The Plank

In Defense Of 'sanctuary'

Though I by and large agree with
Clay Risen's derision
of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for
Literature (I've taken
issue
with the literature Nobel myself), I differ with his dismissal of
William Faulkner's sixth novel, Sanctuary, as "by most accounts one of his
worst."

It's true Clay has Faulkner himself
as a source, but of all the things Faulkner was known for, honesty was never
high on the list. He spent years telling people he had fought with the Royal Air
Force in World War One, though in truth he never made it further than training
in Toronto. He described fantastic battles that never happened. He pointed to a
(non-existent) metal plate in his head. The officer's uniform he occasionally
wore had been purchased after his discharge. He completed As I Lay Dying after many revisions, not
in the single, perfect draft he claimed. He said he wrote Sanctuary in three weeks, though we now
know
it took him four months. But he had good reason to lie about the
novel.

Following the abysmal sales and
critical acclaim of The Sound and the
Fury and As I Lay
Dying, Sanctuary was
met with unusual commercial success (it was even adapted into a very bad movie), but it was
popular due to its highly controversial sex scenes, not its considerable
literary merit. Faulkner likely
thought he needed to rebuke Sanctuary's success, and the novel itself,
if he wanted to continue to be known for works of under-appreciated genius and
not for high-selling, sex-soaked sensationalism.

Faulkner must have placed some
importance on Sanctuary--he spent
a sizable amount of his
own money to postpone the novel's printing not to enrich the sex scenes, but to better mold the layered, gothic plot.
Though that earlier draft may not match up to Faulkner's best works, the final,
completed Sanctuary certainly
does. Clay's right about Le Clezio's ridiculous speech
(skip to the part where he argues that blogs could have stopped Hitler; it's
jaw-dropping), but citing Faulkner's Sanctuary should be a strike in favor of
Le Clezio, not against him.

It's also worth noting that
Faulkner's first published work, the poem "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune," was for
The New Republic. You can read it
here.

--Max Fisher

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