Home ] The Center ] Brodsky Collection ] Teaching Faulkner Archives ] Faulkneria ]

The Quotable Faulkner

One of the primary duties of the staff of the Center for Faulkner Studies is to respond to inquiries about Faulkner's life and work. This page contains the quotes we are most often asked about, as well as what we consider to be among the most memorable lines in Faulkner's work and from the many interviews and speeches he gave in the course of his career. If your favorite Faulkner-ism does not appear on this page, please submit it.


Art / Artists  (see also  Writers/Writing)

"Art reminds us of our youth, of that age when life don't need to have her face lifted every so often for you to consider her beautiful.  That's about all the virtue there is in art: it's a kind of Battle Creek, Michigan, of the spirit.  And when it reminds us of youth, we remember grief and forget time.  That's something."
Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 264

[Art is] "A perversion . . . but a perversion that builds Chartres and invents Lear is a pretty good thing."
Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 265

"Dante invented Beatrice, creating himself a maid that life had not had time to create, and laid upon her frail and unbowed shoulders the whole burden of man's history of his impossible heart's desire."
Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 280

"It is that Passion Week of the heart, that instant of timeless beatitude which some never know, which some, I suppose, gain at will, which others gain through an outside agency like alcohol . . .--that passive state of the heart with which the mind, the brain, has nothing to do at all, in which the hackneyed accidents that make up this world--love and life and death and sex and sorrow--brought together by chance in perfect proportions, take on a kind of splendid and timeless beauty."
The Semitic man in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 280-81

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that 100 years later when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 253

“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 252

“An artist shouldn’t talk too much.  If he talks then he works that much less.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 219

“The artist is of no importance.  Only what he creates is important. . . .” 
"Lion in the Garden," 238 

“Art is not only mankind’s supreme expression; it is also the salvation of mankind.” 
Interview with Loic Bouvard, 1952. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

“The most important thing is that man continues to create; just as woman continues to give birth.  Man will keep writing on pieces of paper, on scraps, on stones, as long as he lives.” 
Interview with Loic Bouvard, 1952. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

 Back to Top  

“[I]n our culture there is really no place for the artist.”  
Faulkner in the University, 101

“[T]he artist is trying to match a dream of perfection.”  
Faulkner in the University, 104

“I don’t think that an artist should be subsidized too much by anyone.  I think that he has got to be free, and even a little hardship may be good for him.”  
Faulkner in the University, 169


Balzac and Dickens

“a concept of a cosmos in miniature which Balzac and Dickens had”  
Faulkner in the University, 232


“I read Don Quixote every year.” 
Faulkner in the University
, 50


“I rated Hemingway last not on the value of the product at all but simply because of Hemingway having taught himself a pattern, a method which he could use and he stuck to that without splashing around to try to experiment.”  Faulkner in the University, 206  

H. L. Mencken

“He was only second a critic, a sociologist, he was mainly just a mad man.”  Faulkner in the University, 55


"Neither is the book which he now chooses the Tennyson: this time also he chooses food for a man.  It is Henry IV. . . ."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 355

“I’d rather read Shakespeare than see it played.”  
Faulkner in the University, 285


"Soon the fine galloping language, the gutless swooning full of sapless trees and dehydrated lusts begins to swim smooth and swift and peaceful.  It is better than praying without having to bother to think aloud.  It is like listening in a cathedral to a eunuch chanting in a language which does not even need to not understand."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 278


[Speaking of the writers of his generation]:  “Of course Mark Twain is all of our grandfather.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 281


[Commenting on All the King's Men]: The Cass Mastern story was a beautiful and moving piece. That was his novel. The rest of it I would throw away.
from a letter to Lambert Davis, July 25, 1946

The Bible

“To me the New Testament is full of ideas and I don’t know much about ideas.  The Old Testament is full of people, perfectly ordinary normal heroes and blackguards just like everybody else nowadays, and I like to read the Old Testament because it’s full of people, not ideas.”  
Faulkner in the University, 167


"I learned little save that most of the deeds, good and bad both, incurring opprobrium or plaudits or reward either, within the scope of man's abilities, had already been performed and were to be learned about only from books."
Thomas Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 195

 Back to Top  


". . . [I]t takes an awful lot of character to quit anything when you're losing. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 279

