In the third novel, Faulkner introduces Yoknapatawpha County. The southern setting he’s famous for. The world that he would write about for the rest of his life.
Sartoris was Faulkner’s third published novel. But, in fact, it was a novel called Flags in the Dust that he wrote in 1927. He took it to his publisher. The publisher was vexed and refused to publish it without a great deal of editing. Flags in the Dust was cut by about eighty pages and published as Sartoris.
You can guess how this goes. After Faulkner died, someone dug up his original story and in 1973 Flags in the Dust was published.
Originally I had planned on reading Sartoris for this little project. But after thinking it through, I decided that since my original intent was to see the writer grow through each novel. I think the original, unedited, novel would be the best way to see this.
I cannot blame the editor for cutting this novel. I enjoyed it greatly, but it is untamed, sprawling and unwieldy. There are a lot of words. It is Faulkner. And I can see an argument for this book being a good introduction to his work. But there are a lot of words.
Reading this book was a treat. Characters and places we know will make more appearances later, appear for the first time here. Peabody—the portly country doctor who is too late to save Addie in As I Lay Dying—recommends not cutting a growth off of Bayard’s face in Flags in the Dust. Samson, a farmer many readers would know from As I Lay Dying, and Flem Snopes are also mentioned. I dare say several other characters are introduced in Flags in the Dust that make their way into Faulkner’s later fiction.
This is why reading Faulkner is so much fun for me. Any one of his books is fun, but as a whole, the world he created becomes a lot more interesting.
In this, his third novel—but first of the Yoknapatawpha County stories—the Sartoris clan is a formerly aristocratic family in decline. John Sartoris was a larger-than-life confederate officer whose descendents are struggling to live up to. The story takes place just after the Great War.
Bayard Sartoris (John’s great grandson) served in the airforce during the first World War. His brother is killed during the war and he blames himself. The rest of his life is a tragedy. Faulkner does a wonderful job juxtaposing the Civil War with the First World War, and you can see that he’s still mulling over themes from Soldier’s Pay.
But the most remarkable thing to me about this book is on page 181. A short paragraph that has little to do with the storyline of Flags. A paragraph that made me pause.
“Did you bring your Snopes back with you?” she asked. This Snopes was a young man, member of a seemingly inexhaustible family which for the last ten or twelve years had been moving to town in driblets from a small settlement known as Frenchman’s Bend. Flem, the first Snopes, had appeared unheralded one day and without making a ripple in the town’s life, behind the counter of a small restaurant on a side street, patronized by country people. With this foothold and like Abraham of old, he led his family piece by piece into town. Flem himself was presently manager of the city light and water plant, and for the following few years he was a sort of handy-man to the city government; and three years ago, to old Bayard Sartoris’ profane surprise and unconcealed disapproval, he became vice-president of the Sartoris bank, where already a relation of his was a bookkeeper.
There, in one paragraph, in the first Yoknapatawpha book he wrote, Faulkner tells the entire plot of the Snopes Trilogy. The first book in the trilogy is The Hamlet, which is not published for another ten years.
Although this snippet of information paragraph has little to do with the story in Flags, it is not at all out of place in this book. As I said earlier, there are a lot of words, and Faulkner likes to talk. I now wonder what other odd snippets I may have missed.
I find it remarkable that, seemingly by accident, Faulkner so quickly laid a foundation from which he could draw a career’s worth of stories.