At Washington & Lee University

DATE: 15 May 1958

OCCASION: At Lee Chapel, Washington & Lee University, Lexington, 3:30 p.m.

TAPE: T-146

LENGTH: 55:31

READING: From The Town

Play the full recording:

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the seminar committee, may I welcome you to this twenty-sixth Washington and Lee seminar in literature. The committee wishes me also to express our appreciation to the University of Virginia for this gracious loan today of their most distinguished writer-in-residence. We are especially indebted to Professors Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner, who have accompanied him here. Our speaker intends to read from his latest novel, The Town, and at the conclusion of that he will welcome questions from you all. It would be presumptuous indeed for me to attempt any formal introduction of our speaker today, but it is certainly my very great privilege to present to you Mr. William Faulkner of Oxford, Mississippi. [applause]

William Faulkner: I'm an amateur at this. I don't think I have a very good voice, and if I don't speak loud enough, would you please tell me?

William Faulkner:

There is a ridge; you drive on beyond Seminary Hill and in time you come upon it: a mild unhurried farm road presently mounting to cross the ridge and on to join the main highway leading from Jefferson to the world. And now, looking back and down, you see all Yoknapatawpha in the dying last of day beneath you. There are stars now, just pricking out as you watch them among the others already coldly and softly burning; the end of day is one vast green soundless murmur up the northwest toward the zenith. Yet it is as though light were not being subtracted from earth, drained from earth backward and upward into that cooling green, but rather had gathered, pooling for an unmoving moment yet, among the low places of the ground so that ground, earth itself is luminous and only the dense clumps of trees are dark, standing darkly and immobile out of it.

William Faulkner:

Then, as though at signal, the fireflies—lightning-bugs of the Mississippi child's vernacular—myriad and frenetic, random and frantic, pulsing; not questing, not quiring, but choiring as if they were tiny incessant appeaseless voices, cries, words. And you stand suzerain and solitary above the whole sum of your life beneath the incessant ephemeral spangling. First is Jefferson, the center, radiating weakly its puny glow into space; beyond it, enclosing it, spreads the County, tied by the diverging roads to that center as is the rim to the hub by its spokes, yourself detached as God Himself for this moment above the cradle of your nativity and of the men and women who made you, the record and chronicle of your native land proffered for your perusal in ring by concentric ring like the ripples on living water above the dreamless slumber of your past; you to preside unanguished and immune above this miniature of man's passions and hopes and disasters—ambition and fear and lust and courage and abnegation and pity and honor and sin and pride all bound, precarious and ramshackle, held together by the web, the iron-thin warp and woof of his rapacity but withal yet dedicated to his dreams.

William Faulkner:

They are all here, supine beneath you, stratified and superposed, osseous and durable with the frail dust and the phantoms—the rich alluvial river-bottom land of old Issetibbeha, the wild Chickasaw king, with his Negro slaves and his sister's son called Doom who murdered his way to the throne and, legend said (record itself said since there were old men in the county in my own childhood who had actually seen it), stole an entire steamboat and had it dragged intact eleven miles overland to convert into a palace properly to aggrandise his state; the same fat black rich plantation earth still synonymous of the proud fading white plantation names whether we—I mean of course they—ever actually owned a plantation or not: Sutpen and Sartoris and Compson and Edmonds and McCaslin and Beauchamp and Grenier and Habersham and Holston and Stevens and De Spain, generals and governors and judges, soldiers (even if only Cuban lieutenants) and statesmen failed or not, and simple politicians and over-reachers and just simple failures, who snatched and grabbed and passed and vanished, name and face and all. Then the roadless, almost pathless perpendicular hill-country of McCallum and Gowrie and Frazier and Muir translated intact with their pot stills and speaking only the old Gaelic and not much of that, from Culloden to Carolina, then from Carolina to Yokpatawpha still intact and not speaking much of anything except now they called the pots "kettles" though the drink (even I can remember this) was still usquebaugh; then and last on to where Frenchman's Bend lay beyond the southeastern horizon, cradle of Varners and ant-heap for the northeast crawl of Snopes.

