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Meet the Anton Fellows: Faulkner on Faulkner

Michael LaFrancis's research

Winner of the Nobel Prize, William Faulkner (1897-1962) authored some of America’s most memorable novels, including The Sound and the Fury; As I Lay Dying; Light in August; Absalom, Absalom!; and Go Down, Moses. As a native Mississippian who grew up during the period of Jim Crow, Faulkner was able to speak first hand about the complexities of Southern society. Several of his novels were set in a fictitious northern Mississippi county that he named Yoknapatawpha.

Michael LaFrancis ’06, an English major and philosophy minor, is using an Anton Fellowship to fund an extended visit to the William Faulkner Collection at the University of Virginia, where Faulkner once served as writer-in-residence. There, Michael is sifting through Faulkner’s letters, journals and manuscripts to explore a complex issue relating to The Sound and the Fury that has perplexed numerous readers and scholars. Michael will use his research to write a senior honors thesis under the direction of Professor Betsy Huang this fall.

Set in Mississippi during the first three decades of the 20th century, The Sound and the Fury focuses on the once proud, but now decaying Compson family, especially Caddy Compson, as seen through the eyes of her three brothers, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, and the family’s African-American servant, Dilsey.

After reading a substantial amount of related primary and secondary material, Michael is curious about the relationship between various self-commentaries Faulkner made about this novel, their relationship to the text, and the clearly resultant fissures. In particular, Faulkner often made misleading or outright incorrect commentary about his work, such as claiming that The Sound and the Fury was a failure when in fact he apparently had higher regard for it than any of his other texts. In addition, the various drafts for the 1933 introduction are radically different, at times even conflicting. Furthermore, despite detailed commentary prior to publication from Malcolm Cowley, the editor of The Portable Faulkner, about inconsistencies between Faulkner’s 1945 Compson Appendix and the events of The Sound and the Fury (1929), he chose to leave them uncorrected, and for a time even insisted on having the Appendix published at the beginning of the book as a preface.

Michael has agreed to share with us, via email, reflections on his work at the archive during the next month. Check the listings in the blue box to see what he's doing!

Faulkner's home Faulkner's home "Rowan Oak" in Lafayette County, Mississippi. From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record, Reproduction Number HABS, MISS,36-OXFO,9-4.

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William Faulkner
William Faulkner. From the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, Reproduction Number VII MM 4.

Michael's emails from Virginia:
July 22, 2005
July 31, 2005
August 9, 2005

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