Coleman's Writing Class

DATE: 25 February 1957

OCCASION: John Coleman's Writing Class

TAPE: T-120_Coleman

LENGTH: 49:13

Play the full recording:

William Faulkner: [...] what he means and probably any story that can't be told in one sentence or at least one paragraph is not worth writing. The—the revision, the—the cutting out—in my own case, I'm lazy. I don't like to work, and so I will do as much of it as possible in—in the mind, in thinking, before I undertake the arduous, hateful job of swatting it out on paper. I think the revision quite often follows because when the job is down on paper at last, it still is not quite what it should be, and so you—you—you change, you revise, you edit, you—you try to bring it closest to the ideal of perfection, which, of course, you're not going to reach either. That is, what I'm trying to say, is that the revision is I think for the writer more than—than the editor's revision, which is for the reader.

Unidentified participant: Yes.

Unidentified participant: Do you work, so to speak, eight hours a day at a desk and just concentrate on it all day long, or do you just sort of let it come to you and work spasmodically?

William Faulkner: Oh, I think that—that the writer never quits working. All the time he's awake, in, as I say, in my own case, I put off the actual work as long as possible, but probably all the time I'm awake I'm thinking about the particular job I'm at at the time, and I work at it only when I have to. The only rule I have is to quit while it's still hot. Never write yourself out. Always quit when it's going good. Then it's easier to—to take it up again. If you exhaust yourself, then you'll get into a—a dead spell, and you have trouble with it. It's—what's the saying, Leave them while you're looking good. [audience laughter]

John Coleman: Did you have a question, [Thomas]?

Unidentified participant: Yes. Mr. Faulkner, I'm particularly interested in your style, and I would like to know have you developed it consciously and has it changed very much since when you first began to write?

William Faulkner: I did not develop it. I think style is one of the tools of the craft, and I think anyone that—that spends too much of his time about his style, developing a style, or following a style, probably hasn't got much to say and knows it and is afraid of it, and so he writes a—a style, a marvelous trove. He becomes Walter Pater, which is beautiful, but there ain't too much in it. [audience laughter] I think style is simply one of the tools of the craft. That—that—the—the story you're telling commands its style, that one style is good for now and another style will be good for tomorrow. And—and like the good carpenter, one should—should be able to—well, you might say almost imitate, that there's some things that certain men have—women writers have told better than others have, which is a good tool to use if you're trying to—to give the same effect that that man or woman [gave], but the style is—is incidental, I think.

Unidentified participant: In other words, it's intuitive?

William Faulkner: That's right, yes. That the—the story commands its style and in a way, creates its style. But you're writing primarily about people.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, do you think that a writer can teach young writers?

William Faulkner: I don't think anybody can teach anybody anything. [audience laughter] I think that you learn it, but—but the young writer that is, as I say, demon-driven and—and wants to learn and has—has got to write, he don't know why, he will learn from—from almost any source that he finds. He will learn from older people who are not writers, he will learn from writers, but he learns it. You can't teach it. Then I think, too, that the—that the writer who's actually hot to say something hasn't got time to be taught. He's too busy learning. He knows what he wants. His instinct says to take this from this man or that from that man, but he's not—he hasn't got time to sit under a mentor and listen to try to learn.

John Coleman: Mr. Faulkner, to get back to the business of style for just a minute. You mentioned in some class that I attended that Dostoevsky and Conrad were two people you read a good deal when you were eighteen and nineteen years old. Would you say that you had gotten something in the way of arrangement of words from Conrad? Every now and then in your stories—I was thinking of a couple of passages in "The Bear," passages here and there in other stories—there are arrangements of cadence, rhythm, that seems to me to be rather like Conrad. I'm thinking of a passage in "Youth," an arrangement of adjectives, "resplendent yet somber, full of danger, yet promising." It's the description of the East when that young boy comes upon it. There's something of the same kind of use of those kind of—kind of heavy arrangement of adjectives I've noticed in your writing. Does that seem fair?

William Faulkner: Quite true. I got quite a lot from Conrad, and I got quite a lot from a man that probably you gentlemen, young people, never heard of, a man called Thomas Beer. You—you probably know the name.

John Coleman: I know the name Thomas Beer in connection with a critical work. Did he write The Mauve Decade?