His Characters

“[W]ith me there is always a point in the book where the characters themselves rise up and take charge and finish the job. . . .”  
"Lion in the Garden," 244   

“They are in my mind all the time. . . . I forget what they did, but the character I don’t forget. . . .”  
Faulkner in the University, 78

“Once these people come to life, . . . they take off and so the writer is going at a dead run behind them trying to put down what they say and do in time. . . . They have taken charge of the story.  They tell it from then on.”  
Faulkner in the University, 120

“[T]hese people I invent and after that I just run along and put down what they say and do.”  
Faulkner in the University, 141

“They are still in motion in my mind.  I can laugh at things they’re doing that I haven’t got around to writing yet.”  
Faulkner in the University, 197

Back to Top

Joe Christmas 

“That was his tragedy . . .—that he didn’t know what he was, and there was no way possible in life for him to find out.  Which to me is the most tragic condition a man could find himself in—not to know what he is and to know that he will never know.”  

Faulkner in the University, 72

Caddy Compson 

“To me she was the beautiful one, she was my heart’s darling.”  
Faulkner in the University, 6

Quentin Compson

“...his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn, back-looking ghosts...”  
Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 1

“[He] loved death above all...loved only death, loved and lived in a deliberate and almost perverted anticipation of death...”
The Sound and the Fury, Appendix

“Ishmael is the witness in Moby Dick, as I am Quentin in The Sound and the Fury.”
Told to Jean Stein, quoted in William Faulkner: Letters and Fictions, 54

Back to Top  

Percy Grimm

“[H]e’s not prevalent but he’s everywhere.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 41

V.K. Ratliff

“Ratliff will take what’s now and do the best he can with it because he . . . possesses what you might call a moral, spiritual eupepsia, that his digestion is good, all right, nothing alarms him.”  
Faulkner in the University, 253


“Of the Snopes, I’m terrified.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 197

Eula Varner

“[S]he was larger than life, she was too big for this world.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 31

Back to Top


". . . a fellow can see ever now and then that children have more sense than him.  But he dont like to admit it to them until they have beards.  After they have a beard, they are too busy because they dont know if they'll ever quite make it back to where they were in sense before they was haired. . . ."  Tull in As I Lay Dying, pp. 132-3

Civil War

Years ago we in the South made our women into ladies. Then the War came and made the ladies into ghosts." 
Mr. Compson, Absalom, Absalom!, Chapter 1


“[T]he Christian legend is part of any Christian’s background, especially the background of a country boy, a Southern country boy.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 86

“[The] Christ story is one of the best stories that man has invented. . . .”  
Faulkner in the University, 117

“[T]he Christian religion has never harmed me.  I hope I have never harmed it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 203


"Sunday evening prayer meeting.  It has seemed to him always that at that hour man approaches nearest of all to God, nearer than at any other hour of all the seven days.  Then alone, of all church gatherings, is there something of that peace which is the promise and the end of the Church.  The mind and the heart purged then, if it is ever to be; the week and its whatever disasters finished and summed and expiated by the stern and formal fury of the morning service; the next week and its whatever disasters not yet born, the heart quiet now for a little while beneath the cool soft blowing of faith and hope."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 321

". . . who seemed to find in church some substitute for that which lacked upon the dinnertable. . . ."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 413

"And what is the church for, if not to help those who are foolish but who want truth?"
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 421

". . . that aptitude and eagerness of the Anglo-Saxon for complete mystical acceptance of immolated sticks and stones."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 43

Back to Top


“When the battle comes it always produces a Roland.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 34


“I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.”  
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying, p. 161

“I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind—and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.” 
Dr. Peabody, As I Lay Dying, pp. 42-3

". . . and then all of a sudden it's all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they dont even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn't matter."
Judith Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 101

“…man leaped past life, into where death was; he dashed into death and did not die, because when death took a man, it took him just this side of the end of living” 
“Red Leaves,” Collected Stories

“But you cant be alive forever, and you always wear out life long before you have exhausted the possibilities of living. And all that must be somewhere; all that could not have been invented and created just to be thrown away.” 
“The Old People,” Go Down, Moses


"And so maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something--a scrap of paper--something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it, at least it would be something just because it happened, be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that was once for the reason that it can die someday, while the block of stone cant be is because it never can become was  because it cant ever die or perish. . . ."
Judith Sutpen in
Absalom, Absalom!
, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 101

