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Report a Faulkner Sighting!
Unlike famous fellow Mississippian Elvis Presley, William Faulkner is probably more likely to be cited than sighted. But like The King, Faulkner is still very much a part of our collective memory and often acts as a point of reference in pop culture venues like movies and television shows.
For example, the 1992 movie Barton Fink is thought by many to contain numerous references to Faulkner's life. The character of the Southern novelist turned screenwriter, W. P. Mayhew, resembles Faulkner in that he "whores" himself to Hollywood, drinks a great deal, and has an affair while living in CA. And Barton Fink himself has something in common with Faulkner; both were asked to write a "wrestling picture." It helped that the actor who played Mayhew (John Mahoney) bore a striking resemblance to Faulkner. Joel Coen, who co-wrote the film with his brother, Ethan, claimed, "[John Mahoney] really does resemble Faulkner, physically. . .Although, the character in Barton Fink, obviously--outside of the physical resemblance and the fact that he's an alcoholic--he really doesn't resemble Faulkner very much in any other respect." We should hope not--one of the subplots of the movie revolves around the fact that Mayhew isn't really a writer at all. His secretary is the creative genius behind his famous name. And Faulkner didn't even have a secretary in Hollywood. Or did he????
Faulkner is mentioned twice by
Paul Whitehurst, the narrator of the three stories in William Styron’s A
Tidewater Morning. In the opening story, “Love Day,” Whitehurst, a young
marine lieutenant, recalls the time when, as a young boy, his mother had
objected to the stories his father and he were reading in The Saturday
Evening Post: “Why do you read that magazine? Why do you consciously
expose an eleven-year-old to such garbage?” His father replies: “Listen,
Adelaide, they have printed that genius from Mississippi, William Faulkner” (p.
32). In the title story Whitehurst recalls his father’s quarrel with his
mother’s view of race: “Adelaide, let me tell you something. Let me be
candid. I think you’ve come a long, long way in the years since we first knew
each other. We’ve discussed this before, and you will recollect your own
admission that you came to Virginia with a load of ugly prejudices about colored
people. Such an irony, too, a Pennsylvanian, a college graduate—sophisticated,
widely traveled, reader of William Faulkner, bien élevée, and all
that—carrying around this baggage of truly bizarre notions about colored people,
as you still prefer to call them, or Negroes, as I call them” (p.98). --Robert
On an episode of CSI titled "A Little Murder" (originally broadcast on Oct. 17, 2002; rebroadcast on Aug. 14, 2003), Grissom (William Petersen) is investigating the homicide of a dwarf. During a discussion with Melanie Grace (portrayed by Meredith Eaton), an acquaintance of the deceased who also happens to be a little person, the subject of prejudice inevitably arises.
Melanie quotes the following: "The freaks had looked at her in a secret way and tried to connect their eyes with hers, as though to say, 'We know who you are; we are you.'"
Grissom ponders the phrase for a moment, then queries, "Faulkner?"
"Close," Melanie replies. "Another Southern writer -- Carson McCullers."
-- Vernon Gravely
The New York Times of April 3, 2003, contains an article by Mel Gussow, "Terry
Southern Literary Archives Go to New York Public Library." In discussing Southern's film script for
Easy Rider, the novelist's son Niles is quoted: "'Terry's hand is very much in
evidence,' his son said. It was his title, and he created the lawyer played by Jack
Nicholson, whom he based on a William Faulkner character." -- M. Thomas Inge
On a recent episode of Law & Order titled "Genius" (airdate: April 2, 2003), the suspect is a writer and English professor who admits to stabbing a cab driver. When the detective questions the suspect's office mate, the office mate says he was working on a paper on Faulkner's use of Keats; when he went to the shelf to look up some bit of information in a two-volume book on Faulkner that "nobody uses," he found the murder weapon hidden behind the books. -- Ralee Durden
More on Law & Order episode, "Genius," broadcast on April 2,
I remember the episode differently than reported earlier. In talking with the murderer's university office mate, the colleague notes how he discovered a stash of cash taken from the robbery (and I am not sure this is an exact quote): "I was working on a paper about Faulkner and Keats and went over to the bookshelf to consult the two-volume biography that everyone owns but nobody
reads." I hope Joe Blotner didn't see that one! -- M. Thomas Inge
More on Sunshine State, mentioned previously:
Last night I watched John Sayles' film Sunshine State, which references Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Delia Temple, the local community theatre director, has adapted AILD for the stage . . . or as she says "rather loosely adapted, but I don't think Mr. Faulkner would object." She plays Addie, and the scene begins with Addie's opening "In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left...." She gets through "my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time" before she's interrupted. She then recruits a troubled neighborhood boy to build her coffin, out of which she will rise up and speak during the performance. Later, as the boy uses an adult to figure out the measurements, the adult remarks, "You'd better put some holes in this so she can breathe." -- Jason Fichtel
From Errol Castens' review of Oxford journalist Jere Hoar's novel The Hit:
"He tells a compelling story--this
slender, white-haired writer who retreats to his antebellum Oxford home behind
its screen of cedars.
