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MICHAEL WAINWRIGHT University of London Ecological Issues: Rousseau’s “A Stag Hunt” and Faulkner’s “A Bear Hunt” They had done with Rome and they now swam through the tedious charm of Rousseau’s “Confessions” to Gilligan’s hushed childish delight. –William Faulkner (Soldiers’ Pay 228) He is certainly no simple follower of Rousseau. —Cleanth Brooks (William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country 32) DESPITE COMPLAINING TO A REPORTER FROM THE NEW YORK HERALD Tribune in November 1931 that the bookstore in his hometown of Oxford, Lafayette County, “only sells school-books” (20), William Faulkner (1897–1962) was, as Willie Morris chronicles, “extraordinarily well-read, finding in Conrad, Melville, Mann, Balzac, Joyce, and others the inspiration to perform dazzling experiments in style” (321). Oxford lawyer Phil Stone had encouraged Faulkner’s erudition; the novels of Honoré de Balzac had been a shared pleasure, with the French master outwitting them, as Emily Whitehurst Stone recalls, “with his superior insights into the human heart” (158). Faulkner, who owned a copy of William H. Fleming’s translation of Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), as Joseph Blotner’s catalogue of Faulkner’s Rowan Oak library testifies (97), would not only have recognized the influence of European philosophy on Balzac’s delineation of the human condition—“it is our destiny,” avers Voltaire, “to be subjected to prejudices and passions” (68)—but he also would have appreciated Balzac’s anticipation of Tainian and Bergsonian thought.1 “[H]e was,” as Mick Gidley confirms with respect to Faulkner’s extra-literary reading, “definitely aware of the kind of determinism originated by [Hippolyte] Taine” (301), and Henri 1 George Bernard Raser argues that Balzac’s depictions of Paris anticipate and support, “in practice if not in theory, two of Taine’s theoretical elements of determinism, the milieu and the moment” (81). Forrest Rosaire thinks that Balzac’s defense of the occult has “contemporary support, for instance in the mechanistic theory cited by Bergson” (208). 292 Michael Wainwright Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1907), as Faulkner himself admitted, “helped” to steer his aesthetic trajectory (Blotner, Biography 2:1302). In consequence, Harrison Smith’s invitation to “Faulkner to write an introduction to La condition humaine [1933],” André Malraux’s proto-existentialist novel, should come as little surprise. Although Faulkner declined the proposal—“I dont read French easily enough to do justice to Malraux’ book,” he explained in a self-deprecating comment to Smith, “and I doubt if I could write an introduction to anything, anyway”—he was prepared to “look at the translation if you like” (Welling 414). In 1935, and regardless of Smith’s decision to turn down his offer, Faulkner did read Haakon M. Chevalier’s rendition of the novel, as Blotner’s manifest of Faulkner’s library confirms (95). What is more,asBlotner’scataloguedocuments,Faulknermaintainedhisinterest in Malraux’s work, three years later reading an English version of L’Espoir (1937). Malraux provided an accessible path into the existentialism promulgated by Jean Paul Sartre, a copy of whose L’Âge de raison (1945) Faulkner owned in an English translation, and read in 1947 (97). Indeed, Faulkner’s interaction with intellectual thought in French remained active until his death: Blotner’s catalogue lists, for example,acopyofFrancesWinwar’sJean-JacquesRousseau:Conscience of an Era (1961) (58). “Faulkner,” as Helen McNeil concludes, “always enjoyed a close relation to French scholars” (704). ThephilosophyoftheGenevan-bornRousseau(1712–78)wouldhave resonated with Faulkner, and this reverberation is detectable in Faulkner’s philosophically maturing works of the 1930s. “Golden Land,” which American Mercury published in May 1935, offers fleeting evidence of this intellectual resonance. Faulkner’s short story, which he “mentioned . . . in correspondence as early as the summer of 1934,” and “completed by the end of the year,” as Robert W. Hamblin and Charles A. Peek note, offers “a set of thematic variations on California as a place of corruption” (155). California embodies humankind’s extrapolation from the juste milieu, or golden mean in societal evolution, as posited by Rousseau in A Discourse Upon the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind (1755).2 The primitive man of the “pure 2 Although completed in June 1754, Rousseau’s discourse on human inequality was not published until the following year...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 291-317
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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