William Faulkner:

And you stand there—you, the old man, already white-headed (because it doesn't matter if they call your gray hairs premature because life itself is always premature which is why it aches and anguishes) and pushing forty, only a few years from forty—while there rises up to you, proffered up to you, the spring darkness, the unsleeping darkness which, although it is of the dark itself, declines the dark since dark is of the little death called sleeping. Because look how, even though the last of west is no longer green and all of firmament—firmament is now one unlidded studded slow-wheeling arc and the last of earth-pooled visibility has drained away, there still remains one faint diffusion, since everywhere you look about the dark panorama you still see them, faint as whispers: the faint and shapeless lambence of blooming dogwood returning loaned light to light as the phantoms of candles would.

William Faulkner:

And you, the old man, standing there while there rises to you, about you, suffocating you, the spring dark peopled and myriad, two and two seeking never at all solitude but simply privacy, the privacy decreed and created for them by the spring darkness, the spring weather, the spring which an American poet, a fine one, a woman and so she knows, called girls' weather and boys' luck. Which was not the first day at all, not Eden morning at all because girls' weather and boys' luck is the sum of all the days: the cup, the bowl proffered once to the lips in youth and then no more; proffered to quench or sip or drain that lone one time and even that sometimes premature, too soon. Because the tragedy of life is, it must be premature, inconclusive and inconcludable, in order to be life; it must be before itself, in advance of itself, to have been at all.

William Faulkner: Any questions, please don't hesitate.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, are you working on a new novel at this time?

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. The—the curse and the pleasure of being a writer is you never get done. You're always working at something. I think that's why it's the best vocation of all, because you never touch satiety. You're never bored. There's always something to wake up for tomorrow morning. And so any writer is always working. He never finishes work. He won't live that long.

Unidentified participant: Is The Town the second part of a trilogy?

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. The third one will be called the The Mansion. That will be the story of the family of Snopeses. That's the one I'm working at now.

Unidentified participant: What do you consider your best novel?

William Faulkner: I think that my feeling is the feeling that all writers have. None of them are quite good enough. They are—they are failures. He has done the best he can with it. It wasn't quite good enough to suit him. He doesn't care what anybody else thinks about it. It's got to please himself, and so he is going to write another one tomorrow. And he will keep on planning to write that other one tomorrow as long as he lives. So I haven't written the one that I think is good enough to suit me yet. [audience laughter] I think the only way that the writer can—can measure, can gauge his work, is by the one that cost him the most anguish and trouble, just as the—the parent has a tenderness for the—the afflicted child. The one that I think of with the most tenderness is the one that caused me the most trouble. That is the most unsatisfactory because it—it was trying to match what seemed to me the—the finest dream, and it failed.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: When you say it doesn't satisfy, [...] [what would be the ideal literary work]? In other words, what would be the aim of a literary [...]?

William Faulkner: The aim, of course, is—is unattainable, which is why it will always be an aim. I think it's to take—to take man, an instance of man in his struggle, within his predicament—to isolate it in the most moving instant which one can, so that in that single work there will be the—the whole history of the human heart, all the struggle and anguish of—of—of man's heart, to be in one picture, one piece of music, one book. That's impossible to do. That's why the artist has—is the luckiest of all occupations. He has something that he—that's worth devoting his—in his opinion, his life to, that he knows he will never touch and will never be bored with.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, what American writers do you enjoy reading?

William Faulkner: I enjoy reading all of them, and I think all writers agree with me, except Faulkner, we'll say. [audience laughter] I—I think that any writer must have an insatiable curiosity about people, and fiction books are simply the records of man in the moments of his—his triumphs or disasters, told by experts. For that reason, I doubt if any writer has very much judgment about what he reads. He will read anything. As he gets older, he will go back to certain books, to certain characters, as he would go into another town, say, twenty five miles away to spend an afternoon with an old friend. That to the writer it doesn't matter who wrote that book, so I can't speak of books in terms of who wrote them, but there are books that I will always like, that I loved when I was twenty-one years old, that I will still go back to.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [Could you say something about] [...] [On The Road] [...] [Kerouac] [...]?

William Faulkner: The sad thing about a writer—as he gets old, he reads less and less. The books that I read are the books I knew when I was twenty-one years old, unless someone says, "This is a good book. You will like it. Read it." And so this book you speak of, I haven't read yet. I intend to, but I haven't read it yet. The only work of a young man I'm at all familiar with is Salinger. But I—I intend to, and I'm ashamed that I have not read it yet, but I will do that. I think that—that the pleasure in reading is—is inexhaustible too, that one should read and one misses a great deal of pleasure simply because he is not familiar with the book. He hasn't seen that book. Also, living as I do, I'm a—I consider writing my hobby, not my trade. I'm a farmer, actually, and the people I know are not literary people, and I don't keep up with [these] books. [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Sir, have you read any of the elaborate critical analyses of your own works [...]?

