Rare Audio: William Faulkner Names His Best Novel, And the First Faulkner Novel You Should Read


Image by Carl Van Vecht­en, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

My two favorite William Faulkn­er nov­els are, with­out a doubt, Absa­lom, Absa­lom! and The Sound and The Fury. After read­ers get thrust into the nar­ra­tors’ dizzy­ing streams of con­scious­ness, both books mount in ten­sion to a fright­ful, almost unbear­able pitch, before reach­ing their grim, cathar­tic cli­max­es. I’ve always felt that the white-hot inten­si­ty of the nov­els meant that, some­how, they had meant more to Faulkn­er than his oth­er writ­ings. Accord­ing to an audio record­ing of Faulkn­er him­self, it turns out that I was half right.

In 1957 and 1958, Faulkn­er served as the Writer-in-Res­i­dence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia at Char­lottesville, and today the school retains what is like­ly to be the largest Faulkn­er archive in the world. In addi­tion to Faulkner’s pri­vate library, orig­i­nal man­u­scripts, let­ters, and per­son­al effects, the archive also con­tains hours upon hours of Faulkner’s Q & A ses­sions, speech­es, and read­ings. In April of 1957, dur­ing a class lec­ture, a stu­dent asked Faulkn­er about his favorite nov­el. Lis­ten to the audio clip here:

Uniden­ti­fied par­tic­i­pant: Mr. Faulkn­er, what do you con­sid­er your best book?

William Faulkn­er: The one that—that failed the most trag­i­cal­ly and the most splen­did­ly. That was The Sound and the Fury—the one I worked at the longest, the hard­est, that was to me the—the most pas­sion­ate and mov­ing idea, and made the most splen­did fail­ure. That’s the one that’s my—I con­sid­er the best, not—well, best is the wrong word—that’s the one that I love the most.

The record­ings them­selves are a fas­ci­nat­ing resource, with Faulkn­er com­ment­ing wide­ly on his nov­els and sto­ries. Where else could one hear, for exam­ple, what the author con­sid­ered the best book to start with when read­ing him? Lis­ten here.

Uniden­ti­fied par­tic­i­pant: Do you think that there’s a par­tic­u­lar order in which your works should be read […]? Many peo­ple have offered a sequence. Do you think there’s a par­tic­u­lar sequence that your books should be read in?

William Faulkn­er: Prob­a­bly to begin with a book called Sar­toris. That has the germ of my apoc­rypha in it. A lot of the char­ac­ters are pos­tu­lat­ed in that book. I’d say that’s a good one to begin with.

For those inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Faulkn­er and his writ­ing, the South­east Mis­souri State University’s Cen­ter for Faulkn­er Stud­ies is offer­ing a promis­ing MOOC called Faulkn­er 101, led by the Center’s founder, Dr. Robert Ham­blin, as well as its cur­rent direc­tor, Dr. Chris Rieger. You can sign up now. Or find count­less oth­er MOOCs in our big, ever-expand­ing list of MOOCs.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writ­ing at the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Faulkn­er Reads from As I Lay Dying

William Faulkn­er Audio Archive Goes Online

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

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Comments (3)
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  • Michael Scully says:


    Thanks. I have strug­gled with the man. How­ev­er, as I am an Amer­i­can and adore our idiom, I real­ly want to get through one. I tried and failed with As I Lay Dying. I think I’l try with Ab Ab.


    Michael Scul­ly

  • Summerlin says:

    I high­ly rec­om­mend start­ing with The Unvan­quished.

  • Allen Mahan says:

    “Get some help,” that’s what I did (and do), and by that I mean places like this, get the audio (theyre all on audible.com), read the crit­i­cism, look for video, YouTube, it’s all good …

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