One can well imagine that James B. Meriwether, the fine Southern critic who edited this collection of William Faulkner's Essays, Speeches, and Public Letters, originally envisioned a tiny, undramatic book where scholars would have easy access to these trivial works of a great author. A volume, in short, which would least embarrass poor Faulkner. Something which could be hidden be-beneath the stacks in Widener. Instead, Random House saw fit to publish this material in fairly glamorous form, with 233 pages of fine paper and large print. In this setting, such pieces as Faulkner's 1935 review of a book entitled Test Pilot by Jimmy Collins look just plain silly.
To make matters worse, in 1950 somebody told Faulkner that he had become a public figure upon receiving the Nobel Prize and that he must thereafter speak his mind in expository prose. Magazine editors descended upon him begging for articles. There followed a series of pieces from 1952 to 1956, such as his essay on Mississippi for Holiday and "A Guest's impression of New England" for the Ford Motor Company, none of which enhances Faulkner's reputation.
In 1956, Faulkner began to enter the integration hassle. He wrote an article for Life explaining how the South could handle its racial problems by itself:
Now I must go on record as opposing the forces outside the South which would use legal or police compulsion to eradicate that evil overnight. I was against compulsory segregation. I am just as strongly against compulsory Integration. Firstly of course from principle. Secondly because I don't believe it will work.
He goes on to observe that the Civil War failed to teach the North its lesson, namely, that it could never force racial justice on the South. He concludes that "the Northerner, the liberal, does not know the South." Apparently, neither does the Southerner.
The book contains fifteen public speeches which demonstrate conclusively how bad a public speaker Faulkner was. I am convinced that the girls in the graduating class of Pine Manor J.C. in 1953 can scarcely recall today Faulkner's extended metaphysical diatribe on God and the Devil. Aside from his widely-celebrated speech upon acceptance of the Nobel Prize and his speeches at the University of Virginia (already collected in Faulkner in the University), the speeches are too brief and dull for publication.
Faulkner's three Introductions are readily available elsewhere; his three book reviews should charitably be burned. In seven sentences, for example, he calls Hemingway's The Old man and the Sea "His best," because "This time he discovered God." Perhaps the review represents a cleverly-couched slap at Hemingway. Let us hope so.
The public letters which Meriwether has assembled indicate that a complete collection of Faulkner's private letters might prove highly interesting.
The letters to Faulkner's hometown newspaper, The Oxford Eagle, are set in the style of his later novels and make pleasurable reading. A letter about his dog, Pete, killed by a reckless driver, contains the kind of compassion we have come to expect from Faulkner:
But Pete has forgiven him. In his year and a quarter of life he never had anything but kindness from human beings; he would gladly give the other six or eight or ten of it rather than make one late for supper.
The same gentle humor can be found in a broadside which Faulkner distributed to campaign against prohibition in Mississippi.
Unfortunately, as his fame grew, Faulkner began writing to Time, Life, and The New York Times about political matters. "What this country needs right now is not a golf player but a poker player," he said of Eisenhower after the Suez crisis of 1956. His other letters to the Times, including one on an airplane crash at Idlewild Airport and another about U-2 pilot Gary Powers, closely resemble the work of Moses E. Herzog.
In short, poor Faulkner. The quiet man who rarely ventured from his estate in Oxford, Mississippi never considered that these lesser works might one day appear within one volume. If this book is ever reissued, hopefully it will be in hideable proportions
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.
Read more in NewsD.C. MACHISMO
Essays, Speeches & Public Letters4.12 · Rating details · 77 Ratings · 4 Reviews
An essential collection of William Faulkner’s mature nonfiction work, updated, with an abundance of new material.
This unique volume includes Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, a review of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (in which he suggests that Hemingway has found God), and newly collected gems, such as the acerbic essay “On Criticism” and the beguiling “NoteAn essential collection of William Faulkner’s mature nonfiction work, updated, with an abundance of new material.
This unique volume includes Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, a review of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (in which he suggests that Hemingway has found God), and newly collected gems, such as the acerbic essay “On Criticism” and the beguiling “Note on A Fable.” It also contains eloquently opinionated public letters on everything from race relations and the nature of fiction to wild-squirrel hunting on his property. This is the most comprehensive collection of Faulkner’s brilliant non-fiction work, and a rare look into the life of an American master....more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 10th 2004 by Modern Library (first published 1966)