Monday, October 26, 2009
When Miss Emily Grierson died...
Great Tales of Horror - A ROSE FOR EMILY by William Faulkner
Originally published in Forum Magazine, April 30, 1930
For those of you who prefer your Gothic of the Southern variety, this one's for you. This is Faulkner's first published story (although he may have written it years earlier; once he began to sell short fiction to the magazines, he confessed that he had a decade's worth of manuscripts collected in a trunk), and along with his novels The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, all published within a two-year span, created the genre for antebellum depravity and grotesqueries, to be further explored by writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams. What truly lives and lurks behind the facades of those decaying, vine-entangled manses? If the climax of "A Rose for Emily" is any indication, it is better left to the imagination.
Faulkner viewed his short stories as a means of bringing readers to his novels, mostly set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. The intensely private author was asked by Forum to provide some autobiographical information to accompany the story's publication...
Born male and single at early age in Mississippi. Quit school after five years in seventh grade. Got job in Grandfather's bank and learned medicinal value of his liquor. Grandfather thought janitor did it. Hard on janitor. War came. Liked British uniform. Got commission R.F.C., pilot. Crashed. Cost British gov't £2000. Was still pilot. Crashed. Cost British gov't £2000. Quit. Cost British gov't $84.30. King said, "Well done." Returned to Mississippi. Family got job: postmaster. Resigned by mutual agreement on part of two inspectors; accused of throwing all incoming mail into garbage can. How disposed of outgoing mail never proved. Inspectors foiled. Had $700. Went to Europe. Met man named Sherwood Anderson. Said, "Why not write novels? Maybe won't have to work." Did. Soldiers' Pay. Did. Mosquitoes. Did. Sound and Fury. Did. Sanctuary, out next year. Now flying again. Age 32. Own and operate own typewriter.
I have to confess that, when I read Faulkner's self-deprecating humor, and hear of his alcohol-soaked days writing for Hollywood in later years, I cannot help but picture John Mahoney in Barton Fink.
The first time I read "A Rose for Emily" was in a superlative collection of horror by indefatigable anthologist Peter Haining, The Lucifer Society. It could best be described as a compilation of horror fiction by authors who do not generally write horror fiction, including John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald and even Winston Churchill. Should you ever be called upon to write a report on a piece of fiction from a "respected" author, here's the place to turn. Faulkner's story is also a much-assigned work for 20th Century Literature classes, but I wonder - are the teachers truly prepared to discuss what Miss Emily was really doing in that house all those years?
You can read "A Rose for Emily" here, and discover why many have called this the American version of "The Fall of the House of Usher." And as a bonus, The Zombies wrote a song of the same name that was inspired by the story...to put you in the proper mood. And may you never be as lonely as Miss Emily...