| On the map of the Northern part of the State of Mississippi
we can find an old quiet town named “Holly Springs”. It is said that they
sometimes saw William Faulkner in the central square of this town. Faulkner
occasionally met young Joan Williams there as well as in Memphis, Joan’s
hometown. She was the “last lover of Faulkner”( Richard Bausch).
Lisa Hickman’s William Faulkner and Joan Williams, The Romance of Two Writers describes the deep relationship between the two as its title suggests. Dr. Hickman lives in Memphis, Tennessee and is a specialist in Southern literature who has been writing especially on the lives and works of Joan and Faulkner. She also taught at Christian Brothers University. She first met Joan in 1993 when she was writing a magazine article about the two psychiatrists of Memphis who had treated alcoholic Faulkner in the early 1950’s. Hickman asking an interview with Joan was invited by her who then lived just near Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford. After that their friendly terms continued and Hickman’s book came out.
Joan wrote on the relationship with Faulkner in a novel The Wintering (1971) and in an essay “Twenty Will Not Come Again” (1980, The Atlantic Monthly). Hickman completed her book not only through these works but also through lots of letters and notes exchanged between Faulkner and Joan, interviews with Joan and other persons concerned. Faulkner’s letters amounted to hundreds in number. Hickman tried to write based on the primary sources. Joan herself succeeded as a writer under the tutelage of her mentor Faulkner and published five novels and a collection of short stories, winning the literary prizes.
Hickman by the agreement with Joan decided to focus on the period from 1949 to 1953. It is because this was Faulkner’s prime time when he accepted the Nobel Prize of Literature and wrote A Fable and so on as well as his dark time when he was in despair personally and domestically. It was for Joan the time when she was in the prime of her youth and was rapidly growing as a writer.
Hickman quoted from many letters exchanged between the two writers. In “Introduction: Middle Years” Hickman briefly describes Faulkner as a literary mentor and Pygmalion for Joan, his life, the accomplishment of A Fable in 1953 and the publications of his works by that time, awards in and out of his country, hospitalization by alcoholism, trouble with his wife Estelle, his exhaustion and loneliness, his being charmed by the beauty and literary ability of Joan younger than him by thirty years of age, and her personal history and family.
“I 1949 ― An Afternoon Recalled” begins with the descriptions of the meeting of Joan with Faulkner in the afternoon of a day in August, 1949. At twenty Joan with red hair and freckles and brown eyes was a winner of the college fiction contest. Also described here are Faulkner’s family, Joan’s meeting with Faulkner at Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s reply to Joan’s letter ― he keeps writing to her until his death in 1962―, Joan’s transfer to Bard College, the exchange of letters by them two including her poetical reply written in small letters, the difficulties of their friendship ― for him she was a muse and an object of his sexual desire; for her he was a literary mentor. Then follow the depictions of the publications of Faulkner and the rumors of his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, Hollywood and making a movie of Intruder in the Dust, his conception of short story and an outing at Sardis Lake and so on.
“II 1950 ― A Courtship of Letters” starts with the story of outpouring letters from Faulkner and Joan’s bewilderment. She wanted the mentor sort of relationship and he wanted her to be in love with him in a romantic sort of way. Then, Faulkner’s alcoholism, the recollection of Faulkner by his psychiatrists at Memphis Dr. J. H. Adler and Dr. D. C. McCool, Faulkner’s adoption of a paternal role for Joan ― she didn’t think of him as a father ―, his visit to Joan’s family at Memphis, his love letters, his advice to her short story, their meeting in New York and a literary dinner party in there, etc. After their first New York debut the exchange of their letters continued. Also depicted are their relation with Requiem for a Nun, Joan’s expression of her love to him, her sense of being overwhelmed and depressed, her feeling of promises and faith in herself and dissatisfaction and unrest, wanting and not knowing what in the relationship with the great man William Faulkner, their collaboration for the play Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner and women, his various roles for Joan and so on. More topics are Faulkner’s advice for her to be a writer, Estelle’s former anxiety about her husband’s career as a writer, his relationship with Random House, the upheavals in the publishing world and Faulkner, the arguments between Faulkner and Estelle against Joan, Joan’s pride of his receiving the Nobel Prize, another Southern woman Meta Carpenter, his letter from London and so forth.
In “III 1951 ― Other Lovers” the story begins with Joan’s graduation from college, Faulkner and Hollywood, Joan’s efforts to invite Faulkner to her own college, his view of Hoollywood, his relationship with Meta Carpenter, his drinking, bouts and emotional instability, young Joan’s influence upon A Fable, his work on the book and his chronic depression. Joan wrote an article on Faulkner entitled “Personal Sketch” in the college newspaper The Bardian. It included his publication history with the mentions to Phil Stone, Sherwood Anderson and Elizabeth Prall in it. Here are also discussions on their exchanged letters’ influence upon Faulkner’s works, Joan’s travel to California, his literary advice to her, his proposed novel The Wintering ― the epistolary novel of their relationship ―, their shared sense of loneliness and sadness, and the like.
