Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Carcassonne

Here we are! The final story in William Faulkner’s Collected Stories! I’m not sure of the significance of the title “Carcassonne” which is a city in Southern France. The name of the city has “carcass” in it. That actually makes sense after reading this short story – the shortest one in the whole collection.

The narrator seems to be dead or dying somewhere in what seems like a desert. He has some semblance of a conversation with a skeleton which could belong to someone else or could maybe even be his own.

Tons of apocalyptic imagery gets crammed into these five pages. There are horses flying around with fiery riders springing away from the earth with the narrator on a buckskin pony:

…me on a buckskin pony with eyes like blue electricity and a mane like tangled fire, galloping up the hill and right off in the high heaven of the world…

Thundering noises and bright lights against a dark sky abound. I know that Faulkner selected the stories to be included in this anthology and determined their placement. I doubt that the placement of the final story -one that appears to have taken at least a nod from the final book of the New Testament – is coincidence.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Divorce in Naples

…two weeks later we were watching him and George dancing again in their undershirts after supper on the after well deck while the victrola lifted its fatuous and reiterant ego against the waxing moon and the ship snored and hissed through the long seas off Hatteras.

In “Divorce in Naples”, William Faulkner portrays the homosexual relationship between two sailors more overtly than he has same-sex relationships elsewhere – at least in the stories and novels I’ve read so far.

The interesting aspect of this story is that the other men on the ship aren’t threatened by George and Carl’s relationship and it’s not a secret. There is a mild joke comparing them to husband and wife but nothing homophobic.

The surprising lack of stereotype and the timeframe in which it was written makes this story worth reading.

And this is the next to the last story in Faulkner’s Collected Stories. One more and I’ll be finished!

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Mistral

After reading William Faulkner’s short story “Mistral”, I had to look up the word. I had a feeling from the story that it was some form of a breeze or a wind – probably stronger than a breeze. The definition I found is “a strong, cold northwesterly wind that blows through the Rhône valley and southern France into the Mediterranean, mainly in winter.”

To me, this story takes on the style of Faulkner’s novels more than any of the other stories in this collection. To get the most of it, I feel I would have to read it again, perhaps several times. The thought of doing that isn’t that daunting.

Two American soldiers in Italy during World War II (I get that from brief Mussolini references) encounter what seems to be spectral like visions along with hearing stories about a woman engaged whose fiance is killed. They interact with a priest all the while doing what soldiers tend to do: drink (in this case Italian wine) and smoke. They also attend a funeral.

The drinking and the smoking seem to take on more ritualistic tones and these activities add a certain amount of bravery to the characters as opposed to making them look foolish. The evil that seems to be lurking everywhere (perhaps that’s what the title represents) is stared down by the soldiers with the casual indifference of having a drink and smoking a cigarette. The evil they look at isn’t necessarily the enemy in the war. It’s more difficult to pin down – like the mistral:

After a while I heard him just behind me, and we entered the wind. I could see past my shoulder his cigarette shredding away in fiery streamers upon the unimpeded rush of the mistral, that black chill wind full of dust like sparks of ice.

In spite of the difficulty in grasping this story, it’s a favorite.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: The Leg

‘Yes. I’ve looked everywhere. I went back out there and looked and I looked here. It must be all right. They must have killed it.’

William Faulkner’s story “The Leg” is an odd conglomeration with its saving grace being the middle section in which the narrator gets his leg amputated and still has the phantom feeling that the leg is still there. I don’t think this was meant to be a creepy story or a gothic story as some of Faulkner’s other stories. Whether in spite of or because of the goriness, its a fascinating narrative.

It’s also difficult to figure out where and when this story is set but all the clues I get lead me to thinking its during World War I in England. The Thames is mentioned often but I can’t tell if it’s physically there or if its just a memory or some kind of symbol. There’s also a mention that at least part of the story is set in 1914. So I’ll go with World War I.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Black Music

The first thing that jumps out at me in William Faulkner’s “Black Music” is the first paragraph:

This is about Wilfred Midgleston, fortune’s favorite, chosen of the gods. For fifty-six years, a clotting of the old gutful compulsions and circumspections of clocks and bells, he met walking the walking image of a small, snuffy, nondescript man whom neither man nor woman had ever turned to look at twice, in the monotonous hard streets. Then his apotheosis soared glaring, and to him at least not brief, across the unfathomed sky above his lost earth like that of Elijah of old.

I could stop right there and say I’ve read a good story but then I would miss out on the other thing that jumps out at me although it took more of the story to realize the brilliance of the narrator Faulkner uses- something I shouldn’t be surprised at anymore.

As usual we don’t know who the narrator is but they are interviewing Wilfred Midgleston somewhere in what I think is Mexico. Midgleston has disappeared after some shenanigans with his former employer. This interviewer has a journalistic approach to their questions even if we don’t know if they are a journalist. I get the idea they could be fascinated with Midgleston’s disappearance and plan on writing a book or filming a documentary about him.

The detached and unbiased narrator contrasts nicely with the unreliable but entertaining story that Midgleston tells.

Oh, and one of Faulkner’s apparently favorite words is “apotheosis”. It’s almost in every story. I looked it up and it means “a culmination” or “a making divine”. In either case it fits well with this story.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Beyond

He said quietly, aloud, quizzical, humorous, peaceful, as he did each night in his bed in his lonely and peaceful room when a last full exhalation had emptied his body of waking and he seemed less than an instant to look about him from the portal of sleep, ‘Gentlemen of the Jury, you may proceed.’