William Faulkner: No, sir. I don't read that. I prefer to read fiction. [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Sir, I'd like to know [...] What is your opinion of it?

William Faulkner: That in moving pictures?

Unidentified participant: Long Hot Summer.

William Faulkner: I haven't seen that. [audience laughter] I'm not trying to be—be funny about it. It's simply because the writer has done the best he can with his book. He works in complete isolation and solitude. To make a moving picture or—or a theater play—cannot be done that way. That is a—a communal business. The actor gives something to it. The director gives something to it. And whatever the—the moving picture does to that book, it can't change what I did. It may—it may improve it, but what it improves, its result, will be something different from what I did. And that's one reason, and I reckon the other reason is in my hometown the picture show begins at seven o'clock in the evening, and that's the wrong time for me to go anywhere. That's when I like to be at home and have a drink or two and something to eat and then smoke for a while. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Would you care to comment on the writing [you've done while you were] in Hollywood?

William Faulkner: It was a—a pleasant way to make some money. I did it mainly because I know a director. He raises and breeds horses, and he has an airplane which he would let me fly when I needed one. He—we hunt and fish together. And when he is making a picture, and he gets in trouble with it and thinks I might be able to do something about it, he sends for me. That's all the moving picture work I've done. It's not my—my cup of tea, actually, it's—for the reason I've stated. That it is a matter of a lot of people working together, when the—the writer has to get off into solitude and isolation to do the work. And I never could, well you might say, take it seriously. Even the money wasn't something to be taken seriously. It was too much for anybody raised in Mississippi to see all at once. [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Do you consider Salinger to be one of our better writers [...]?

William Faulkner: I was impressed with one book of his. It seemed to me that it showed a—it's not a fault, it's an evil that the writer has got to—to arm himself against—which is the pressure of our culture to compel everyone to belong to something, to a group. It's difficult to be an individual in our culture. I think that what I saw in—in that book was a tragedy which, in a way, represented Salinger's own tragedy. There was a—a—a young man, intelligent, a little more sensitive than most, who simply wanted to love mankind, and when he tried to break into mankind, to love mankind, man wasn't there. That, to me, was the tragedy of that book. That, to me, is—is the threat which all the young writers nowadays have got to be on guard against, the pressure to relinquish, submerge, individuality, the "me," into a mass of "us." And I think that—that any first-rate writing has been in terms of the individual, who even in the moil and teem of the world was still "me," "myself." He got his—his elbows skinned and his head bumped now and then, but just with other heads and other elbows, not with machinery. There was nothing in the teem and moil of—of the world to destroy his—his soul by compressing him into a—a relinquishment of the "I am."

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Do you think the novel [...]?

William Faulkner: I would say it—it would go through phases like any other form of life or motion. It's got to be in motion. It's got to change. The only alternative to change is stasis, which is death. And it—it will change, yes. It may go into another medium. The novel may go into something visual, into—to moving pictures. But the novel as a—a—a quality will not change as long as—as people are trying to record man's victories and defeats, in terms of the recognizable human heart. Let's say that, as I put it, the highest form of writing is the—the poem. The poet has taken that—that tragic, beautiful moment of man's struggle within his dilemma and put it into fourteen lines. The second highest is the short story writer, who has been able to do it in ten pages. The novelist is the failure. He's a failed poet. It took him three hundred pages to isolate that tragic, beautiful, moving dilemma, victory or defeat, of fragile, invincible man in his dilemma. So the novel may change, but its—it will never vanish as a quality in culture.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, John Steinbeck says that in America the writer is a little below the acrobat and a little above the seal, and I wonder what you thought about that? [...]

