"Centaur in Brass" (Text Key 236)

short story

Faulkner probably wrote "Centaur in Brass" in 1930 or 1931. H.L. Mencken accepted it for publication in the February 1932 American Mercury after Scribner's Magazine editor Kyle Crichton had rejected it on the grounds that readers preferred to see Flem Snopes as the victor rather than the vanquished. (Such is the case in "Spotted Horses," which Scribner's printed in June 1931.) Faulkner did not include either story or "Mule in the Yard," another Snopes escapade, in his first short story collections, These 13 (1931) and Doctor Martino (1934). He explained to Malcolm Cowley that he planned to use them in another volume, and eventually he revised "Centaur" and "Mule" for use in The Town (1957), the second volume of his trilogy about the Snopeses. When he agreed to his editor's suggestion in 1948 that he publish a career-spanning collection of stories, however, he included "Centaur" as the third story in "The Village" section of Collected Stories (1950), between "Hair" and "Dry September." It is this version that provides the basis for our edition.

Dating the Story: "Centaur in Brass" is in many ways contiguous with "Spotted Horses" and Faulkner's other early Snopes material. Most of these tales take place during the first decade of the twentieth century, with Mrs. Snopes' daughter born around 1908. Two details kept us from dating "Centaur" in that time frame, however. First, Tom-Tom is sixty at the time of Flem's brass-stealing, and he has worked at the power plant for forty years, which would mean that Jefferson got electricity in 1873 or so, an historical impossibility. Second, Flem's bungalow is surrounded by "ditches filled with scrapped automobiles and tin cans" (168), again anachronistic for a present time of the mid-Teens. Adding to these details the fact of the story's timelessness - it gives no real clues as to its historical present tense - we have decided to date the story as contemporary with the time Faulkner wrote it. Given his extraordinary rate of production of short stories in the early Thirties, we speculate that he just didn't bother to align "Centaur" with the chronology of Flem's life elsewhere in his fiction.

First Publisher: 
American Mercury Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
February 1932
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Towner, Theresa M., and Lorie Watkins. "Faulkner's 'Centaur in Brass.'" Added to the project: 2015.  Additional editing 2018: John Corrigan, Jennie J. Joiner.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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