The University of Virginia has digitized and posted a whole heap–many hours worth–of lectures Faulkner delivered as writer in residence at the University in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Alongside his comments on literature an the practice of writing, you can hear the Nobel-winner reading from his novels, including The Sound and the Fury.
I pulled some of my favorite answers from just a single Q&A session that Faulkner participated in at a Literature class. You can also use the previous link to hear the original audio from his answers.
Frederick Gwynn: Do you remember any kind of feeling of satisfaction when you finally finished The Sound and the Fury? I think most readers feel a—a great equilibrium at the end there. Do you recall any such feeling yourself?
William Faulkner: No, I don’t. That’s the—the one that I love the best for the reason that it was the most splendid failure. I think that—that they all failed. Probably the reason the man writes another book is that he tried to—to tell some very important and very moving truth and failed. He’s not satisfied, so he tries again. He writes another book, trying to tell some—the same moving truth, since there’s only one truth, and they fail. And this one I worked hardest at. It’s—it’s like the—the idiot child that the parents love the best. This one was the—the most splendid failure, but I—I wish I hadn’t done it because if I could do it now, I think I could do it better. Of course, I couldn’t, [audience laughter] but I would like to try it again if I had never written it.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in your speech at Stockholm you expressed great faith in mankind, that you thought man not only was here to prevail because he had the capacity for compassion and sacrifice and endurance. Do you think that’s the impression the average reader would get after reading The Sound and the Fury?
William Faulkner: I can’t answer that because I don’t know what the—what the average reader gets from—from reading the book. I—I agree that what I tried to say, I failed to say, and I never have had time to read reviews, so I don’t know what impression people might get from the book. But—but, in my opinion, yes, that’s what I was talking about in all of the books, but I failed to say it. I agree with you, I did fail. But that’s what I was trying to say, that man will prevail, will endure because he is capable of compassion and honor and pride and endurance.
Unidentified participant: I said, how do you feel about your books after they’ve gone to press? Do you reread them and puzzle over them or do you […]?
William Faulkner: No, I don’t because by that time I know the book was not as good as it should’ve been, and so I’m usually busy at another one. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: As a general rule, you never re-read?
William Faulkner: No, that’s—that one book the writer don’t have to read any more. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Sir, what are some of the problems that a person who is trying to publish his first novel would run into? In other words, how may he to his—to his best advantage to get his first work in publication?
William Faulkner: It’s difficult to say. I think that if the writer is too interested in getting that book printed to where that takes up that much of his time, that he’s not really a first-rate writer. Probably the first-rate writer is angry and mad, but—but only when he brings himself to think about that first book. He’s—he’s working on the second one by that time. He’s still trying to tell that truth, which by—by then he knows he failed in the first one, so he’s—he’s not interested in—in that book anymore. He wants it printed, of course. The mechanics of it is simply to send it to a publisher and then forget about it and work on the next one, and when it comes back, send it to another publisher. [audience laughter] Forget about it until you know that there’s something basically wrong in that book, something unprintable about it, and then put it away and write another one, and maybe after you have written another one, you will have learned more about the trade. You can see what might’ve been mechanically wrong in the first one. You can go back to that. I’ve done that once, but I don’t think that you should worry too much about getting the stuff printed. The main thing is to write it.
Unidentified participant: Sir, do you rate Hemingway any higher since the publication of his last book, The Old Man and the Sea?
William Faulkner: Not in—by the—the formula I use. I think that the last book was—was his best, and now if we’re talking of—of Hemingway, yes, that was his best, that—that he has steadily improved, and the last, in my opinion, was the best, and the next one should be still better, but it doesn’t [look] […], but what he has done is enough for a man to—to die in peace with, but it’s not enough for a man to say, “I have done what I wanted to do,” because nobody can do quite that. Probably Dostoevsky and Cervantes felt that way. Marlowe felt that way, probably. That if you ever do write that perfect one, then you—you break the pencil and throw it away, and there’s nothing else to do except cut your throat. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Sir, when you are reading for your own pleasure, which authors do you consistently return to?
William Faulkner: The ones I came to love when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. Moby-Dick, the Old Testament, Shakespeare, a lot of Conrad, Dickens. I read Don Quixote every year.
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Tags: Failing, Getting Published, William Faulkner