William Faulkner: No, I don't rate the writer quite between the acrobat and the seal, as Steinbeck said. I think that the fact that the writer in this country is—is treated with a slightly cavalier treatment might be good for him because one thing that the writer must have in order to be a good writer is humility. He must not take himself too seriously. He must take what he is doing with complete seriousness, but he mustn't take what he does with very much seriousness. He must keep himself an amateur. And so that may be pretty good for him. Maybe if—if this country gave writers more kudos and more recognition, then they'd spend all their time walking around with their chests swelled up, seeing who was looking at me now. [audience laughter] But they wouldn't work. But I don't think I would rate—you can't rate anyone dealing with something as intangible as—as the human spirit. It's impossible to rate him, unless you are going to look on his rating with the finance company he is buying his refrigerator or his car from.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [Mr. Faulkner, have you done any hunting and fishing] [...]? [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir, I have done some quail shooting up near Warrenton with some friends there, and two days ago I went up into the Blue Ridge on Mormon's River after trout. I have been up the headwaters of the Rapidan, but I have not been in Virginia in the fall enough to do much hunting.

Unidentified participant: Sir—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [When you are writing a book] [...] [very broad scope] [...]?

William Faulkner: No, I think the writer is writing primarily for himself. He really don't care a continental whether anybody else reads it or not. [audience laughter] That he has, while—while alive, he has—has seen man in—with all his baseness, his folly, a fragile web of—of bones and flesh, mostly water, in a ramshackle universe stuck together with electricity, who—and yet he has [the faith] to be braver than he thinks he can be, to be more honorable than he thinks he can be. He has had pity and compassion when he didn't know he was going to do it. He has met problems bigger than himself, and he has tried to solve them. Maybe he got his brains beaten out, but he still tried. The artist is not trying to deliver a message. He is simply—has been moved so by thin, frail, fragile man in his dilemma, faced with things so much bigger and tougher and stronger than he, yet still trying to do something to solve his problem. That it's worth isolating in some tragic and moving moment, to get down on paper. Then he worries about if somebody else might read it. At the moment, he simply has seen something so beautiful, so moving, so important to himself, that he wants to put it down lest he forget it. After that comes the thought somebody else might read this. In my own case, I think I wrote for ten or fifteen years before it ever occurred to me that strangers might read it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [...] [the South has been for the last fifty years one of the most backward areas] [...] financially and in many other ways. The schools, also, are not considered by most people to be as good as in other areas. But yet your own state of Mississippi and the South in general have produced most [...] [greater novelists] [...] [I wonder if you care to comment on this] [...]?

William Faulkner: One reason is that there's so many folks in Mississippi that can't read that they have to write. [audience laughter] I would say that's—that's not true only in Mississippi. I'd say that that's true almost throughout the—what we think of as the South. I believe if I were a nation, and I had struggled along, and I wasn't doing too good, that I would pick out some big, rich country and declare war on them and let them lick me, and then they'd have to support me for the rest of my life. [audience laughter] And I think that—that maybe with the North, having supported us since 1865, we've had plenty of time to write. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Did you have a certain style that you would more or less [use] [...]? [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: I don't like my style either. I think that—[audience laughter] What I'm trying to say is that I think that no writer has got time to bother too much about writing style or writing rhetoric. If he does, he has probably got very little to say, that the story he's telling—he is trying to isolate this moment of man's struggle in the most moving way he can. And he will try style. He'll try metaphor. He'll try symbolism, to—to isolate that in the most moving way he can possibly do it. So the—in my opinion, the work itself creates its own style. That when it's done the writer can look back and say, "This is clumsy. I wish I could think of a better way to do that." But he can't. He has done the best he could with it. To get all he can into it. It's—well, he has a—as we all do, an awareness of death, that he will not be here forever, that—that the end can be for him tomorrow. He has been troubled and moved so much by what he's seen of man's struggle that he wants to get that on paper, and he's afraid that if he puts it off, he will die before he does it. He, in effect, is like the man that's trying to carve the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin. He's trying to put everything into one book, one page—the perfect thing would be to put all that history and anguish into one word, which you can't do. And the fumbling with style, with metaphor, symbolism, is simply his desperate, frantic attempt to get the beauty he has seen by simply being alive down on paper before he—before the lightning strikes. So he is—he might—that's why he could hate his style too, but this was the best he could do. That if he could do that over again, he is convinced he could do it better. I think every writer believes that, that if he could turn time back until this day last year that book would be a better book. Of course, it wouldn't be, but he believes that. He can't do it, so he writes another book tomorrow. But he wants to be as lucid, as pure as light or clear water itself. And when it gets moiled and turgid, he is sorry. He grieves over that. Though—of course, he don't have to read it anymore. [audience laughter] That's one advantage—

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Is writing a compulsion for you or could you stop [if you decided to]?