". . . to make that scratch, that undying mark on the blank face of the oblivion to which we are all doomed. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 102

". . . a madman who creates within his very coffin walls his fabulous immeasurable Camelots and Carcassonnes."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 129

". . . their funerals and graves, the little puny affirmations of spurious immortality set above their slumber. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 156


"I reckon there is a time when even preachers quit believing that God is going to change His plan and give victory where there is nothing left to hang victory on."
Bayard Sartoris in The Unvanquished "Riposte in Tertio", Signet paperback, p. 107

Back to Top


“[…] the end of wisdom is to dream high enough not to lose the dream in the seeking of it.”  
Sartoris, Part I, ch. 2 (interestingly, this quote often appears without the “not”)

Education (see also Learning

"I have no quarrel with education.  I don't think it hurts you much, except to make you unhappy and unfit for work. . . ."
The Semitic man, Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 35

“I’ve never held with the mute inglorious Milton.”   
Faulkner in the University
, 12

“I’m convinced that nobody can be taught anything, that you must learn it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 198


". . . [S]o much happens.  Too much happens. . . . Man performs, engenders, so much more than he can or should have to bear.  That's how he finds that he can bear anything. . . . That's what is so terrible.  That he can bear anything, anything."
Gail Hightower in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 262

"Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?"
Wash Jones in
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 223


“Just to hate evil is not enough.  You—somebody—has got to do something about it.”  
Gavin Stevens, The Mansion, 307

Back to Top


“I think that every novelist is a failed poet.  I think he tries to write poetry first, then finds he can’t.  Then he tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry.  And failing at that, only then does he take up novel-writing.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 217

“All of us failed to match our dream of perfection.  So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.” 
"Lion in the Garden," 238

“There was them others that never got their names in the poetry books, the next-best ones that sweated and panted too.  And being the next-best to Paris is jest a next-best too, but it aint no bad next-best to be.  Not ever body had Helen, but then not even body lost her neither.” 
V. K. Ratliff, The Town, Chapter 6

Back to Top 

France / The French

"Enough French to respect anybody's love for the land where he and his people were born and to understand that a man would have to act as the land where he was born had trained him to act."
Joanna Burden in Light in August, Modern Library, 223

“France and Italy are two of my favorite countries.  I feel Paris is a kind of home for me.  It’s a part of everyone’s cultural background.” 
"Lion in the Garden," 216

“[France is] a nation of practical and practicing pessimists.”  
Charles Mallison, The Town, opening of Chapter 7

“The French have been in enough wars long enough to find out that the best way to get shut of one is not to pay too much attention to it.”  
Charles Mallison, The Town, Chapter 7

“Paris, the civilised world’s eternal and splendid courtesan.” 
Gavin Stevens, The Mansion, 233

Back to Top


“You can’t have freedom unless you deserve it and work to keep it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 149

The Future

"Tomorrow night is nothing but one long sleepless wrestle with yesterday's omissions and regrets."
Intruder in the Dust

Back to Top


"Other nations seem to be able to entertain the possibility that God may not be a Rotarian or an Elk or a Boy Scout after all.  We don't."
Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 34

". . . because if there is a God what the hell is He for." 
Jewel in As I Lay Dying, p. 15. 

"After all, there must be some things for which God cannot be accused by man and held responsible.  There must be."
Gail Hightower in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 427

“So what you need is to learn how to trust in God without depending on Him.  In fact, we need to fix things so He can depend on us for a while.  Then He wont need to waste Himself being everywhere at once.” 
Charles Mallison, The Mansion, 321

“I think that any writer worth his salt is convinced that he can create much better people than God can.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 118

“No writer is satisfied with the folks that God creates.  He’s convinced he can do much better than that.” 
Faulkner in the University, 131-2 

“I think that no writing will be too successful without some conception of God, you can call Him by whatever name you want.” 
Faulkner in the University
, 161

Back to Top

Good and evil

"I reckon that being good is about the easiest thing in the world for a lazy man."
Byron Bunch in Light in August, Modern Library, 34

“[M]y idea is that no person is wholly good or wholly bad, that all people in my belief try to be better than they are and probably will be.”  
Faulkner in the University, 9

“I think that you really can’t say that any man is good or bad.” 
Faulkner in the University, 118


“The federal government, I imagine, will do whatever the most folks hollering the loudest at it insist on.”  
Faulkner in the University, 217

Back to Top


“the only place I was in where there was a sense of a very distant past but there was nothing inimical in it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 129


"Only an idiot has no grief; only a fool would forget it.  What else is there in this world sharp enough to stick to your guts?"
Gordon in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 272

“Between grief and nothing I will take grief”  
The Wild Palms, ninth section, (p.324 Random House ed.)