"A gentleman farmer as well as a scholar, he exercises strong affinities for guns, dogs, and horses, books and paintings.
"He lays claim to the North Mississippi landscape as his own territory-of-mind, painting in words the details implanted in decades of walking its woods and fields, of studying its plants and animals, weather and topography.
"Old grudges and current covetings inflame the dark-hearted populace of his writings.
"But his last name isn't Faulkner."
--Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal [Tupelo], March 16, 2003, p. 2C.
There's an interesting essay on King/Faulkner parallels in It by Mary Jane Dickerson. The essay's titled "Stephen King Reading William Faulkner: Memory, Desire, and Time in the Making of It." The essay appears in a collection of essays on King called The Dark Descent. I used this collection and this essay when I taught a course on King, and my students were very much interested in exploring further how King references Faulkner not only in It, but in other novels as well. -- Jason Fichtel
In Stephen King's novel It several black soldiers from Mississippi with Yoknapatawpha County surnames are stationed in Maine during World War II. I've often wondered why King did that.-- John McGinity
I've just begun reading James Lee Burke's Two for Texas, but within the first ten pages, the protagonist, from the backwoods of Tennessee, enters the front door of a roadhouse and is told to go around to the side door. Shortly after, he is accused (falsely) of stealing from an octoroon mistress in New Orleans. Shades of Sutpen and Charles Bon? -- Len Engel
From Pat Conroy's jacket blurb on Rick Bragg's Ada's Man : "Rick Bragg writes like a man on fire. And All Over but the Shoutin' is a work of art. I thought of Melville, I thought of Faulkner." -- Kaye Hamblin
In the February 12, 2003, episode of West Wing, some of the main characters went to a club where the live group was singing faintly in the background something about Faulkner and being drunk. Since the main point was the characters' dialogue, the exact lyrics were difficult to decipher, but the reference was definitely there. -- Trisha Yarbrough
In Jean Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seaberg read Faulkner to each other in bed. I think it's The Wild Palms. The recent British novel/film Last Orders, starring Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins, was so indebted to As I Lay Dying that it was accused of plagiarism. -- Tom McCarthy
The similarities in subject matter and structure make it beyond believability that Graham Swift did not have As I Lay Dying in mind when he wrote Last Orders - a trek to a funeral, meeting many obstacles on the way; chapters told by different characters in interior monologues, with one chapter clocking in at one short sentence. Swift was happy to talk about his book as long as the only name mentioned in conjunction was Booker (as in, the leading literary prize out of the United Kingdom) but quickly and firmly clammed up when the name Faulkner was mentioned after the fact. A spokesperson for the Booker Prize later admitted that no one on the Committee was familiar with As I Lay Dying and so had never thought to question Swift or the work. I like Last Orders and don't mind the Faulkner influence. But I think it safe to say that no one reading the Booker winner who also knows Brother Will could possibly fail to feel that Swift did not give credit where credit is due. Certainly a "Sighting" to those of us who know what we are looking at. -- Seth Berner
From William Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country:
"These houses are now dying like the bereaved who inhabit them; they are slowly losing their senses--deafness, blindness, forgetfulness, mumbling, an insecure gait, an uncontrollable trembling has overcome them. Some kind of Northern Snopes will occupy them next: large-familied, Catholic, Democratic, scrambling, vigorous, poor; and since the parents will work in larger, nearby towns, the children will be loosed upon themselves and upon the hapless neighbors much as the fabulous Khan loosed his legendary horde. These Snopes will undertake makeshift repairs with materials that other people have thrown away; paint halfway round their house, then quit; almost certainly maintain an ugly, loud, cantankerous dog and underfeed a pair of cats to keep the rodents down." -- Jonathan Cox