William Faulkner: Well, I would like to say, "Sure, I can take it or leave it," but I don't believe that. I think that—that any writer is—is ridden by a demon. That he really can't help himself. That he will keep on writing as long as he lives. But he—he is not so conscious of being driven by a demon to no destination. He is convinced that he will—will make the—the perfect work, so that as long as men live after him, they will see that work as perfect and will remember him. That maybe what any artist is doing is simply writing "Kilroy was here" on the wall of the last oblivion before he passes through it and beyond it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, as a southerner and a man who writes about the South, can you give us your views of the Supreme Court decision? [audience murmur]

William Faulkner: That's sort of got out of fiction, hasn't it? [audience laughter] I would say it was something that—that had to—to come. There was a—the dean of the law school at the University of Mississippi said ten, twelve years ago that in time the Supreme Court would—would hand down that opinion. Nobody believed him. It's—it's our fault. If we had—had given the Negro a chance to find whether or not he can be equal, there wouldn't have been any need for it. It has set relations between the races back for some time, but it had to come. It's our fault. [We could have prevented it.]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [...] [to create your characters]?

William Faulkner: May I have the first part of that again?

Unidentified participant: [...]?

William Faulkner: The writer is—has got to be born with curiosity about people more than anything else. I thought at one time it took talent, but now I'm not so sure. I think he has got to have ruthlessness to destroy what is not absolutely right, in his opinion. He's got to have industry to do it over and over again. He's got to have curiosity and insight. Curiosity and insight to wonder why man does what he does. I think that—that he—he doesn't need experience, personal experience, to write about people. Personal experience—as far as man goes, can come from the books he reads. But certainly the—the writer takes from every experience of any sort he's ever had. He—he robs and steals from everything he's heard or seen or read. He's amoral, but he's perfectly willing for anyone after him to rob and steal from him. He has the three, you might say, reservoirs that what he writes comes from. One is that experience. One is observation. The other is imagination. And nobody's to say just how much comes from what. But the imagination can carry the load. There was one blind man who was a pretty good writer. You don't have to really experience nor even read. You can listen, and the imagination. [...]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: You said the—the writer is somewhat unappreciated, amoral, after a fashion, and trying to capture a moment in the struggle of man, but at least I'm [...] in some of your work [...] a literary [...] to say something more. I think especially of the—the story "The Bear," which I admire a great deal. The trappings of that story [...] trying to say something more, [...] I'm wondering [...] whether despite the trappings [...] if you feel this is basically a Christian vision or a Christian viewpoint that you represent?

William Faulkner: I can't say. I think the writer is too busy writing about man in his dilemma, his predicament. Of course, he writes out of—of the background, the reservoir, of his own culture, and naturally, in—a—a Christian and a southern culture, the—the—the symbolism of Christianity and of the southern culture will appear. That is, any—any man is really writing—he's still writing his own biography. He doesn't need to—to hunt around for—for symbolism, any more than he needs to—to hunt around for a background from which to—against which to—to see these imaginary people that he's trying to put down on paper. That was something that he inherited, that he grew up with, that came from his—his heredity and from his environment. But the writer himself is too busy telling about amazing, incalculable, marvelous man struggling within the dilemma of the human heart to bother too much about messages or symbols, or —

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, when you begin to write one of your books have you already predetermined what is going to happen or do you make up some of the details as you go along?

William Faulkner: It begins with a seed. That seed could be anecdote. It could be a situation. It could be a character. Then you've got to explain how that situation came to be. You've got to explain where that character came from. And the first thing you know, you've got some more people in there explaining the situation and the character. Then they all stand up and—on their feet and begin to move, and all you've got to do is after that is to trot along behind them and put down what they do and say. [audience laughter] That you can—you can invent the [finest,] most watertight plot you can think of. You get these people into it, and if they are human, unpredictable people, they won't care a hoot about that plot. They'll go off and tell a story of their own. You can keep your plot. They don't want it. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, did you find Absalom, Absalom! a very difficult novel to write?