". . . [W]hen anything gets to be a habit, it also manages to get a right good distance away from truth and fact."
Byron Bunch in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 64


". . . thinking quietly how surely heaven must have something of the color and shape of whatever village or hill or cottage of which the believer says, This is my own."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 425


"We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales, we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable. . . ."
Mr. Compson in Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 80

". . . you knew it all already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it, with it, as children will and do."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 172


"How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home." 
Darl in As I Lay Dying, p. 76

". . . to respect anybody's love for the land where he and his people were born and to understand that a man would have to act as the land where he was born had trained him to act."
Joanna Burden in Light in August, Modern Library, 223

Back to Top


"Folks are funny.  They cant stick to one way of thinking or doing anything unless they get a new reason for doing it ever so often.  And then when they do get a new reason, they are liable to change anyhow."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 311

“[O]ne has got to belong to the human family, and to take a responsible part in the human family.”  
Faulkner in the University, 81

“...nothing, nothing—war, grief, hopelessness, despair—can last as long as man himself can last;...man himself will prevail over all his anguishes, provided he will make the effort to; make the effort to believe in man and in hope.”  
“To the Youth of Japan,”  Essays, Speeches and Public Letters.

“I decline to accept the end of man.  It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.  I refuse to accept this.  I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.  It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.  The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”  
Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1950.

 Back to Top  

“I have tremendous faith in man, in spite of all his faults and his limitations.  Man will overcome all the horrors of an atomic war; he will never destroy mankind.”  
Interview with Loic Bouvard, 1952. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

“Man does things at times that make it seem that he is not worthy of surviving.  But he redeems himself at other times.  He shall prevail.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 221

“But I am still convinced that man is tougher than any darkness.  That man’s hope is the capacity to believe in man, his hope, his aspiration toward a better human condition.  The fact that man always hopes toward a better human condition, I think that the purpose of writing, of art, is a record.” 
1955 Meeting at Tokyo American Cultural Center. Collected in "Lion in the Garden". 

Back to Top

“Maybe man is incapable of peace.  Maybe that is what differentiates man from a vegetable.”  
Faulkner in the University, 67

“[M]an progresses mechanically and technically much faster than he does spiritually. . . .” Faulkner in the University, 68

“I don’t think people are that different.  I think there is not a great deal of difference between Southerners and Northerners and Americans and Russians and Chinese.” 
Faulkner in the University, 87

“[S]ince man’s behavior . . . has a way of repeating itself, his problems never are problems that he never faced before.”  
Faulkner in the University, 163

“To me, all human behavior is unpredictable and, considering man’s frailty . . . and . . . the ramshackle universe he functions in, it’s . . . all irrational.”  
Faulkner in the University, 267

Back to Top


 “[I]t was so funny that his main job in telling it was to keep if from being as funny as it really was, because if he ever let be as funny as it really was, everybody and himself too would be laughing so hard they couldn’t hear him.”   
Charles Mallison, The Town, opening of Chapter 3


“There’s a case of the sorry, shabby world that don’t quite please you, so you create one of your own. . . .”  
Faulkner in the University
, 59

Immortality (of the artist)

“[The writer] knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall—Kilroy was here—that somebody a hundred, a thousand years later will see.”  
Faulkner in the University, 61  

Back to Top


"As soon as a man begins to join clubs and lodges, his spiritual fiber begins to disintegrate."
Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 33

“Only an individualist can be a first-rate writer.  He can’t belong to a group or a school and be a first-rate writer.”  
Faulkner in the University, 33

“[A] first-rate scoundrel, like a first-rate artist, he’s an individualist, and the pressure’s all against being an individualist. . . .”   
Faulkner in the University, 33

