by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
December 1, 2004
SEATTLE, Wash. -- When I awoke from troubled dreams this morning it seemed to me that two topics would force themselves into this Ink Soup: the full moon on the day after Thanksgiving, and what I took to be the not unrelated but totally unprecedented vanishing of our cat Huck.
The crowd of children in the house for the feast, and the similar crowd at the houses of neighbors, would have been enough to scare the poor animal into some sort of temporary retreat.
But he'd never been away all night since he found us and moved in to stay some four or five years ago. By that time he was, as the car dealers say, pre-owned, and had been abandoned in a neutered and de-clawed state.
But lest I seem to be writing not of the heart but of the glands, let me say that what ailed me was not the small fortune I've spent in veterinarian bills but the helpless love that I feel for this idiot of a cat, who, by turning up again this morning as if nothing out of the way had happened, has ruined my plans for a column....
...and thrown me back onto another topic, suggested by that citation about the heart and glands from the Nobel Prize speech of William Faulkner in 1950.
I've just sent to the Seattle Times a review of Jay Parini's splendid biography of Faulkner, "One Matchless Time," published this month by Harper Collins.
Had I known that Parini, a professor at Middlebury College, was the author of biographies of Robert Frost and John Steinbeck, to say nothing of novels, I would have been less surprised to see his name on the cover, for I was familiar with him only as a poet.
And when I learned more of his life - born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and educated in Scotland - it seemed to me still less likely that he would be capable of even reading Faulkner, let alone understanding him.
For Faulkner belongs to me and to my kind - those who grew up eating grits and saying "y'all" without affectation - and can be understood by others only partially and remotely, with a detailed commentary.
He belongs to those of us who chanced to be colleagues of Maurice Coindreau on the faculty of Princeton and the first and best translator of Faulkner into French.
Parini rightly, I think, credits Coindreau with giving Faulkner the wide European audience that first brought him to the attention of the Nobel committee.
Born in a Southern town miles away from Oxford, Mississippi, I grew up inside the fictional world of Faulkner.
I know what another Southerner, Flannery O'Conner, meant when she called him the "Dixie Express," and what Eudora Welty meant when she told me in her Mississippi livingroom that being a writer there at the same time as the author of "Sanctuary" was like living at the dangerous base of an immense mountain.
Reading Faulkner was like reading a lightly fictionalized guide to my own town. Give me the name of any citizen and I could identify him as a Snopes or a Sartoris.
Others who wrote about race relations at that time of total public segregation and private intimacy seemed to be depending upon some Finnish translation of a Serbian original. Faulkner got it absolutely right.
So does Parini. He renders it credible that this town drunk, seemingly trapped forever in the role of wayward son, should become the author of some of the greatest works of fiction of his time. Incredibly, this Yankee, educated abroad, gets Faulkner right, and for page after gripping page.
AR Correspondent Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.