I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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A note from Faulkner’s Sanctuary, and recent reading

William Faulkner famously wrote Sanctuary and used the advance to buy the house in which he moved with his just-married wife Estelle, who had been divorced from her first husband.

Here’s how he has one of his characters describe marrying someone who’d been previously married:

When you marry your own wife, you start off from scratch… maybe scratching.  When you marry sone else’s wife, you start off maybe ten years behind, behind somebody else’s scratch and scratching.

I’m re-reading this book for the first time since undergraduate school, curious about what will confim my sense that Faulkner’s relationship with Estelle was a major driving factor in this book.

I’ve been posting brief bulletins from my reading lately, rather than the longer responses I posted last year.  I’ve still got longer responses in mind to several from the last couple of months, particularly from the two books of the Robert Caro biography I read in April and early May. In addition to those, I’ve read Michael Hastings’ The Operators, which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to depress themselves with greater understanding of the “war on terror” as carried on during the Obama years (on a recommendation by George Cochran), the recent biography of Craig Claiborne by Thomas McNamee, which has a great first half but sort of fades thereafter, possibly like Claiborne’s own life, and Benjamin Wise’s biography of William Alexander Percy, which I found very frustrating.

Caro’s books are filled with bookmarks that I think bear discussion.  The Percy bio is filled with bookmarks where I think Wise goes off in directions that raise lots of questions in my mind.  Just for starters, is it really accurate to present Percy as a man who reflected the racist mores of his time and place, when at one point in the 1930s he had Langston Hughes as a houseguest? That was not standard Mississippi attitudes of the 1930s, and on this and other matters, Wise spends much time imposing present-day views on actions 80 and more years ago, without a second thought.

If I don’t get around to further comment:  Read the Caro books.  Read The Operators.  If you care about the history of food in America, read the Claiborne book.  The Percy book is probably dispensable.

9 comments to A note from Faulkner’s Sanctuary, and recent reading

  • Dura

    Where did Bill and Estelle spend their wedding night?

  • NMC

    Good question. I’ll see if there’s an answer in Blotner’s bio.

    There’s reason to believe they were married in the parsonage at College Hill Pres, not in the church proper.

  • Dura

    It was Aberdeen. This was the era of railroad travel. From there they went to Pascagoula for their honeymoon. Seems strange doesn’t it? I seem to recall Estelle tried to drown herself on that trip or a later one in whatever the Miss Sound is called off Pascagoula. Guess everyone knows Estelle’s father was the Clerk for the ND of Miss at Oxford.

  • NMC

    It would require a long, long comment or post to go into the story of William Faulkner and his in-laws. Not a pretty picture, like much about that marriage.

  • Dura

    And another thing. Is it just me or has Caro’s writing in Of Power deteriorated since his earlier (most excellent) books? Repitition, even grammar. He’s 76. As much as I wish he could, I don’t think he can finish the story.

  • NMC

    Hmmm. I was thinking his problem was his editor, who is 7 years older. He needs someone to impose restraint.

    There are passages as good as anything in any of the books– the account of the day Kennedy was shot, in particular. The repetition in the books has bothered me from the second book on. I have an odd sense that he’s almost trying to be Homeric (“the wine-dark sea”) in using set phrases to invoke particular parts of the story.

    I could live forever and not encounter the story about his period doing road work using mule-driven shovel. I actually marked it each time hit it in Master of the Senate and Passage of Power. If I were his editor, I would have given him a count.

    There’s a Slate piece arguing he was not up on the latest scholarship about the missile crisis, and got an essentrial part wrong. I’m going to post about it, I hope.

    I guess my conclusion is this: I’ve not encountered many books, ever, as good as the first one. I’m willing to forgive the drop-off since from that level. I would probably rank the most recent one slightly higher than Master, but only slightly, and think both are very fine.

    On the other hand, at 76, and 10 years a volume, I can’t imagine how he’s going to cover this ground:

    *The 64 election, and Goldwater
    *Viet Nam and the anti-war movement
    *The Voting Rights Act
    *The Great Society programs
    *The 68 election and the decision to bail after New Hampshire
    *His relationship with Humphrey as VP and when Humphrey ran in 68
    *The assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy
    *The riots of 68
    *The crash and burn of Abe Fortas’s nomination as Chief Justice

    Given how Caro covers ground, how is he going to do this in one volume, even one of 1000 pages like Master? I can’t imagine. In some ways, I think the sheer scope of what he has to cover is the biggest reason he won’t get done. At this rate, he hasn’t got just one volume left.

  • Armyvet_Attorney

    I keep meaning to read The Operators, also under George Cochran’s recommendation. Although I spent a great deal of time deployed in OIF and OEF, that was primarily under the Bush Administration.

    Does The Operators focus on Afghanistan? I’m interested to see how the mission changed there since 2004, my last trip there.

  • NMC

    It is about Afganistan, and about how how-level decisions about Afganistan came to be made during the Obama administration, focusing particularly at the command level. It’s a fascinating and scary book.

  • JWG

    I agree. I’m a huge fan of the first three books, but this one seems different. His train of thought or writing style has changed, it’s hard to follow. I keep having to re-read paragraphs to try to understand what he’s talking about. I’m only about a third of the way through it, by my interest level is waning. Will see.

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