“I doubt if people accomplish very much by banding together.  People accomplish things by individual protest.”  
Faulkner in the University, 80

“[T]he individual is more important than any mass or group he belongs to.   . . . [T]he individual is always more important than any state that he belongs to.”  
Faulkner in the University, 100

“I think that no condition, no government can destroy the will among a few to be individualists.”  
Faulkner in the University, 101  

Back to Top


 “. . . innocence is innocent not because it rejects but because it accepts; is innocent not because it is impervious and invulnerable to everything, but because it is capable of accepting anything and still remaining innocent.” 
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 15


"[Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy] believed that land did not belong to people but that people belonged to land and that the earth would permit them to live on and out of it and use it only so long as they behaved and that if they did not behave right, it would shake them off just like a dog getting rid of fleas."
Bayard Sartoris in The Unvanquished ("Retreat"), Signet paperback, p. 45

Language (see also  Words)  

"that meagre and fragile thread . . . by which the little surface corners and edges of men's secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness where the spirit cried for the first time and was not heard and will cry for the last time and will not be heard then either. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 202

“[A]ny language if it is not changing will not last long.  That is, the only alternative to change and progress is death.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 151

Back to Top


 “. . . to a lawyer, if it aint complicated it don’t matter whether it works or not because if it aint complicated up enough it aint right and so even if it works, you don’t believe it.” 
V. K. Ratliff, The Town, opening of Chapter 18

Learning to Write (see also Writers/Writing)

“Read, read, read.  Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.  Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read!  You’ll absorb it.  Then write.  If it is good, you’ll find out.  If it’s not, throw it out the window.” 
Classroom statements at the University of Mississippi, 1947. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

“That’s a very good way to learn the craft of writing—from reading.”  
Faulkner in the University, 117

“[A writer] must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” 
Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1950.

“I don’t think anybody can teach anybody anything.  I think that you learn it, but the young writer that is as I say demon-driven and wants to learn and has got to write he don’t know why, he will learn from almost any source that he finds.  He will learn from writers, but he learns it—you can’t teach it.”  
To an undergraduate course in writing, University of Virginia, Feb. 25, 1957, Collected in Faulkner and the University.

“Nothing can injure a man’s writing if he’s a first rate writer.  If a man is not a first rate writer, there’s not anything can help it much.” 
"Lion in the Garden," 240

“The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory.  Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error.” 
"Lion in the Garden," 244

Back to Top


"How do our lives ravel out into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings: in sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls."
Darl, As I Lay Dying, pp. 196-7

". . . probably by that time he had learned that there were three things and no more: breathing, pleasure, darkness. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 240

“Life is not interested in good and evil.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 252

“. . . anything is better than Nothing, even lice.” 
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 8

“Because the tragedy of life is, it must be premature, inconclusive and inconcludable, in order to be life. . . .” 
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 20

“[L]ife is not so much motion as an inventless repetition of motion. . . .”  
Charles Mallison, The Mansion, 197

“But you cant be alive forever, and you always wear out life long before you have exhausted the possibilities of living. And all that must be somewhere; all that could not have been invented and created just to be thrown away.” 
“The Old People,” Go Down, Moses, 186

Back to Top   


“The people I know are other farmers and horse people and hunters, and we talk about horses and dogs and guns and what to do about this hay crop or this cotton crop, not about literature.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 65

 “To me the book is the important thing, it don’t matter who wrote it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 259

Back to Top


". . . [S]ome day you are bound to fall in love.  They just wouldn't beat you that way.  It would be like if God had got Jesus born and saw that He had the carpenter tools and then never gave Him anything to build with them."
Shreve McCannon in
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 259

 “. . . love, something worthy to match not just today’s innocent and terrified and terrifying passion, but tomorrow’s strength and capacity for serenity and growth and accomplishment and the realisation of hope and at last the contentment of one mutual peace and one mutual conjoined old age.”
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 17

“...you don't commit suicide when you're disappointed in love. You write a book.”