Leon Forrest's novel, The Bloodworth
Orphans, includes this passage:
"But a pipe-puffing black-skinned man, in golden horn-rimmed glasses, with a visionary gaze, and a mane of snow-white, who except for his coloring looked the spit of William Faulkner, now staunchly blocked Witherspoon's passageway. . . ." -- Jonathan Cox
The recent film Sunshine State features Jane Alexander as a community-theater matron. At one point, Angela Bassett's character visits Alexander's character during rehearsal for an upcoming production. The dialogue onstage is from Addie Bundren's chapter in As I Lay Dying. Later in the movie, a young man is convicted of petty arson. The judge sentences him to perform community service--more specifically, to build the coffin for the stage adaptation of AILD. -- Ted Atkinson
From Ben Folds Five's 1997 break-up anthem, "Smoke":
"You keep saying the past is not dead
You keep saying
You keep saying the past is not even past
Well, wake up and smell the smoke."
-- Heather O'Donnell
The serialized “white trash” novel by Stephanie du Plessis of San Francisco (1994) is entitled The Snopeses Go Camping. -- Seth Berner
In Stuart Kaminsky's novel, Never Cross A Vampire, featuring Hollywood private detective Toby Peters, Faulkner appears as a main character. The novel at first focuses on a case (circa 1942) involving Bela Lugosi, then gets (appropriately) complicated as slumming screenwriter Faulkner is accused of murdering a sleazy movie agent. -- D. Matthew Ramsey
In the pop culture hit Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the assistant principal is consoling Ferris's girlfriend, who has been called out of class (by Ferris's friend, pretending to be her father) to attend the funeral of her grandmother. As the assistant principal is trying to fill an awkward moment, he consoles her by saying, "Between grief and nothing, I'll take grief." Faulkner fans should recognize that was a line that Faulkner used in several letters and also in the novel If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem. -- Peter Alan Froehlich
On page 71 of the February 2003 issue of Harper’s Magazine, in an article on unsung heroes of Hollywood, is the information that Walter Murch had the movie rights to The Wild Palms. (The novel has never been filmed.) -- Seth Berner
The Beaver Papers, by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones (Crown Publishers, 1983), is a collection of script treatments for the old TV show Leave It To Beaver. These “episodes” are presented as if written by famous authors (Steinbeck, Kerouac, Beckett, Faulkner, et al.). Pages 55-58 contain "The Beaver and the Fury." -- Seth Berner
A blurb on the back of Robert Pressnell, Jr.’s book Edgell’s Island (Paperback Library Edition, first printing, 1964) describes this tale of an illicit affair as being penned by "a fine author - somewhere between Frederick Wakeman and William Faulkner." -- Seth Berner
In one episode of Boston Public (Fox) a teacher is reprimanded by the principal because the teacher prepped one student for an upcoming exam, thus giving that student an unfair advantage. The advice the teacher gave the student was to study the Hemingway material but “don’t worry about Faulkner.” Guess there are some people who still prefer Hemingway.
Pam Tillis's country song "Maybe It Was Memphis" includes the following lyric: "Read about you in a Faulkner novel/Met you once in a Williams play...." My immediate response: "Don't go out with him!" --Theresa M. Towner
The Hollywood producer in Robert Altman's Gosford Park is reading Light in August. A copy of the book is shown in the scene in which he prepares to go to bed. There are several parallels between the movie and the book:
* Robert Parks, like Joe Christmas, grew up in an orphanage.
