The first three volumes listed here reflect the attention Faulkner's apprentice works are receiving from scholars; they also reflect an increasing fascination with Faulkner as a psychological case study, a determination to turn rock after rock so as to unearth the personal worms of Faulkner's psyche in the conviction that from such squirmings grew the magnificant movements of his mature fiction. No one can (or wants to) disprove the thesis that in Faulkner's apprentice work can be discerned hints of his later fiction; but even after reading these books, I am not certain just how enlightened readers will be by such hints.
Vision in Spring is an early sequence of love poems that Faulkner wrote for his future wife, Estelle Oldham Franklin, then married to another man. Because Mrs. Franklin eventually married Faulkner, we can assume that the poems did no harm, though they are not particularly romantic, or erotic, or even personal. They express, in cluttered symbolic language drawn from Swinburne, the French Symbolists, and T. S. Eliot, youthful yearnings for swooning romance and fears of assertive love. Vision in Spring does contain images we hear in Faulkner's novels; it tries out masks and stances later characters will assume. But the poetry flounders, or (as Faulkner described music, which he neither understood nor appreciated) it seems a "white, opaque, distant" discourse compared to the prose:
I see your face through the twilight in my brain,A dusk of forgotten things, remembered things;It is a corridor, dark and cool with music,Too dim for sight,You, clothed in quiet sound for my delight.
These lines do contain the corridors, the twilight and dusk, the dark and the cool we find in, say, Quentin's world in The Sound and the Fury or Joe Christmas' in Light in August. But the novelist's voice, if here at all, is so faint as to give us little insight into where it came from when we hear it at full volume in the novels.
What, then, are we to make of Judith Sensibar's claim that in these early poems we can discover the origins of Faulkner's art? Because they are by Faulkner, these bad poems deserve attention, and it is typical of Faulkner studies that a weighty commentary on these (and other early) poems should be published simultaneously with Vision in Spring. Sensibar's claim cannot be denied if only because early work always contains the "origins" of later work by the same artist. At this level The Origins of Faulkner's Art illuminates the career. Sensibar explores [End Page 737] the poetry's "ancestral echoes" of Faulkner's family history and the power of certain influences such as Conrad Aiken, Freud, and Swinburne. She also suggests metaphors relevant to all of Faulkner's oeuvre, such as the varied and problematic voices within which many of his more insecure "Pierrotique" figures hide. That her work carries the clear imprimatur of Faulkner's daughter gives it considerable biographical interest as well.
On deeper levels, however, her elaborations on psychobiographical "origins" for Faulkner's deepest creative urges do not satisfy—as perhaps they never can. Statements such as "Faulkner's childhood was marked by traumatic experiences and a family constellation similar to those described in the case histories of impostors" mark Sensibar's approach as a version of the sort of Freudianism that sees art as a "disease." But hers is a confusing version because Sensibar's point is that although Faulkner's life showed classic symptoms of the...