Back to Top


"When [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man. . . . [I]f He'd a aimed for man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn't He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake?  It stands to reason He would."  Anse in As I Lay Dying, pp. 34-5

"Man knows so little about his fellows.  In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what that other man or woman is doing."
Light in August, Modern Library, 41

"Poor man.  Poor mankind."
Gail Hightower in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 87


"A man.  All men.  He will pass up a hundred chances to do good for one chance to meddle where meddling is not wanted."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 21

". . . the chance and probability of meddling interference arising out of the disapprobation of all communities of men toward any situation which they do not understand."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 39


"Memory believes before knowing remembers.  Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 104

". . . all the old accumulated rubbish-years which we call memory, the recognisable I, but changing from phase to phase as the butterfly changes once the cocoon is cleared, carrying nothing of what was into what is. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p.


“[T]here are some men who are incorrigibly and invincibly bachelor no matter how often they marry, just as some men are doomed and emasculate husbands if they never find a woman to take them.”  Charles Mallison, quoting Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 3


“There aren’t any morals. . . . People just do the best they can.” 
Gavin Stevens, The Mansion, 429

Back to Top


". . . how a man's name, which is supposed to be just the sound for who he is, can be somehow an augur of what he will do, if other men can only read the meaning in time."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 29

The Past

"A man will talk about how he'd like to escape from living folks.  But it's the dead folks that do him the damage.  It's the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and dont try to hold him, that he cant escape from."
Byron Bunch in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 65

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” 
Requiem for a Nun, Act 1, scene 3

“[N]o man is himself, he is the sum of his past.”  
Faulkner in the University, 84

“There is no such thing really as was because the past is.”  
Faulkner in the University, 84

Back to Top


“[M]aybe peace is only a condition in retrospect, when the subconscious has got rid of the gnats and the tacks and the broken glass of experience and has left only the peaceful pleasant things—that was peace.  Maybe peace is not is, but was.”  
Faulkner in the University, 67


"You cannot know yet whether what you see is what you are looking at or what you are believing."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 251

“. . . he and Mr. Snopes were looking at exactly the same thing; it just wasn’t with the same eye.”  
Charles Mallison, The Town, Chapter 10

“We went on, in that strange, fairly sinister suspension of twilight in which I believed that I could still see Sam Fathers back there, sitting on his wooden block, definite, immobile, and complete, like something looked upon after a long time in a preservative bath in a museum. That was it. I was just twelve then, and I would have to wait until I had passed on and through and beyond the suspension of twilight.” 
“A Justice” in The Collected Stories

"Remember, all Tolstoy said about Anna Karenina was that she was beautiful and could see in the dark like a cat.  That's all he ever said to describe her.  And every man has a different idea of what's beautiful.  And it's best to take the gesture, the shadow of the branch, and let the mind create the tree."  "Lion in the Garden," 128

Back to Top


“[P]oets are almost always wrong about facts.  That’s because they are not really interested in facts:  only in truth. . . .”  
Gavin Stevens, The Town, opening of Chapter 5

“Who can say how much of the good poetry in the world has come out of madness . . .?”
Faulkner in the University, 113

[Faulkner's Definition of Poetry]:  “It’s some moving, passionate moment of the human condition distilled to its absolute essence.”  
Faulkner in the University, 202

"The poetry of modern poets is like a pair of shoes that only those whose feet are shaped like the cobbler's feet, can wear; while the old boys turned out shoes that anybody who can walk at all can wear."
Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 207

Back to Top


". . . a Presbyterian hymnbook, where even the good Lord Himself couldn't squeeze in any music."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 413


". . . that pride, that furious desire to hide that abject nakedness which we bring here with us, carry with us into operating rooms, carry stubbornly and furiously with us into the earth again." 
Dr. Peabody, As I Lay Dying, pp. 44-5


“What little of psychology I know the characters I have invented and playing poker have taught me.  Freud I’m not familiar with.”  
Faulkner in the University, 268


“You write a story to tell about people, man in his constant struggle with his own heart, with the hearts of others, or with his environment.  It’s man in the ageless, eternal struggles which we inherit and we go through as though they’d never happened before, shown for a moment in a dramatic instant of the furious motion of being alive, that’s all any story is.  You catch this fluidity which is human life and you focus a light on it and you stop it long enough for people to be able to see it.”  
Faulkner in the University, 239

Back to Top

Race/civil rights

“I think that in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere. Of course it wont quite be in our time and of course as they spread toward the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they wont show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings.”
Shreve McCannon, Absalom, Absalom!