* By coincidence, the mother (in LIA, grandmother) also happens to be in the same place as the orphan, and tries to protect him.
* The orphan, meanwhile, was left at the orphanage by his father (in LIA, grandfather).
* The murder weapon is a sharp blade.
* Both book and movie focus on a diverse group of people with only limited interaction among themselves.
* The Nesbitts' marriage is comparable to the Hightowers’ -- wife is "beneath" husband, husband is ashamed of wife, etc.
* In both works there is sloppy/lazy police work (in LIA, Christmas's race seals the deal: he MUST be the killer).
* The major plot point in both concerns a pregnant young woman.
* The highest ranked character in the movie is Sir WILLIAM (possibly a nod to Faulkner).
* Both book and movie open and close with primary focus on an innocent young woman (LIA: Lena Grove; GP: Mary)--and in GP, Mary also happens to be named "Maceachran" (cf. McEachern).
-- John B. Padgett
In a repeat episode of Law & Order, which I've seen 2-3 times (most recently last week), a novelist suspected (but not guilty) of murdering somebody can't be interviewed because he's up at Bard at a conference on our Boy. It is later reported that our suspect gets into a snit at said conference because some speaker declared that WF was a magical realist, and he, our suspect, argued that he was not. -- Noel Polk
Rick Bragg's memoir, All Over But the Shoutin', which is the featured 2003 book selected by the Cape Girardeau (Missouri) United We Read, includes a half-dozen references to Faulkner. Here are two of them:
"But as the car pulled closer and turned up the long driveway, I saw that it was no mansion, only the corpse of one. I saw peeling paint and missing boards, and looking back on it now I know that my father must have rented it for a song, because it was a house no one else would have. We would have said it was straight out of Faulkner, if we had known who Faulkner was." (Vintage Books Edition, p. 53)
"[My daddy's people] fought each other like cats in a sack, existing--hell no, living--somewhere between the Snopeses of Faulkner's imagination and the Forresters of The Yearling." (p. 56)
-- Kaye Hamblin
In commenting on the relationship of her books to her native Mississippi, Donna Tartt said, "Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn't win it for Southern Literature. It seems to me literature is just literature, wherever it comes from." (Sighted in Ellen Kanner's essay on Tartt's second novel, The Little Friend, in the November 2002 issue of BookPage, p. 5)
“Now, bourbon has always had its fans. William Faulkner was one of them. ‘My own experience,’ he said, ‘has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food and a little whisky.’ Near the opening to his famous story, ‘The Bear,’ he wrote, ‘There was always a bottle present….’ Seems that there always was. In his art and in his life. But then, William Faulkner lived in rural Mississippi. He actually wrote a novel titled Mosquitoes. Say ‘Yoknapatawpha County’ three times fast and you’ll need a drink as well.”
Source: Cheever, Benjamin. “Brown is Beautiful.” Food and Wine November 2002: 172-174.
In October 2002 Faulkner turned up in Pat Conroy's new book, My Losing Season. Read more about this sighting....
In his Time article about Michael Chabon, Clive Barker, and other authors who are capitalizing on the Harry Potter craze, Richard Lacayo writes: “There’s serious money here. Even before Barker’s book appears in stores, Disney has reportedly paid $8 million for the film, merchandising and theme-park rights to his characters. Theme-park rights? This never happened to Faulkner.” (September 23, 2002, page 68)
From CNN Crossfire, Aug. 30, 2002
Ben Jones first gained fame as "Cooter"
on the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard before becoming a congressman
from Georgia. At the time of this interview, he was running for a congressional
seat in Virginia and joined Crossfire hosts James Carville and
Tucker Carlson to discuss reality TV and other topics.
Here is an excerpt:
of the great writers came from the South. William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor. I
mean, Mark Twain.
CARLSON: But, Congressman, can you understand a single word William Faulkner ever wrote?
No. Come on, nobody can.
JONES: Absolutely. No, no,
you can't. You're the one with the problem.
CARLSON: Hold on a minute. Congressman, pronounce the name Peskataquafarqua County or
whatever. Nobody can pronounce the name of the county.
JONES: Watch your language. Son, there are ladies watching.
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