William Faulkner: He wrote the—yes.

John Coleman: Yes, that's how I got to—

William Faulkner: And I got quite a lot from him. It was to me a—a good tool, a good—good method, a good usage—usage of words, approach to—to an incident. I think the writer, as I've said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, do you think the writer is asking for trouble if he attempts to write of things beyond his personal experience?

William Faulkner: No, sir, I do not. I do not. There should be no limits to what the writer tries to write about. He has got to tell it in terms that he does know. That is, he can write about what is beyond his experience, but the only terms he does know are within his—his experience, his observation. But there should be no limits to what he attempts. The—the higher the aim, the better. If [he wants] to be a failure, [well] let him be a fine bust, not just a petty little one.

Unidentified participant: Sir, back to your writing, Mr. Faulkner, often it seemed to me that you [choose] questions and then answer them yourself as you develop your story, rather than letting the reader answer them, letting them to go unanswered. Is that a lack of confidence in your reading audience or merely a trick of style?

William Faulkner: It—it's not a conscious trick, and I—I'm sorry that that word occurred to anyone about it. It—it's the—the—the desire to—to exhaust completely the—the human character which one is trying to create, to probe and to probe and to probe, to never be quite satisfied. The man with judgment will have enough of it that after he has probed and probed to get the—the absolute essence, to have the taste and the judgment to edit it then, to throw away a lot of it, but sometimes he doesn't always do that. It may be lack of taste. It may be his hurry. It may be that he himself thinks that this is necessary so that who reads it can follow him, that he has probed and probed and probed to get to the absolute bottom of the character he's trying to create. I don't believe that—that I've ever used that as a trick. I may have. It's—it's hard to say. As I say, the writer is amoral about other people's work and quite often about himself. He is a congenital liar or he wouldn't be a writer, [audience laughter] and maybe he can't tell the truth about anything.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: This is sort of long question. In last week's issue of the New York Times Book Review, Colin Wilson discussed the great—makings of a great writer, and he said writers today are of two kinds, what he termed telescopic and microscopic, the telescopic writer being one that gives a bird's eye, an extended view of nature, and the microscopic writer being one who examines the life of ordinary people. He went on to say that a great writer combines these two qualities and examines himself at the same time, and finally, he said that your writing and that of Dos Passos, Williams and Miller were all microscopic, and, he went on to say, third rate. My question is do you agree with his statements of the makings of a great writer and if not, what do you think makes a great writer?

William Faulkner: I think the—the question about telescopic writing and microscopic writing, that's a literary question and is in Mr. Wilson's provenance, but probably not in the provenance of a writer, unless that writer is—is also literary. I don't think that you have to be literary just to be a writer.

John Coleman: I want to set the record straight. I don't think you quoted him quite exactly, Joseph. I think he said people who imitated those writings were third-rate writers. I think that Colin Wilson seems a very brash person, but I don't think he's inclined to be that brash, do you? No. I think it's the imitators he's thinking of.

William Faulkner: Well, that is—resembles something that we just spoke about, is that someone who hasn't got anything to say, he knows, if he has the—the desire to write, will imitate for the sake of imitation. He will think, Hemingway has written good books, so I'll write like Hemingway, which is the third-rate writer in the sense that he hasn't gotten something first-rate to say and probably never will have. Actually, I thought at one time that—that what one needed to write with is talent, but I think now it's probably patience to—to probe and to try and to probe and to try, then ruthlessness to discard what is—is not necessary or what is trashy, but mostly what you need is insight which is the probing, that you don't need to have a telescopic eye nor a microscopic eye. It's—it's insight, the desire to see why man does what he does.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: In doing that, do you find that you've done it yourself?

William Faulkner: Oh, yes. That's—that's like we spoke of—of one has got to—to—to write in the terms that he knows which is his own environment, and—and man's closest environment is his—himself. That he has got to measure everything against what he believes and feels to be true. Now, his belief has—has come from observation, from experience, from what he has read, mostly a lot from what he's read, but he—yes, he's got to measure everything against what he himself believes, not thinks up here, but believes here to be—be true, and be moving.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, a lot of people have said that your novels and short stories contain many hidden meanings and subtle symbolisms and things like that. Do you find that they more or less, as you—as you write, do they all fit some preconceived design of yours, or the symbolism or the hidden meanings more or less develop as you write, or do you find that people sometimes read more into your stories than you yourself originally intended for them to read?