William Faulkner: Yes'm, it—it was difficult. I—I worked on that next hardest to The Sound and Fury, as I remember. Yes, I worked on that for a year, and then put it away and wrote another book, and then the story still wouldn't let me alone—I came back to it. Yes, that was very difficult. There was a lot of rewriting in that.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I've heard it reported that you've said in the past that Sanctuary was written as a potboiler [...] [Do you care to comment on this]?

William Faulkner: Yes, it was. I had—had been writing as an amateur and having a lot of fun at it. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself married, and I would need a little money, and I thought I might write something to make a little money with, so I thought of the most horrific story I could and wrote it. [audience laughter] Sent it in to the publisher. He said, "Good Lord, man." This was nineteen—in the nineteen twenties, when you couldn't say the sort of things in books you can now. He said, "If we print this, we'll both be in jail." So he put it away, and I got a job and didn't need money too much. I wrote two more books, which were printed, and then one day I got the galley for Sanctuary, and I read it, and it was so bad because it was basely conceived that I wrote him and said that "we'll just burn this up and forget about it." He said, "Well, I—I have had plates [stamped] for it." I said, "Well, then I'll rewrite it." He said, "That means that we have to make new plates. If you insist on rewriting, and if you will dig up $270, I will get the other $270, and we will make new plates." So I paid my half of the new plates and rewrote the book to make it at least honest. But I still don't like it because the whole conception was—was base. It did sell, and was going to make me a lot of money. The publisher went bankrupt, so I got just exactly what I deserved, and I learned my lesson from it. [audience laughter] Since then, I've remained amateur.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [Mr. Faulkner, why did you go back to those same] characters in Requiem for a Nun?

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. There was nothing wrong with the characters. The—the conception of the—the first story was base because it was done not to tell about man in his tragic struggle, but to make money. That's why it was base. But when I rewrote it, I'd already invested $270. In those days, I didn't have $270 every day. Then I did the best I could to make a—an honest book out of it. And the characters—there was nothing wrong with the characters, just the—the concept of the book to begin with.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in light of your friendship with Sherwood Anderson, are you, as a writer, indebted to him? Or what is your opinion of his place in American literature?

William Faulkner: His—he has never been given his rightful place in American literature. In my opinion, he's the father of—of all of my generation: Hemingway, Erskine Caldwell, Thomas Wolfe, Dos Passos. Of course, Mark Twain is—is all of our grandfather. But Sherwood Anderson has, in my opinion, has still to receive his rightful place in—in American letters.

Unidentified participant: I know that this year's Nobel Prize winner is a great admirer of yours, and I wonder if you could—what is your impression or thoughts of Camus as a writer? If you're acquainted with him, [...]?

William Faulkner: Yes, I know Camus best, and I—I think highest of him. He is—is one man that—that has—is doing what I have tried always to do, which is—is to search, demand, ask always of—of one's own soul. That is my reason for saying that he is the best of the living Frenchmen, better than Sartre or the others. Malraux was a—he became obsessed with politics. But Camus has stuck to his principles, which was always to search the soul, which I think is—is the writer's first job. To search his own soul, to give a proper moving picture of man in—in the human dilemma.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Have you ever tried to write a novel [...] in a northern atmosphere?

William Faulkner: No, I haven't. I reckon I stick to Mississippi because I'm too lazy to do research. [audience laughter] As long as I stick to—to what I know—dialect, habits, customs, folklore—that I know, then nobody can check me on them, and say, "Uh uh, you're wrong there. This is the way they do it in New Hampshire." [audience laughter] But people are—are the same. There's too little difference. And I think when a man or woman writes about his own country, he's not regional, he's just too lazy to want to do any research.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: How have you enjoyed your stay here in Virginia? And do you think Virginia as an area is [...] [conducive] [...] as Yoknapatawpha county?

William Faulkner: Well, I have been in Albemarle County off and on for two or three years now, and I have seen a few Snopeses there. [audience laughter] But I like Virginia and Virginians. The longer I stay in Albemarle County, the more like Mississippians they behave, but they don't have some of the—the Mississippi vices. I have—I said last year that I like Virginians because they were snobs, and since they seem to think I'm all right, then maybe I am all right. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Are the Snopeses really taking over Jefferson, and is there any group that might hold them out?

