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NOTES AND DOCUMENTS JANE ISBELL HAYNES Independent Scholar, Irvine, CA A Note on Faulkner and The Stagolee/Faust Legends TO CREATE V. K. RATLIFF’S VISION/FANTASY IN THE HAMLET ABOUT FLEM Snopes’s victory over the Devil, Faulkner may have drawn on a bad-man-blues-ballad titled “Stagolee,”1 known also as Stackolee, Stackerlee, Stackalee, Stack O’ Lee, Stacker Lee, and Staggerlee (Levine 413). In Ratliff.’s imagination, Flem is in Hell bullying and tormenting the Prince of Darkness to redeem his soul, which the assistant devils cannot find: ‘We done looked everywhere. It wasn’t no big one to begin with nohow, and we was specially careful in handling it. We sealed it up in a asbestos matchbox and put the box in a separate compartment to itself. . . . The matchbox was there and the seal wasn’t broke. But there wasn’t nothing in the matchbox but a little kind of dried-up smear under one edge. . . . ‘Damn it,’ the Prince hollers. ‘Give him one of the extra ones. Aint there souls turning up here everyday . . . even bringing letters from Congressmen, that we never even heard of? Give him one of them.’ ‘We tried that,’ they says. ‘He wont do it. He says he don’t want no more and no less than his legal interest according to what the banking and the civil laws states in black and white is hisn.’ (870) Flem, still chewing tobacco and clutching his straw suitcase, had been brought to the Prince who accused him of offering as security for their contract a soul which he did not possess; when Flem simply agrees that he has no soul or that since the Prince created him, he has “belonged to 1 Bad man Stagolee was one of many Negroes with that name, all named after Stacker Lee, a riverboat Captain and roustabout and son of the great old River Captain Jim Lee, of Memphis, head of the Lee Line of river steamboats on the Mississippi River in the 1870s. There were fourteen steamships in the Lee Line, most of which were named for Captain James Lee Jr.’s ten children; one steamship was named Stacker Lee after the son of Captain Lee Sr., who lived at 680 Adams Street, Memphis, in a Victorian mansion still extant. At various times the Lee family operated thirty-six boats out of Memphis. The family business began just after the Civil War and continued until 1926 (Coppock 11-14). 440 Jane Isbell Haynes the Prince all the time,” the Prince is flummoxed. He leans forward and “feels that ere hot floor under his knees and he can feel his-self grabbing and hauling at his throat to get the words out like he was digging potatoes outen hard ground ” (873). Flem with his legalism has harassed, out-deviled, and outwitted the Prince of Darkness and reigns now on the Throne himself as Stagolee does in many variant versions of this song: When de devil wife see Stack comin’ she got up in a quirl, — “Here come dat bad nigger an’ he’s jus’ from de udder worl’.” All de devil’ little chillun went sc’amblin’ up de wall, Say, “Catch him, pappa, befo’ he kill us all.” Stack he tol’ de devil, “Come on, le’s have a lil fun, You stick me wid yo’ pitchfork an’ I’ll shoot you wid my 41.” Stagolee say, “Now, now, Mister Devil, ef me an’ you gonna have some fun, You play de cornet, Black Betty beat de drum.” Stagolee took de pitchfork an’ he laid it on de shelf — “Stand back, Tom Devil, I’m gonna rule Hell by myself.” (Lomax 99) Faulkner’s likely familiarity with Stagolee, the Blues, W. C. Handy, and Bessie Smith is established in several compelling ways. Thadious M. Davis explains that Faulkner was completely familiar with both Blues and Jazz. Evidence is strong that she is right: W.C. Handy and his band came to Old Miss in the teens and early 1920s to play for college parties and dances (Blotner I:175; Jimmy Faulkner int. October 15, 1989; Brodsky and Hamblin I:29). Faulkner sketched W. C. Handy and his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 439-442
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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