. Realizing that you've got a rich legacy as it were, of experiences, it seems to me that nowadays the modern novelist is writing merely thinly disguised autobiography. Which do you think is really more valuable [in] the sense of the artist, the disguised autobiography, or making it up from whole cloth, as it were?
William Faulkner: I would say that the writer has three sources: imagination, observation, and experience. He himself doesn't know how much of which he uses at any given moment because each of the sources themselves are not too important to him, that he is writing about people, and he uses his material from the three sources, as—as—as the carpenter reaches into his—his lumber room and finds a board that fits the particular corner he's building. Of course, any writer, to begin with, is writing his—his own biography, because he has—has discovered the world and suddenly discovered that it—the world is—is important enough or moving enough or tragic enough to put down on paper or in music or on canvas. And at that time all he knows is what has happened to him because he has not developed his capacity to—to perceive, to draw conclusions, to have an insight into people. His only insight in it is into himself. And it's biographical because that's the only gauge he has to measure, is what he has experienced himself. As he gets older and works more, the imagination is like any muscle, it improves with use. Imagination develops. His observation gets shrewder as he gets older, as he writes, and so that when he reaches his peak, his best years, when his work is best, he himself doesn't know and doesn't have time to bother and doesn't really care how much of what comes from each of these sources. That then he is writing about people, writing about the aspirations, the—the troubles, the anguishes, the—the—the courage and the cowardice, the baseness and the splendor of—of man, of the human heart.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, do you think a writer writes better when he's young or writes better when he's older [...]?
William Faulkner: Well, that's something you can't say. Some write best when they're young, write themselves out; some never reach their—their top speed until—till late in life. That's—you just can't say. That no man knows when he will reach his— will do his best, and very few have the courage to say, "I've done my best, and now is the time to break the pencil and quit." Very few can do that. It's a lack of courage, but probably more a lack of judgment. That the artist is trying to match a dream of perfection, and he still believes as long as he can breathe that he will do it, even though his judgment might tell him that he's failed, that his work is—is going downhill. That's difficult to face. When you've given—dedicated your life to something like that and then before life is over to find out that you've picked the wrong racket, you might say, when it's too late.
Unidentified participant: Well, do you think you've reached your peak [...]?
William Faulkner: No. [audience laughter] No, I intend to live to be at least a hundred, and I'll probably still be writing. [audience laughter] That's my—my thought now. It may change tomorrow, but right now that's my thought.
Unidentified participant: Sir, concerning individuality you were discussing a moment ago, you've often said—been quoted that you're a literary man—I beg your pardon, you are not a literary man. By implication one might think that you'd prefer the author who is so to speak spontaneous and not always steady against one who's read all the literature in his culture and [gives] a steady effort to produce, and works on his style. Is that correct [...]?
William Faulkner: How do you mean prefer the author, to spend an evening with him or the work he does?
Unidentified participant: The work he does [...]
William Faulkner: Now you—
Unidentified participant: [...] clear up: do you mean by implication that you prefer the man who writes so to speak spontaneously or the man who studies his style, reads and learns techniques and works out something [totally] [...]?
William Faulkner: I would say first that—the the author is not—is of no importance at all, it's what he writes. It don't matter who wrote it. If—and—to—if you mean prefer him as an individual, then I will take the former because the intellectual man and I wouldn't have anything to talk about. But the man has—has very little to do with his work in my opinion. The work is the thing. It don't matter who wrote it.
Unidentified participant: Well then let's say it's work, [which type of work do you prefer]?
William Faulkner: Well, I think that some people must be intellectual, must be interested, immersed in—in his craft, in literature, to write, to do the work. Other people must be immersed in something completely different. They must in a sense lead a Jekyll and Hyde existence to do the work. It's the work that matters. It's not how he did it.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, do you spend as much time in reading as you do in writing?
William Faulkner: Not anymore. When I was young I read everything. After the—the first war when I came home, I didn't feel too good. I couldn't get around much, and I spent—couldn't sleep at night, and I spent about a year reading probably twenty hours a day. I just read everything I could get my hands on. Now, like most writers as they get older, they read less and less. Now I read the books again which I knew and liked when I was twenty one years old. It's very seldom I read a new book.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Earlier in the evening I believe you said that you—you differentiate between the European artist and the American artist, in that the European artist was accepted as a part of society. It's easier for him to express himself over there, whereas here in America because of our current trends the artist is not so easy to recognize [as accepted] in society. Is that true, is that what you said?
William Faulkner: Well, I—I didn't—didn't mean that the European artist has less trouble expressing himself. I meant that—that he had more of a definite place of importance in the culture of the old countries.
Unidentified participant: But, well [...]—in one of your recent lectures I asked you whether you thought the artist in the United States is part of the society in which he lives or whether he was an outsider looking in on society—looking out at society. Now, is the American artist part of his society today? Do you still feel that? If he—if it is hard to be an individualist in the United States, then how can the artist, who is obviously individualistic, be part of a society that is strictly anti-[individualistic]?
William Faulkner: Because with few exceptions the artist in—in America is—is something else too. Like me he's a farmer, or he's a lawyer like Edgar Masters, or a doctor like William Carlos Williams. The exceptions are the people who are literary and nothing else and they have no place in the culture until they are successful and make money at it at—at their own trade. In—in that sense the man can be an individualist and be a—an artist. Also a lawyer can be a lawyer, can be member of the—of the profession of law or medicine and still be an individualist in his own philosophy of living. I meant only that—that in the old countries a man that—that attains a renown as an artist, before he knows it he becomes a part of the philosophy of his culture—of his—he has a place in his government quite often. In this country that don't happen. If he ever turns up with a place in the American government, it's because he was also a successful famer or a successful doctor or builder of motor cars. Not because he was a successful philosopher or successful artist.
Unidentified participant: In other words, it's a joint occupation? He has to have a joint occupation, in other words?
William Faulkner: That's right, to be perfectly at home anywhere in the American culture, yes he—
Unidentified participant: And if he doesn't have a joint occupation, then he's no longer a part of [the fabric of that culture, is that correct]?
William Faulkner: That's right, he's recognized only by his fellows, by his fellow craftsmen.
Unidentified participant: And not by society [...]?
William Faulkner: That's right. Yes, I doubt if Mr. Charles E. Wilson, for instance, knows who Edmund Wilson is, ever heard of him. [audience laughter]
Moderator 2: At this point, I suggest that we announce the public meeting. [I'm invited and we're all getting a beer].
William Faulkner: Good. [audience laughter]
[end of recording]