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CRITICISM THE COMPOSITION OF THE SOUND AND THE FURY I Leon Howard I WILLIAM FAULKNER'S The Sound and the Fury has been, during the last fifty years, one of the most widely discussed American novels. Critics have made numerous efforts to define its meaning and have found innumerable things to say about its structure. Studies have been made of the manuscript and its revisions. But little has been written about what the frustrated young writer did or must have done while composing it. The most positive statement we have on that subject is a negative one: "Faulkner," said Jean-Paul Sartre, "did not first think in terms of an orderly narrative and then shuffle the parts like a pack of cards." Sartre was writing from his response to the printed text, which he was reluctant to reduce to its constituent parts because, as he said, that would produce a "different story." But what if Faulkner, as a matter of actual fact, did first think of it as a different story? He said he did. Textual analysis supports his assertion, and so does the manuscript in its indications of several stages of evolution, in its revisions and marginal insertions, and in further changes made for the typescript. Faulkner's achievement is not lessened by seeing his book as the product of evolution rather than magic; and it may be more interesting to re-read if one sees it as the product of a creative impulse overcoming frustration and as the book in which he learned to write in the way that made him great. The Sound and the Fury is generally recognized, now, as the novel which marks Faulkner's transition from a rather ordinary young writer to an extraordinary one. Before it he had published a volume of verse and two novels and had written a third, which was on the town. He was writing short stories and, though not yet successful with the magazines, had enough finished to contemplate publishing a book of them. He had also done everything an aspiring young author was supposed to do. He had adopted a timely subject, followed the best models, and had returned to his native ground to write about the people he knew best. Soldiers' Pay was about a veteran of World War I who had returned home to die. In Mosquitoes he had been the Aldous Huxley of Lake Pontchartrain, and in Flags in the Dust he had written a long story of Southern family life which would have to be drastically cut before it was published as Sartoris. The rejection of Flags in the Dust by his regular The Missouri Review -222 publishers was a severe blow to Faulkner, both to his ego and to his financial expectations. Two years later he wrote that his "first emotion was blind protest" and that he had felt the "consternation and despair" of a "parent who had been told that its child was a thief or an idiot" and "like the parent I hid my eyes in the fury of denial." He owed his publishers, Boni and Liveright, $200.00 for the advance they had given; they had an option on his next book, and he had, as he said, "a belly full" of writing to "suit" New York publishers who knew nothing about the South. On February 27, 1928, Liveright gave him permission to peddle Flags in the Dust elsewhere and keep the money as an advance against his next novel, on which he explicitly retained the option. It was under these circumstances that Faulkner, at home in Mississippi , wrote The Sound and the Fury, which he took to New York in a hand-written manuscript along with the typescript of Flags in the Dust that had been accepted, subject to cutting, by Harcourt Brace. In New York Horace Liveright, without seeing the new book, agreed to destroy the contract and set Faulkner free. The fact that the book was written in resentful bondage, however, may have some bearing on its reckless disregard for conventions. Hemingway, as everybody knew, had recently written his outrageous The Torrents of Spring in order to escape a publisher's contract; and it is not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 109-138
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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