Clinging to the past and the now can be comfortable compared to embracing the new no matter how bad the present is and how good the new might be. This appears to be the theme of William Faulkner’s short story “Beyond” as it might be the general theme of much of his work.

Unlike a movie such as The Sixth Sense, Faulkner lets the reader know within a few paragraphs that the Judge is dead – and that he’s moving around among the living while he makes his way to some sort of heaven or at least purgatory.

He carries with him the grief and loneliness and mourning of having lost his wife and son a long time ago. When he has the opportunity in this heaven sort of place to see his son, he refuses.

While Faulkner puts a spiritual and philosophical spin on the Judge’s situation, a reader could easily place this situation onto Faulkner’s American South even though he doesn’t explicitly point it out in this story.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Mountain Victory

‘After four years I have bought immunity from running.’

‘You have until daylight.’

William Faulkner’s “Mountain Victory” is another one of his stories where Southerners have difficulty facing change. At the same, time he shows the complexity of the thoughts and ideas and agendas of those fighting the American Civil War.

At the end of the war, a wounded Confederate officer stumbles upon a family in the mountains of Tennessee. He seems to make the assumption that they are sympathetic to the South – which they are not. Confusion ensues.

The fact that the officer wants to go back to his mansion in Mississippi now that the war is over gives a naivety similar to Granny Millard in “My Grandmother Millard”. Faulkner makes his point in a more direct way with Granny, though. Again, “Mountain Victory” by no means is a pining away for the way things were. Some of the characters may have regrets and resist change but Faulkner’s overall tone is one that says “get over it and move on”.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: There Was A Queen

‘After all, she is not a Sartoris. She is no kin to them, to a lot of fool proud ghosts.’

Maybe the future is better but when you can’t see it, it can be difficult to know that. This seems to be the point in William Faulkner’s “There Was A Queen”. It’s one of the more complicated Faulkner stories I’ve read so far. It involves the Sartoris family that shows up in numerous Faulkner works.

Miss Jenny lives in her house as a 90 year-old invalid. Narcissa, a few generations removed from Miss Jenny, lives in the same house. The men in both of their lives have either died or moved on. Bringing the two together is Elnora, their African American servant. Miss Jenny, as one might expect, represents the old south whereas Narcissa represents the new south. Caught in the middle, Elnora clings to the person of Miss Jenny even if the ideas of Narcissa sound good.

The tone of the story is by no means one of longing for the old days. Miss Jenny and her ways do not come across as sympathetic by Faulkner. At the same time, Narcissa’s new ways are painted as puzzling but only because they are new – not because they are wrong.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Golden Land

I think William Faulkner’s “Golden Land” is his nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or maybe he just discovered similar values or lack thereof in Hollywood. Both Faulkner and Fitzgerald dabbled in screenwriting. I don’t know if they were doing it at the same time. That’s probably possible.

In the story, Ira Ewing has come to live in Beverly Hills from Nebraska. His mother has moved near him, also from Nebraska. Ira’s grown daughter seems to be an actress and is involved in some sort of legal problem. Ira is an alcoholic and abusive husband who hates where he lives.

Here’s Ira’s (or Faulkner’s) description of people on the beach:

Lying so, they seemed to him to walk along the rim of the world as though they and their kind alone inhabited it, and he with his forty-eight years were the forgotten last survivor of another race and kind, and they in turn precursors of a new race not yet seen on the earth: of men and women without age, beautiful as gods and goddesses, and with the minds of infants.

Yeah, at least here, Faulkner and Fitzgerald seem to observe the same world and come to some of the same conclusions.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek

He said they would always lose the first battles, and if they were outnumbered and outweighed enough, it would seem to an outsider that they were going to lose them all. But they would not.

In the table of contents of my copy of William Faulkner’s Collected Stories, this story is simply called “My Grandmother Millard”; however, when you actually get to the story, it’s called by the title I put in the title of this post – a slightly longer title.

Granny Millard’s 12 year-old grandson narrates this story without a name – at least in this story. I’ve read that Granny Millard is also in Faulkner’s novel The Unvanquished so perhaps her grandson has a name there.

The story is set during the American Civil War which is a little unusual in that Faulkner rarely sets his stories smack dab in the middle of the war – they are usually after the war with flashbacks before and during the war and even then, we don’t get tons of actual war detail. Granny and her family practice grabbing the things they want to save (family heirlooms, etc.) and burying them in a trunk in case the Yankees storm their house. Granny times the rest of the family to see how fast they can get everything buried. A clock that is valued to the family sometimes goes in the trunk for these drills and sometimes it doesn’t. I find this somewhat funny in that Faulkner seems to always play around with time in his stories jumping back and forth even within the same paragraphs. In this story he does it in a more literal sense.

As with so much of Faulkner’s writing, we get one person’s point of view via someone else. It kind of gives the reader intimate details and the big picture all at once. Granny, as with many older folks, hangs on to her southern traditions, with the attitude of “why wouldn’t things go on staying the same? or why would anyone want things to be any different?” even as her slaves are helping her save her personal belongings.

With the two intertwined points of view, Faulkner is able to show the humor in the fact that Granny’s traditions are headed into history whether she likes it or not no matter how much she wants to hold on to them.