“All men are born with the equal right to attain freedom, not to be given freedom, but the equal right to earn freedom and keep it as they are responsible and are strong and are truthful.”  
Faulkner in Manila, "Lion in the Garden".

“As someone has said, apparently the difficulty is the Mississippian don’t want the Negro to sit down with him.  They can stand up, that’s all right, they can ride in the same elevator, but they can’t sit in the same church.  Maybe if everybody stood up in church, the Negro could come in too…”  
To a graduate course in American fiction, undergraduate course in the novel, April 27, 1957. Collected in Faulkner and the University.

“The Negro is not going to wait any longer.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 213

Back to Top  


“When it’s jest money and power a man wants, there is usually some place where he will stop. . . .  But when it’s respectability he finds out he wants and has got to have, there aint nothing he wont do to get it and then keep it.”  
V. K. Ratliff, The Town, Chapter 16

Back to Top


". . . the universal benefit of religion is that it gets the children out of the house on Sunday morning."
The Semitic man, Mosquitoes, Dell paperback, 35


". . . [I]t aint for me to say that you are wrong.  And I dont reckon it's for you to say that I am wrong, even if I am."
Byron Bunch in Light in August, Modern Library, p. 277


"When something is new and hard and bright, there ought to be something a little better for it than just being safe, since the safe things are just the things that folks have been doing so long they have worn the edges off and there's nothing to the doing of them that leaves a man to say, That was not done before and it cannot be done again." 
Darl in As I Lay Dying, p. 125


"Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint.  Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way.  It's like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it." 
Cash, As I Lay Dying, p. 223

The South

". . . the deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts" Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 4

"You cant understand it.  You would have to be born there."
Quentin Compson in
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 289

“I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”
Quentin Compson speaking about the South, Absalom, Absalom! , p. 303

Back to Top

Storytelling (see also  Writers/Writing)

". . . the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too . . ."
Quentin Compson, Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 243

Back to Top


 “Success is feminine.  It’s like a woman.  You treat her with contempt and she’ll come after you, all fawning and eager, but chase after her and she’ll scorn you.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 219

Back to Top


"Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished.  Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool. . . ."
Quentin Compson in
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 210

“A monument only says At least I got this far while a footprint says This is where I was when I moved again.”   
Charles Mallison, The Town, end of Chapter 1   

“Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."
The Sound and the Fury, June Second, 1910

Back to Top


“My, my. A body does get around. Here we aint been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it's already Tennessee.”
Lena Grove, Light in August

Back to Top


 “. . . between what did happen and what ought to happened, I don’t never have trouble picking ought.”  
V. K. Ratliff, The Town, Chapter 6   

"...some things...just have to be whether they are or not."
Shreve McCannon, Absalom, Absalom!

“Courage and honor and pride, and pity and love of justice and of liberty. They all touch the heart, and what the heart holds to becomes the truth, as far as we know truth.” 
“The Bear,”  Go Down Moses,  297

“[T]he artist’s prerogative . . . is to emphasize, to underline, to blow up facts, distort facts in order to state a truth.”  
Faulkner in the University
, 282


". . . what is probably the most moving mass-sight of all human mass-experience, far more so than the spectacle of so many virgins going to be sacrificed to some heathen Principle, some Priapus--the sight of young men, the light quick bones, the bright gallant deluded blood and flesh dressed in a martial glitter of brass and plumes, marching away to a battle."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 97

". . . since neither [of them] were the first young men to believe (or at least apparently act on the assumpion) that wars were sometimes created for the sole aim of settling youth's private difficulties and discontents."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 269

Back to Top


“[…] the end of wisdom is to dream high enough not to lose the dream in the seeking of it.”  
Sartoris, Part I, Chapter 2 (interestingly, this quote often appears without the “not”)

Back to Top  


". . . women have to be strong and should not be held blameable for what they do with or for or because of men, since God knew that being anybody's wife was a tricky enough business."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 53

"They lead beautiful lives--women.  Lives not only divorced from, but irrevocably excommunicated from, all reality."
Mr. Compson in
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 156

". . . maybe he had learned . . . that you cant beat women anyhow and that if you are wise or dislike trouble and uproar you dont even try to. . . ."
Absalom, Absalom!, Vintage Corrected Text, p. 248