William Faulkner: The Snopeses will destroy themselves. I really can't afford to answer that question, sir, because [audience laughter] you might not buy the next book if I do. They were—that's the artist's prerogative, I think, is to emphasize, to underline, to—to—to blow up facts, distort facts in order to state a—a truth. The—there's probably no tribe of Snopeses in Mississippi or anywhere else outside of my own apocrypha. They were simply an invention of mine to—to tell a story of man in his struggle. That I was not trying to say, "This is the sort of folks we raise in my part of Mississippi," at all. That they were simply over-emphasized, burlesqued if you like, which is what Mr. Dickens spent a lot of his time doing, for a—a valid, to him and to me, reason, which was to tell a story in a moving, dramatic, tragic, or comical way.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: What is your opinion of Henry Miller?

William Faulkner: Sorry, I don't know him. Should I? [audience laughter] You must believe me. I do live in the country, and I don't keep up with literary things. I ain't a literary man. So if I should know Henry Miller, I will find out about it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Along those lines, do you think that the new American literature will develop, [and] what will it have to say, [or is there nothing left] [...]?

William Faulkner: It will have to say the same things that people have had to say and have been saying ever since man first found some way to—to paint pictures on the walls of the cave. It's to tell about the—the eternal problems of man's heart, which have nothing to do with atom bombs nor—nor labor unions, nor the price of motor cars, nor segregation, nor integration. It's man struggling with the eternal verities of—of the soul. The young writer today, as I said, has got to—to resist that pressure to belong to groups, to relinquish his—his capacity to think and judge into the—the mouth of a committee chairman. But he will write about the same passions and hopes and aspirations and griefs that people have written about ever since whoever wrote the Old Testament. His problem—what to write about is there. He doesn't need [...].

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Would you say that the Snopeses are capable or incapable of [participating in] [...]?

William Faulkner: The ones which are incapable of it will—will be obliterated. The Snopes will evolve into—you might say, an acceptable type of Snopes. [audience laughter] Either that or he'll have to vanish. That he will have to—to cope with his environment or his environment will destroy him.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: You keep referring to the tragic struggle. Sir, I wonder if you the artist's chief talent is to—in his ability to perceive this struggle or in his ability to put down the struggle once he's perceived it [...]?

William Faulkner: To perceive it, maybe to sympathize with it. Not to judge it, but simply to sympathize with it, to pity it. If he perceives it and anguishes enough over it, he will put it down. He may not be able to spell nor punctuate either, but somebody in the publisher's office will do that for him. He will put it down if he perceives it and anguishes over it, hates it or admires it or is troubled by it, then he will put it down. That will just take industry to work at it, ruthlessness to throw away what is not quite good, to keep at it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, you mentioned Thomas Wolfe [as being of your generation. Would you comment on his place in American] [...]?

William Faulkner: It's too soon to—to say, I think. It takes—takes a little time before the—the dross evaporates from anyone's work, until there's a distance for a true perspective. At one time, I was asked to—what I thought of my contemporaries. I said, "It's too soon to tell." The questioner said, "Well, haven't you got any opinion of them at all." I—I said, "Opinion of who?" He named Wolfe, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Caldwell, and me. I rated them then Wolfe first, me second, Dos Passos, Caldwell, and Hemingway. [audience laughter] Not on—on what we'd accomplished, but only on the single general ground I could find, which was the—the attempt to do more than we could do, on the failure. I rated Wolfe because his was the most splendid failure. He had tried hardest to take all the experience that he was capable of observing and imagining and put it down in one book, on the head of a pin. He had the courage to experiment, to be—to write nonsense, to be foolish, to be sentimental, in the attempt to get down the—that single moving and passionate instance of man's struggle. I rated myself next because I had tried next hardest to get everything on one page. I rated the others down to Hemingway, not on the value of his work, which I thought was, per se, the best because it was intact and complete. But his was—showed less desire to try to get all of man's heart onto the pinhead. So I think it's too soon for anyone to have a—have an opinion about Wolfe. Maybe the only opinion to have about anybody is, "Do I like to read him or don't I?" And if I like to read him, he's all right. If I don't like to read him, then he may be all right for somebody else, but he ain't my cup of tea. [audience laughter]

Moderator: [I think we have] We certainly owe Mr. Faulkner our gratitude. We certainly appreciate his good nature, his stamina, and I know we want to [...] thank him for a really memorable occasion.

William Faulkner: [...] [applause]

[end of recording]