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MARIO MATERASSI Università di Firenze Madame Aubert-Rocque and Miss Emily Grierson: Something in Common “. . . it is only the unimaginative who ever invents. The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes, and he annexes everything.” —Oscar Wilde THEREARE A NUMBER OF CONSONANCES BETWEEN “AROSEFOREMILY,”one of the greatest and most frequently anthologized of Faulkner’s short stories, and “Cane River Portraits,” a brief sketch by William Spratling, the artist and architect with whom young Faulkner shared lodgings in the French Quarter of New Orleans from 1925 to 1927. I do not intend to make a case for Spratling’s sketch as the source of Faulkner’s story. More pertinently,perhaps, one should appropriate Faulkner’s concept of “theft.” However, in the reign of literature no judge or jury would find against this kind of crime, or else all writers would end in jail. Asked about “Emily,” Faulkner once responded: A writer is completely rapacious, he has no morals whatever, he will steal from any source. He’s so busy stealing and using it that he himself probably never knows where he gets what he uses. Probably no writer can say, “I was influenced by so and so.” He can say, of course, “So and so encouraged me, I admired his work,” and he might say, “I was influenced by him and no one else.” But that writer is wrong, he is influenced by every word he ever read, I think, every sound he ever heard, every sense he ever experienced; and he is so busy writing that he hasn’t time to stop and say, “Now, where did I steal this from?” But he did steal it somewhere. (Meriwether and Millgate 128) Shall one, then, speak of coincidences? As we will see, such is the number of consonances (as, faute de mieux, I refer to them), that to suggest coincidences would mean stretching credibility beyond reasonableness. In fact, it is highly probable that Faulkner had read Spratling’s sketch. At any rate, even if this probability could be substantiated, one’s reading of “Emily” would not be significantly modified. In Faulkner’s words, the writer “did steal it somewhere”—but where he stole from is fundamentally irrelevant. What is relevant is 414 Mario Materassi what he did with whatever he stole, whether or not he realized he had stolen it. “A Rose for Emily” was published in Forum in April 1930, exactly two years after “Cane River Portraits” appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in April 1928. We don’t know when Spratling submitted his piece to Scribner’s, but it stands to reason that at least in the final months of 1927, when the two young men still shared an apartment in the Vieux Carré, Spratling had with him either a draft or the final copy of his article, and that he may very well have shown it to his friend. In fact, from what may be the earliest known reference to “Emily,” we learn that Faulkner unsuccessfully submitted his story to the same magazine in September of 1929 (Blotner 631-32). Therefore, the possibility that Faulkner had “Cane River Portraits” in mind when he began work on his story is plausible. Aside from their collaboration on Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, which was published in December 1927, evidence of a sustained interest in each other’s art is abundant. Either directly or obliquely, Faulkner included his friend in several early sketches and short stories, from “Out of Nazareth” and “Episode” to “Evangeline” and “Divorce in Naples.” In Mosquitoes, Gordon, the only authentic artist in the coterie of intellectuals, professional bohemians, and hangers-on, is also generally understood to be modeled after Spratling. Ilse Dusoir Lind has observed that Faulkner “had as a mentor in art the brilliant and versatile William Spratling,” who directed his friend’s education in contemporary painting and guided him in his reading on modern art (128).AsThomasMcHaneyhasconvincinglyargued,Spratling’skeyrole in helping Faulkner develop his understanding of modern art is clearly reflected in Elmer. Significantly, in “Out of Nazareth” the first person narrator bemoans that Spratling’s “hand has been shaped to a brush as mine has (alas!) not...


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pp. 413-420
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