". . . maybe times are never strange to women: that it is just one continuous monotonous thing full of the repeated follies of their menfolks." 
Bayard Sartoris in The Unvanquished ("Skirmish at Sartoris"), Signet paperback, p. 149

". . . women don’t care whether they are facts or not just so they fit, and men don’t care whether they fit or not just so they are facts.”  
Gavin Stevens in The Town, Chapter 20

“Women aren’t interested in poets’ dreams.  They are interested in facts.”  
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 15

"Women only use other people's codes of honour." 
The Sound and the Fury, June Second, 1910

“Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.”  
The Sound and the Fury, April Sixth, 1928

Back to Top

Words (see also lANGUAGE)

"That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at." 
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying, p. 163

“He had a word, too.  Love, he called it.  But I had been used to words for a long time.  I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.”  
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying, p. 164

“... I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.”
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying, pp. 165-6

“. . . [P]eople to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”  
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying, p. 168

Back to Top

Writers/Writing (see also Art/Artists, Storytelling, and  Learning to Write)

"I thought then of the woman of thirty, the symbol of the ancient and eternal Snake and of the men who have written of her, and I realised the immitigable chasm between all life and all print--that those who can, do, those who cannot and suffer enough because they can't, write about it." 
Bayard Sartoris in The Unvanquished ("An Odor of Verbena"), Signet paperback, p. 173

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art.  He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one....If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.” 
Interview with Jean Stein Vanden Heuvel, 1956. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

Commenting on his own stories: “In my own estimation, none of them are good enough, that’s why I have spent thirty years writing another one, hoping that one would be good enough....the one that caused me the most anguish and is to me the finest failure is The Sound and the Fury.  That’s the one I feel most tender toward.”  
Colloquies at Nagano seminar, 1955. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

“The writer in America isn’t a part of the culture of this country.  He’s like a fine dog.  People like him around, but he’s of no use.”  
Interview with Harvey Breit, 1955. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

“Folks try hard to understand.  The public expects too much of present-day novelists.  Read a book and let it go at that.  You can read it in two days.  It takes months to write one.”  
Interview with Marshall J. Smith, 1931. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

 Back to Top

“I’m a failed poet.  Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry.  And failing that, only then does he take up novel writing.”  
Interview with Jean Stein Vanden Heuvel, 1956. Collected in "Lion in the Garden" .

“[In a novel] you can be more careless, you can put more trash in it and be excused for it.  In a short story that’s next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right.”  
Faulkner in the University, 207

“What matters is at the end of life, when you’re about to pass into oblivion, that you’ve at least scratched ‘Kilroy was here,’ on the last wall of the universe.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 227

“A writer needs 3 things: experience, observation, imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 248

Back to Top

“The writer doesn’t need economic freedom.  All he needs is a pencil, and some paper.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 240

“I am not a literary man but only a writer.  I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 252

“And who better to save man’s humanity than the writer, the poet, the artist, since who should fear the loss of it more since the humanity of man is the artist’s life blood.”
Faulkner in the University, 245

Back to Top


On Jefferson:  "Never knowed a man yet to live here a while and then leave it for good."
Light in August, Modern Library, p. 370

 “. . . this miniature of man’s passions and hopes and disasters—ambition and fear and lust and courage and abnegation and pity and honor and sin and pride—all bound, precarious and ramshackle, held together by the web, the iron-thin warp and woof of his rapacity but withal yet dedicated to his dreams.”   
Gavin Stevens, The Town, Chapter 20

“Beginning with Sartoris I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top.”  
"Lion in the Garden, 255

“I like to think of the world I created as being a kind of keystone in the Universe; that, as small as that keystone is, if it were ever taken away, the universe itself would collapse.”  
"Lion in the Garden," 255

Back to Top  

Random Musings

“[…] if I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back a buzzard.  Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him.  He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything.”  
Interview with Jean Stein Vanden Heuvel, 1956. Collected in "Lion in the Garden".

On Why He Left  His Job at the Post Office: “I reckon I'll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won't ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who's got two cents to buy a stamp.”  
Quoted in Faulkner: A Biography, by Joseph Blotner (the one volume edition, 118).

Back to Top


The Bible

Civil War







good & evil

learning to write
The Past
Race/civil Rights


the south

Random Musings



CFS Home | The Brodsky Collection |The Center | Faulkneria | Announcements |Links