William Faulkner: I wouldn't say that they do. They—they read into my stories lots of things which I myself didn't know were there, but I'm sure that they're quite right when they can find symbolism. The—the symbolism, the—the pattern of symbolism is a part of—of the man, the individual, too, and he's still writing in terms of his environment, and that's part of his environment. The—the religious symbolism, the—the mythological symbolism, the rest of it is all that he has robbed and reft and stolen, as he read and grew up and listened, and he's still writing in the terms which he knows because it simplifies things.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, could you tell me what do you think that Conrad was trying to say or what [he] means to you as an author?

William Faulkner: Yes. What they all mean to me is to—to write about man in conflict with himself, his own heart, or with his fellows or with his environment. I think that—that the writer that is trying to deliver some sociological or some topical message is—is in retrograde toward the second rate, that primarily the writer is writing about people in conflict and the social message is incidental. The social message is part of the environment, which he uses as a tool.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, speaking of symbolism, in your story "That Evening Sun," why did you name that fellow Jesus?

William Faulkner: That was probably a deliberate intent to shock just a little. That's a—it's a valid name among Negroes in—in Mississippi. That is, you don't see it too often, but it's—it's nothing unusual. It's not uncommon. But there may have been a little, not so much to shock but to emphasize the point I was making, which was that this—this Negro woman who had given devotion to the white family knew that when—when the crisis of her need came, the white family wouldn't be there.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: How serious were you in the preface to Sanctuary when you said that you were writing for—to the reader instead for yourself as you had in your other books?

William Faulkner: Well, that's a long story. I wrote Sanctuary. I needed money badly at that time, and so I thought of the most horrific story I could and wrote it. I sent it to the publisher, and he said, "Good God, we can't print this. We'd both be in a jail." [audience laughter] And I was glad of it, because by that time, I had got a job and didn't need the money, and I wrote two other books. They were printed, and then one day I got the galley for Sanctuary, and I looked at it, and I didn't need the money by that time, and it was a—a base, shoddy, shabby job, and so I wrote the publisher to throw the whole thing out, that—that we wouldn't print it, and he—he wrote me back that plates had been made. He didn't have much money at that time either. [audience laughter] He had money invested in this, and something must be done, and I said, "Well, I'll rewrite it then and make it—do the best I can to make it a—a decent, honest book." And he said, "Well, all right. I'll agree to that, and I'll pay half the cost of the new plates, and you pay half." So I had to get another job to earn the two hundred and seventy dollars to pay my share of the new plates, and I rewrote the book and did the best I could with it, to make it—make it an honest book, and I was still ashamed of that first attempt because that was the only time I ever betrayed—well, call it the muse, you might say, and I was so ashamed of it and when I wrote that—that preface, I still didn't like the book, and I still am sorry that I wrote the first version of it, and that was the reason for the preface.

Unidentified participant: When did you first realize that you wanted to write, sir?

William Faulkner: I think I had scribbled all my life, ever since I learned to read. I wrote poetry when I was a young man, until I found that I—that it was bad poetry, would never be first rate poetry. And I was—I was in New Orleans. I—I worked for a bootlegger. This was in '20—'21, '22, '23. I ran a launch from New Orleans across Pontchartrain down in the Industrial Canal, out into the Gulf where the schooner from Cuba would bring the raw alcohol and bury it on a sand-spit, and we'd dig it up and bring it back to the bootlegger and—and his mother, [audience laughter] she was—she was an Italian. She was a nice little old lady, and—and she was the expert. She would turn it into—to scotch with a little creosote [audience laughter] and bourbon. We had the—the labels, the bottles, everything. It was quite a—quite a business. And I met Sherwood Anderson. He was living there, and I liked him right off, and we would—we got along fine together. We would meet in the evenings, in the afternoons. We'd walk, and he'd talk, and I'd listen. We'd meet in the evenings, and we'd go to a drinking place and we'd sit around till one or two o'clock drinking, and still me listening and him talking. Then in the morning he would be in seclusion working, and the next time I'd see him, the same thing, we would spend the afternoon and evening together, the next morning he'd be working. And I thought then, if that was the life it took to be a writer, that was the life for me. [audience laughter] So—so I wrote a book, and when I started, I found that writing was fun, and I hadn't seen Mr. Anderson in some time, till I met Mrs. Anderson on the street. She said, "We haven't seen you in a long time. What's wrong?" I said, "I'm writing a book." And she said, "Do you want Sherwood to look at it?" And I said, "No'm, it's not finished yet." I hadn't thought of anybody looking at it. It was fun to write the book. And I saw her later, and she said, "I told Sherwood you were writing a book, and he said, 'Good God.' Then he said [audience laughter] that he—he will make a trade with you. If he don't have to read it, he will tell his publisher to take it." I said, "Done." [audience laughter] And so that was how my first book got published, and by that time I'd found that writing was fun. I liked it. That was my cup of tea, and I've been at it ever since and will probably stick at it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, what gave you the idea for your short story "Mountain Victory"?