“IV 1952 ― Jacobs labored Seven Years for Rachel” begins with the depictions of Faulkner’s effect on Joan and James Joyce’s and Freud’s impact on Faulkner. Faulkner sent Joan’s short story “Morning and Evening” to Harper’s but it was rejected. Its central character Jake was more like Ike Snopes in The Hamlet. Finally Joan’s short story was accepted by The Atlantic. At this time Faulkner described Joan as “my pupil” in his note of thanks to the agent Harold Ober. He returned to A Fable. These topics are followed by Joan’s stay at Rowan Oak during Estelle’s and her daughter’s stay in Mexico, Joan’s final attention to the novel instead of short story and Faulkner’s encouragement of her, his appropriation of old ways and chivalry, her travel to New Orleans and Faulkner’s stay in Europe ― Paris, England, Oslo, ― and their night at Memphis. After working together for a television script Faulkner visited Joan’s family in Memphis. Throughout the emotional crisis in their love affair Faulkner was hospitalized in Memphis again, however, after the three years’ evolution of their relationship they were lovers. For Faulkner Joan was not only his heart’s darling he had tried through love to shape into a poet but also the daughter of his mind. He once gave her the manuscript of The Sound and the Fury. But in the end it went to the University of Virginia. In their misunderstandings and attempts to smooth them out they continued to exchange letters with each other. Faulkner had aching heart and back. Their relationship is reflected in The Wintering. Other topics are the personality of Harold Ober, Saxe Cmmins’s visit to Rowan Oak, Estelle’s reading the letters from Joan during Faulkner’s hospitalization, Gartly-Ramsay Hospital in Memphis, Faulkner’s distress for his domestic life and Estelle, his encouragement of Joan, etc. He was in the state in which his work at home was impossible.
“V 1953 ― One Fifth Avenue” begins with the mention to Faulkner and Joan in New York as well as to her first apartment in there. It also refers to the place where Faulkner stayed in New York, One Fifth Avenue Hotel in which he took photograph of her, his decision for her to write a novel on them two, he and Random House and A Fable, his fondness for New York, his criticism of her short story, the description of them in the New York apartment and bed in her novel and the like. Also discussed are Faulkner’s worse health and hospitalization, his return to Mississippi because of Estelle’s disease, his admission of his needing Joan in his working and so forth. Faulkner says his present work will be the last major, ambitious one and that he is getting toward the end. He loves Joan and she feels some pressure. Then come such topics as the meeting of Faulkner with E. E. Cummings in New York, Faulkner’s advice to Joan ― a mental approach to writing, writers and money, point of view and how to write the dialogue ―, his imagination of starting the colony in the West, the commencement address at his daughter Jill’s college, his view of art and Howard Hawks’s plan for Faulkner to join in his new movie, etc. The discussion on Faulkner and editors is also very interesting. Other discussions are on the fact that Joan was the only writer Faulkner mentored, and that he taught Joan only because he believed her ability, the true value of her works and her own authorial independence and talent, on her deep relationship with the South and so on. And there are more topics such as one night of Faulkner and Joan at Rowan Oak, her trip to Florida, their meeting in Holly Springs, his angry letter to her and his needing her, a signed, first-edition copy of A Fable being sent to her, the arrival of a season of endings and Joan’s meeting with a Northeasterner Ezra Bowen her future husband, his mother Mrs. Bowen a famous author, etc. Joan was Faulkner’s motivating source and muse. She started her new life and in her novel The Wintering she portrayed the parting between them. The last part “VI 1954-1962 ― Blue Mississippi Hills” starts with the description of the story that Faulkner kept writing to Joan during his travel to Europe and Egypt. He mentions to Jean Stein, a girl of nineteen years, in the Christmas party of Stockholm. For Faulkner love was the past tense, but Joan knew Faulkner loved her completely and she loved him more than any other else. Joan got married in Memphis in 6 March 1954 and the new couple lived on the Upper West Side on West 76 th. Joan’s The Morning and the Evening, now a novel, was published. Faulkner’s letter expressed admiration for her novel and faith in her future as a novelist. In the summer of 1962(July), Joan came to meet him at Rowan Oak. Just ten days after her visit to him, he died. She went to his funeral. She died in April 2004. She was seventy-five. She recalled Faulkner and the loneliness of life. Both of them sprung from the same South and he loved her as his countryman and she understood him as hers. They sat side by side on the front porch of Rowan Oak and seemed at peace finally with each other.
Hickman’s book vividly describes the deep and unknown side of the man and life of Faulkner by using the primary sources centering on his letters. Though she quoted many and explained much in her book, she might have found it necessary to do so in order to accomplish her purpose. When we think of the man William Faulkner in his impossible love with Joan Williams and of the deep impact of their relationship on each of their literatures this book will undoubtedly cast a new light on the future study of Faulkner and his literature. And it is not necessarily difficult for us to read its sentences.
Copyright (c)2008 YORIFUJI Michio