Manuscripts Etc.


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The following items are drawn from the William Faulkner Foundation Collection at the University of Virginia's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library (
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“There Was a Queen”

Within half a year of the publication of Sartoris - the 1929 version of Flags in the Dust - Faulkner decided to come back to characters who remain alive at the end of that novel, in particular the three adult women who are living at the Sartoris place: Jenny Sartoris Du Pre, Narcissa Benbow Sartoris and Elnora. First written in the early summer, 1929, as "Through the Window," the story was revised and retitled "An Empress Passed" sometime after being rejected by Scribner's Magazine; it was still unsold in late 1932, when Faulkner again revised it, renaming it "There Was a Queen"; this time Scribner's decided to publish it. The surviving manuscripts and typescript tell part, though unfortunately not all, of the story of the story as he wrote and revised it. For example, the earliest surviving manuscript, bearing both the first two titles, is not the earliest manuscript, as we can tell from the presence of passages pasted in to its second page (below center) from a still earlier manuscript.

The essential focus of the story - the contrast between Miss Jenny as an epitome of the values of the Old South and Narcissa as a product of the modern world - remains unchanged through the rewritings. Perhaps the most interesting changes reflect Faulkner's attempt to define Elnora, both as a member of the Sartoris family and as the perspective from which readers see Jenny and Narcissa. In Flags in the Dust Elnora is the daughter of Simon, who has served the Sartoris family faithfully as both a slave and a servant; she is introduced as a "mulatto," but the novel displays no interest in her ancestry. At the start of the earliest extant manuscript (below left), Elnora is identified explicitly as the "half sister" of Old Bayard, the legitimate son of the white plantation owner who founded the family in Yoknapatawpha, though Faulkner still seems unsure of how to discuss this aspect of life in the "Old South": by the time he gets to Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Go Down, Moses (1942), the moral issue of master-slave sexual relations will haunt Faulkner's imagination; here he chooses, in a marginal interpolation, to walk away from that story by adding that "neither of them knew it," i.e. the family remains unaware of John's sexual transgression. A similar uncertainty appears in Elnora's relationship to Simon, who is either her "father" or her "husband." The revisions on page 3 (below right) in the exchanges between Elnora and her son Isom about the distance between Mississippi and Carolina are also interesting for what they suggest about Faulkner's representation of Negro education or intelligence.

Page 1, An Empress Passed MS     Page 2, An Empress Passed MS     Page 3, An Empress Passed MS

The extant typescript bears the title "There Was a Queen," so probably represents a revision Faulkner made in 1930, to send the story out to other magazines. On its second page (below center) it identifies Simon as "Elnora's mother's husband," a locution that calls additional attention to Elnora's own white father, but Faulkner apparently is still unsure how to refer to that ancestry. The marginal interpolation "neither of them knew it" has now been adopted, and supplemented with "including Bayard's father" - a phrase that makes the fact that John Sartoris is also Elnora's father invisible, and takes the white slave-owner himself somewhat off the hook (below left). But at the end of this sentence Faulkner adds the word "possibly," which suggests how unlikely it would be that any of the three people most involved - white father, white son, mulatta daughter - would not know about their relationship. Both the manuscript above and this typescript (below left) begin the story in Elnora's cabin; in fact, the typescript describes both the cabin's interior and the life Elnora lives there in expanded detail. The focus of the story, however, like Faulkner's first two Yokanatawpha fictions, is clearly on the upper class white families (Sartoris, Benbow and Compson); not until much later, in works like "Pantaloon in Black" (1940) and Intruder in the Dust (1948), will Faulkner's imagination again go so intimately into the world his black characters inhabit.

The remaining pages below - pages 9-19 of the typescript - tell the contrasting stories of Jenny's behavior in 1869 and Narcissa's in the 20th century as Faulkner originally organized it, letting Elnora tell much of it in her own voice.   Told this way, the narrative itself is not directly implicated in the anti-semitism of the depiction of "the Jew" with whom Narcissa has sex (page 13). The representation of race remains an interesting feature: Elnora is compared to an "Indian," for example, and Elnora herself labels Narcissa a "nigger" (page 9).

Page 1, There Was a Queen TS     Page 2, There Was a Queen TS     Detail: page 9, There Was a Queen TS

Page 10, There Was a Queen TS     Page 11, There Was a Queen TS     Page 12, There Was a Queen TS

Page 13, There Was a Queen TS     Page 14, There Was a Queen TS     Page 15, There Was a Queen TS

Page 16, There Was a Queen TS     Page 17, There Was a Queen TS     Page 18, There Was a Queen TS

Page 19, There Was a Queen TS

Most of the typescripts in the Faulkner Foundation Collection are the carbon copies of his works that Faulkner retained when he sent them out for publication. This typescript is the original "ribbon" copy, which would ordinarily have been kept by the publisher or editor who bought a text. That Faulkner ended up with it is a reminder of how the story was rejected more than once between 1929 and 1932. (The upper righthand corner of the first page, where he often furnished the name and address of his New York agent, was probably torn off by Faulkner himself.) Faulkner sent clean typed copies of his works to potential buyers, so the many handwritten changes, additions and cancellations on this typescript suggest that when, sometime after getting it back with a rejection letter, Faulkner undertook yet another revision, he began with this typescript as the basis for a new version. However, the other (untitled) manuscript that survives is clearly a still later revision, with a fresh start and a revised narrative structure. Now the story begins with Elnora outside her cabin, and gets right to John Sartoris and the big house he built (below left). The new parenthetical remark Faulkner added to the reference to John's role as Elnora's father as well as Bayard's indicates that the anxiety aroused by the issue of miscegenation still persists - "(possibly but not probably) neither of them knew it, including Bayard's father." This wobbly phrasing underwent yet one more slight change for the published text. On the whole this manuscript organizes the text essentially as Scribner's published it in early 1933. Much of what Elnora had told in the earlier versions is now expressed in the narrator's own voice, including the reference to the Jewish F.B.I. agent's ethnicity (below right; this passage too underwent further revision before the story was in print, which suggests that this issue also carried its own set of ambivalences).

Page 1, There Was a Queen MS     Detail: page 5, There Was a Queen MS

The first person to reject the story - Alfred Dashiell, the editor at Scribner's - told Faulkner that it was "nearer to being publishable than most of your short pieces," but objected to the way the "background . . . overwhelms the early part of the story." This was in July, 1929, almost a year before Faulkner sold any of his short stories to a national magazine. At this point in his career he was particularly vulnerable to the judgments of editors, but there is no evidence that he considered, much less took, Dashiell's advice. He did revise the story, on several different occasions, but not to reduce the role of the "background" - i.e. the larger story of the Sartoris family, which reaches its climax with Miss Jenny's death as a kind of judgment on Narcissa and the modern world. According to the revisions he did make, what he struggled with the most was defining Elnora's role in both stories: the history of the Sartoris family and the telling of Faulkner's tale. Along with his changes in the story's reference to the "Jew" with whom Narcissa has sex, the pattern of his revisions points to his concern about the place of racial and ethnic "Others" in the world he is creating.  In every version, he's sure about Elnora's value as a powerful witness to both Jenny's greatness and Narcissa's failings, but never seems to resolve the question of what Elnora's presence as John's illegitimate, unacknowledged "black" daughter says about the larger "Sartoris" legacy.

      Citing this source:
Stephen Railton, "Manuscripts &c: 'There Was a Queen,'" Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, (Date added to project: 2017)