William Faulkner: It—I believe, as I remember, that came from the—the idea of the—let me see. I believe it was the idea of the irreconcilable difference between two men of more or the less the same background, the—the eastern Tennessee mountain man who was a southerner too, and the—the descendant of a slave-owning aristocracy to meet in those conditions never to—to be—be kin, yet never to touch. In a way, both victims of the war. Probably that's what it came from. I don't remember. I was still writing about people and as I recall, that would—might've been. I just don't know.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, so much—so much of your material seems to be connected. Is there any way you determine what is short story material and what is novel material?

William Faulkner: No, the—the story itself does that. I never know myself which it's going to be. The Sound and the Fury I thought was going to be a short story. I think it would take a much better craftsman than I am, a more trained craftsman, maybe a more literary craftsman to know beforehand what form the material wants to take. I'm simply writing about people that I—I begin when I can and stop as soon as I can.

John Coleman: I remember asking you a question the other day about two stories, one called "Two Soldiers," a story that I like very much and some of the people in my class have read, and what I consider a sequel to that story called "The Country Will—She Shall Survive." I think that's it's it or—

William Faulkner: Oh, "Shall Not Perish."

Unidentified participant: "Shall Not Perish." That's it. It seems to me that there's a difference between the two stories in a way. The first story I can read over and over again with a great deal of pleasure and interest. The second story seems to me to be something of a dead thing in comparison to the first, and I think you started to tell me the other day when I was speaking of it, the first story had to do with people's character, and the second story really had to do with an idea.

William Faulkner: That's right. The—the first story had to do with one of the most interesting of all conflicts, all human conflicts. To me, it's—it's the boy trying to—to reconcile, to—to learn in order to accept the adult world he will have to cope with, and I believed more in the story about the—the little boy and his brother who got drafted than I believed in the—in the idea that I tried to make into another story, the sequel to it.

John Coleman: Do you feel that's why the second story may not seem as—

William Faulkner: That's right. That I'm simply not an idea man.

John Coleman: Yes.

William Faulkner: [As] I'm not—not really interested enough in ideas to take even my own too seriously. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, from what viewpoint did you write the—you write the story from—I believe it was from These Thirteen—it was called "Carcassonne" or "Carcassonne"?

William Faulkner: That was—I was still writing about a—a young man in conflict with his environment. I—it seemed to me that—that fantasy was the best way to tell that story. To have told it in terms of—of simple realism would have lost something, in my opinion. To use fantasy was—was the best, and that's a—a piece that I've always liked because there was—was the poet again. I—I wanted to be a poet, and I—I think of myself now as a failed poet, not as a novelist at all, but a failed poet who had to take up what he could do.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in connection with that, there's an old French poem by the name of "Carcassonne." I forget the author. It has pretty much the general, the same sort of theme. I wonder if that was in your mind at the time.

William Faulkner: I don't know the poem, though if—if I did know it, and I had needed to steal from it, I'm sure I would. I wouldn't have hesitated. [audience laughter]

John Coleman: What do you mean, Mr. Faulkner, in your story, "All the Dead Pilots," and I believe a story called "Honor," in which you give the impression that those people who fought in the war, after those experiences of war, will be dead the rest of their lives?

