"Ad Astra" (Text Key 232)

short story

"Ad Astra," meaning "to the stars" (from the motto of the Royal Air Force), was the title of an early Faulkner story that apparently has been lost. Faulkner used the title again when he wrote this "Ad Astra" sometime late in 1930. It was first published in American Caravan in 1931, revised slightly by Faulkner for his collection These 13 (1931), and included in the Collected Stories (1950), which is the version on which our representation is based. Faulkner retained his interest in this story and its characters, making one of them, Monaghan, the central character and narrator of "Honor," a non-Yoknapatawpha story written at approximately the same time as this "Ad Astra."  Two decades later he returned to Monaghan in A Fable (1954). More importantly, he placed "Ad Astra" first among the five World War I stories he gathered in "The Wasteland" section of Collected Stories.

At first the story seems far removed in geography and culture from the other Yoknapatawpha fictions.  Set near and in Amiens, a French city north of Paris, on the evening of November 11, 1918, the day World War I ended, it brings together a group of Allied veterans who have flown in the British Flying Corps though they mostly come from America and Ireland. Among these men is a Sartoris, and the story has its origins in Faulkner's first Yoknapatwapha novel (published in abridged form as Sartoris in 1929, eventually restored and published in 1973 under Faulkner's original title: Flags in the Dust). Among the most significant events in either version of the novel are the death in air combat of young John Sartoris, followed by his twin brother Bayard's revenge on the German aviator who shot him down.  These events are briefly re-told in "Ad Astra," but the main focus of this story is on the larger group that includes Sartoris, the survivors of the War, a lost generation who, as a character puts it, "will walk the earth [as] a spirit" while still alive (428).

The narrator looks back at these men from the 1930 vantage point he shares with the story's readers. He is still reflecting on the consequences of the war that was "fought to end war forevermore" (409).  He recalls the barely articulate expressions and wants of the aviators (Comyn, Monaghan, Sartoris, and Bland) and the more elaborate personal narratives and philosophical musings provided by two non-aviators, the Indian subadar and the German prisoner.  These two educated and articulate men expound on the futility of war and explain their own behavior in polite opposition to such carnage. His story demonstrates that none of the surviving airmen manage to enjoy the "peace" that has arrived, neither through alcohol, brawling, or whoring. Nor is the narrator satisfied with the rationalizations of the subadar and the captured German.  Ultimately, all of them are lost.  "After twelve years" he says, "I think of us as bugs in the surface of the water, isolant and aimless and unflagging. . . . . Out of nothing we howled, unwitting the storm which we had escaped and the foreign strand which we could not escape; that in the interval between two surges of the swell we died who had been too young to have ever lived" (408).

First Publisher: 
Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith
First Publisher Location: 
New York
First Publisher Date: 
Page Start: 
Page Stop: 
Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
Edit Copy Publisher Date: 
Search DIsplay Order: 
Publication Date: 

<p>How to cite this resource:<br />
Carothers, James B. and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Ad Astra.'" Added to the project: 2017. Additional editing 2019: Jennie J. Joiner, Christopher Rieger. <em>Digital Yoknapatawpha</em>, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu