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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 William Faulkner and Willard Huntington Wright's The Creative Will M. Gidley Commentingon an article by Louis Cochran in 1932, Faulkner's one-time friend and mentor Phil Stone wrote: "You have left out of your article all mention of 'The Creative Will' by Willard Huntington Wright, the S.S. Van Dine of popular Detective fiction. I think this is a serious omission because the aesthetic theories set forth in that book, strained through my own mind, constitutes[sic] one of the most important influences in Bill's whole literary career. If people who read him would simply read Wright's book they would seewhat he is driving at from a literary standpoint." 1 Wright (1887-1939) enjoyed a certain fame as a trend setter from a position not quite at the centers ofAmerican literary circles during the second decade of the twentieth century. Hewasan aesthete, dressed extravagantly, and liked to startle.2 He is almost forgotten now- except, perhaps, as the author of no longer popular detective tales - so it would seem best to follow Phil Stone's advice and to "simply read Wright's book" in an effort to test the likelihood of its influence onFaulkner's thought and art. Thefull title of the work mentioned by Stone is The Creative Will:Studies inthe Philosophy and Syntax of Aesthetics, published in 1916. It is an odd book,part the advocacy of rigorous aesthetic principles and criticism, part art-cum-literary and cultural history, and part a plea for more patience and sensitivitytowards the modern movement. It is organized in numbered 170 M. G1d/c sections - some no longer than an aphorism - which, though frequenth repetitious, form a sequence of sorts, with one definition or declaratio; referring back to another. This is a typical pronouncement: "In aesthe~, expression ... each of these three elements [emotion, intellect, will] plays anl equal part: there is a co-ordination and balance of all the functionsof mentation. The theme is chosen by the emotion; the intellect determinesthe rhythm or construction; and the will supplies the organisation. Thethree working in conjunctive harmony, result in a perfect unity."3 In such~ pronouncement there is a rather fake precision, for with regard to comen: there is really little exceptional or new in the sentiment; whatever force tt possesses lies in the sharpness with which it receives expression. Thisseems at one with Wright's constant references to aesthetics as "the science ot aesthetics" (p.,33), as in "science follows [instinctive taste] and, through experimentations and deductions, verifies good taste" (p.;49), or "thetrue modern artist no longer fears exact knowledge; and, as a result, westand ar the threshold of the purification of aesthetic conception and procedure"(p 1 771 Or, again, he frequently speaks of "the chemistry of art" (p.jl92). There is something peculiarly arid and assertive in such a position,and these are not qualities which we easily associate with Faulkner. Theywouk not, however, have seemed so alien to Stone's legalistic mind-and 1tmust be remembered that Stone did qualify his statement on Wright's influence on Faulkner by saying that the teachings of The Creative Will were "strained" through his own mind. Obviously, this raises the question of Stone's positio~ as guide to and teacher of the young author. On the one hand, certainly he habitually claimed a somewhat larger role in the formation of Faulkner's intellect than was probably the case. On the other, in this particular mstance it is most likely that Faulkner did have Wright in mind when, in hisearli essay on Conrad Aiken (1921), he wrote: "Many poets have realisedthat aesthetics is as much a science as chemistry, that there are certain definite scientific rules which, when properly applied, will produce great art assure!~ as certain chemical elements, combined in proper proportions, will produce certain reactions." 4 On balance, therefore, it does seem that a case can bemade for believing that Wright's book did influence Faulkner's thought; as willbe observed later, it may also have had a more limited effect on his art1st12 practice. Wright, like Walter Pater before him, appears to have believed...


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