William Faulkner: Well, in a—in a way they were. That the—the ones that—that even continued to live very long were the exceptions, and the one among them that coped with the—the change of time or—you can count them on your thumbs almost. Rickenbacker's one, but there are not too many others. Bishop, he finally drank himself to death, died last year, and the others, Victor Yeats didn't live ten years. But then in a way they—they—they were dead, they had exhausted themselves psychically, whatever it was, but anyway, they were unfitted for the world that they found afterwards. Not that they rejected, they simply were unfitted. They had worn themselves out.

John Coleman: You'd restrict that feeling to people who had been in aviation, not with people who had served in other branches of the armed services?

William Faulkner: At that time, yes, because there was more concentration of being frightened of flying then than in infantry or—or ground troops. You just got—got scared worse quicker and more often—

John Coleman: Yes.

William Faulkner: Flying than you did on the ground.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: You seem to distinguish between literary men and—and writing men. I was wondering if you would elaborate on that. Are not the two reconcilable? Cannot they be?

William Faulkner: Yes, I—I think I said that—that some writing men are literary men, but I—I don't think that you have to be a literary man to be a writer. I think that—that to be a literary man infers a certain amount of—of, well, even formal education, and there are some writers that have never had formal education. Of course, you can be literary without the formal education, but I've—I've got to talk in terms of what I know about Faulkner now, you see, and Sherwood Anderson, that we were not literary men in the sense that—that Edmund Wilson is a literary man or Malcolm Cowley, for instance.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Sorry.

John Coleman: Mr. Faulkner, what short-story writers at the present time do you find interesting people from the point of view of their—of their stories, something that people might read with profit?

William Faulkner: May I have that again?

John Coleman: What short story writers do you admire at the present time?

William Faulkner: Now, that's a difficult question for me because I think not of writers but of the characters. I remember the characters they wrote about without being able to remember always just—just who wrote the—wrote the piece. But when I was a young man, Thomas Beer that I mentioned, he influenced me a lot. Chekhov. [I can't] think of some of the others.

John Coleman: What about the present writers in your area of the country, a writer like Eudora Welty?

William Faulkner: Well, I think again of—of the books rather than the writer.

John Coleman: Yes.

William Faulkner: I think of a book of hers called The Robber Bridegroom, which was quite different from any of the other things she has done, which to me was—was the—the worthwhile one. I think of—of stories of—of Hemingway. I wouldn't say that I like all of Hemingway, but I remember stories of his that—that haven't been matched in my time, though I can think of—of people that have written better—better pages, better paragraphs than Hemingway. I can think of—of stories of—of Erskine Caldwell. I have always rated Thomas Wolfe first among my lot because of—of the failure, the splendor of his failure as compared to the not quite splendor of—of our failures, but I would never read Wolfe again. It would—it's still a—a—a magnificent failure, but I would never read it again and I remember very little of what I did read from Wolfe, but I remember characters from Hemingway. I remember characters from Caldwell, but not from Wolfe.

John Coleman: Did you want to ask a question, [...]?

Unidentified participant: What importance do you attach to the titles of your stories and books, and how do you go about selecting them?

William Faulkner: I think a title is extremely important to a book, and I think that—that a—a gift for choosing titles is a mark of genius. [audience laughter] I think that—that Balzac, the—the—the way he chose titles, that was genius, and I've been—been quite lucky in the titles I've chosen, but some of them have been wrong. But—but most of them have been pretty good titles, I think.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, when you set out to write a book, do you usually know how you're going to reconcile your characters in the end or how the plot is going to work out or do you let this work itself out for itself as you go along?

William Faulkner: After about the third or fourth page, the characters take charge of that book. They write the rest of it. They just tell me what to put down.

John Coleman: Mr. [...], you had a question.

Unidentified participant: It was almost the same question, but what happens—do you ever feel the characters [particularly] one—do you feel a necessity to give every character [...]. [do you] tell all the truth about that character that you feel needs to be told regardless of whether [...]?

William Faulkner: No, I think that—that after about ten books, I had learned enough of—of judgment to where I could pick and choose the—the facet of a character which I need at that particular time to move the story I was telling, so that I can—can take a facet of one character in one story and—and another facet of that character in another story. To me, it's the same character, though sometimes to the reader it may seem as though the character had changed or had developed more. To me, he hasn't. That I used my editorial prerogative of choosing what I needed from that particular character at that particular time.

Unidentified participant: In light of that, when you think about the failure of Thomas Wolfe, do you feel that there is any connection with [...] the necessity, [...] the way you feel about how characters [...]?

William Faulkner: If I understand it right, I'm sure that Wolfe felt the same way that I did about his editorial right to—to choose what he wanted from the character in order to tell what he was trying to tell. To—to me, what I mean by the—the splendor of Wolfe's failure is that—that every man will—will live only a short time, his biblical three score and ten. He knows that, that in time, soon, very soon or comparably, he will be gone, finished and done, and his only chance is a very limited one—limited one in which to—to express all living or [earth] anguish or hope, aspiration has meant to him is in the short space he will have, and he is in a way trying to—to write the whole history of the human heart on the head of a pin. He'll have only one shot at it, and that's what I mean by the splendor of Wolfe's failure, that he tried hardest, with the most courage, to put the whole history of man's heart on the head of the pin.

Unidentified participant: [And that was your ambition—]

William Faulkner: Yes.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, how much do you feel that the writer's being involved with people in his writing is dependent upon his being actively involved with real people in the real world?

William Faulkner: I think that has nothing to do with the writing. That he can be involved with people, he can be involved with alcohol, or with gambling or anything, and it's not going to affect the writer. Now, I have no patience, and I don't hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if—if he's demon-driven with something to be said, then he's going to write it. He can—can blame his—the fact that he's not turning out the work on lots of things. I've heard people say, "Well, if I were not married and—and had children, I would be a writer." I've heard people say, "If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer." I don't believe that. I think if you're going to write, you're going to write, and nothing will stop you. That you can be involved, and probably the more you're involved, it may be better for you. That maybe it's—it's bad to—to crawl off into the ivory tower and stay there, that maybe you do need to be involved, to get the edges beaten off of you a little every day may be good for the writer.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: In the story "Red Leaves," the slave escapes from his Indian captors and goes and hides in the swamp and, in order to avert his capture, has the cottonmouth strike him in the arm. Then the Indians come and capture him anyway. And why did this happen in the story? Is this to show that man can't escape his condition or—?

William Faulkner: No, that was—the snake episode was to show—to show that—that man, when he knows he's going to die, thinks that he can accept death, but he doesn't, he doesn't, really. The Negro at the time, he—he said I'm already dead, it doesn't matter, the snake can bite me because I'm already dead, but yet at the end, he still wanted to put off—that—that man will cling to life, that in a preference between grief and nothing, man will take grief always.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, [...]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in the next to last chapter of Light in August, you have the scene where Hightower is considering many things, [his] past life, in particular, and there is the vision that he sees of the dead face of the dead Christmas, and as he sees it, [it] begins struggling trying to resolve itself into a different focus, and while I think I know what that scene means to me, would you care to comment on your meaning there?

William Faulkner: Yes, he was a man of God who had—had failed always. He, in—his belief was, that he had failed his wife, that if—if he had been different, his wife wouldn't have gone bad, that here was—was a time when a man of courage would've saved this man, and he, the man of God, failed again, and so he resorted into fantasy to dream when—when some Hightower was brave and gallant and courageous. That it was escape, that he hated himself.

Unidentified participant: I have often wondered, did you mean in that scene that [he is approaching death] [...]. [Is he suffering] a heart attack there [...] that he is dying in that chapter?

William Faulkner: No. No, he wished he could die. No, he didn't. He would have to suffer a little longer than that.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Many writers beginning to write, usually in their first work, make one of their characters, usually the hero, an image of himself. Now, I don't find this true in—in your writings at all. But may I ask you, do you ever find yourself identifying with one of your characters, and have to resist, for instance, someone like Gavin Stevens or just [for the moment say] the—the old man in the last pages of A Fable who comes out of the crowd?

William Faulkner: I don't know whether anyone could say, any writer could say, just how much he identifies himself with his characters. Quite often the young man will write about himself simply because himself is what he knows best. That he is using himself as the standard of measure, and to simplify things, he writes about himself as—perhaps as he presumes himself to be, maybe as he hopes himself to be, or maybe as he hates himself for being. Though after that, the more—the more you write, the—the more you—you see you have to write, the more you have learned by writing, and probably you don't really have time to identify yourself with a character, except at certain moments when the character is in a position to—to express truthfully things which you yourself believe to be true. Then you'll put your own ideas in his mouth, but they—when you do that, they'll become his. I think that you're not trying to—to preach through the character, that you're too busy writing about people. It just happens that this man agrees with you on this particular point, and so he says it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you seem to say that a—a writer should write of the heart, and I'm assuming that also—this is an assumption—that you believe that a writer should write from the heart. Now as opposed to writing from the—of the heart, there's writing of the glands, which you've mentioned before. May a writer successfully write from the glands rather than from the heart?

William Faulkner: He can successfully do it, like—what's his name? Spillane? [audience laughter] and the toughs theme. But it's not—it's not good writing. It's not worth doing, in my opinion. It's successful, but it ain't worth doing. [audience laughter] I—what I meant, to write from the heart is, it's—it's the heart that—that has the— the desire to be better than man is, the—the—the up here can know the—the distinction between good and evil, but it's the heart that makes you want to be better than you are. That's what I mean by to write it from the heart. That it's the—the heart that makes you want to be brave when you are afraid that you might be a coward, that wants you—wants you to be generous, or wants you to—to be compassionate when you think that maybe you won't. I think that—that the intellect, it might say, "Well, which is the most profitable? Shall I be compassionate or shall I be uncompassionate? Which is most profitable? Which is the most profitable? Shall I be brave or not?" But the heart wants always to be better than man is.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Was the "Rose for Emily" an idea or a character? Just how did you go about that—?

William Faulkner: That came from a—from a picture of the strand of hair on the pillow. It was a ghost story. Simply a picture of a strand of hair on the pillow in the abandoned house.

John Coleman: Mr. Faulkner, you seem to find the easiest message for writing as a kind of easy first-person with his message or something of that sort. You're always there in your stories, is my hunch.

William Faulkner: Yes.

John Coleman: That's the easiest, simplest method of doing it.

William Faulkner: Yes.

John Coleman: Is that how you started out in your first stories, from that point of view?

William Faulkner: No. I was still trying to—to talk about people in the simplest way I could think of, and I myself probably never did decide, Now shall this be told in the first person or the third person or how. I was simply talking about—trying to tell about people, trying to create a—a man which would have the solidity of—of a living man, that is, would be capable of anguish and—and courage and compassion or baseness, be human, so that he too would throw a shadow behind him, not a transparency, that the others are just a—a matter of which tool to use. It's—it's not—not too important.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you say you're interested in, and have been throughout your writing, in people rather than ideas. I'm just wondering, as you were saying that, about, for example a book like the Fable, at what point did the allegory—did you become conscious of it? Obviously you didn't take the idea and impose it, I gather from what you say. What got you into the Fable, what—what—

William Faulkner: That was tour de force. It—the notion occurred to me one day in 1940—'42, shortly after Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the—the last great war. Suppose—who might that unknown soldier be? Suppose that had been Christ again, under that fine big cenotaph with the eternal flame burning on it? That he would naturally have got crucified again, and I had to—then it became tour de force, because I had to invent enough stuff to carry this notion.

Unidentified participant: You were writing from an idea then?

William Faulkner: That's right, that was an idea, and a hope that—an unexpressed thought that Christ had appeared twice, had been crucified twice, and maybe we'd have only one more chance.

William Faulkner: Yes.

Unidentified participant: [As you started] [...] [had you ever read a book called] The Paths of Glory?

William Faulkner: Yes.

Unidentified participant: [...]

William Faulkner: Well, that was—his book, too, was based on an actual instance in the French records. There was a regiment that—that refused, and also that book, I—I did use—when it became tour de force, I had to use all the symbolism I could think of, and I was using the—the trinity of—of man's—of man's spirit, the—the one, the—the—the young British pilot who said, "This is evil. I won't accept it. I will decline the world before I will accept it." The old general who said, "This is evil, but we can bear it." The runner who said, "This is evil, I'm going to do something about it."

John Coleman: They have—anyone have any one more question you want to ask because we'll have to stop pretty soon. We got classes coming on. Anybody want to ask a question? Mr. Faulkner, thank you very much for coming into this classroom. It's been very nice indeed having you. Thank you.

William Faulkner: Thank you, gentlemen.

[end of recording]