"A Courtship" (Text Key 4674)

short story

"A Courtship" was written in the spring, 1942, about a decade after Faulkner's other Indian stories. It was rejected by half a dozen magazines before the Sewanee Review finally offered $200 for it in 1948. When he accepted the offer, Faulkner asked them to change the name he originally gave the white steamboat pilot from Calicoat (a name he had used for the pilot in "A Justice," 1931) to Hogganbeck. As he told his agent, "I wrote that story before I had my Yoknapatawpha genealogy straightened out." The renamed David Hogganbeck thus becomes the grandfather of Boon Hogganbeck, who plays prominent roles in both Go Down, Moses (1942) and The Reivers (1962).

At first reading, "A Courtship" seems like a bit of Faulknerian fluff: mock-heroic in tone, it seemingly recounts the romantic rivalry between the Indian Ikkemotubbe and the white Hogganbeck, for the lovely sister of Indian Herman Basket. For many readers, however, the story's most interesting courtship is between the two male protagonists.  Neither of them wins the woman's heart. When she marries someone else, Ikkemotubbe in particular is devastated; he leaves his family and tribe only to return years later self-christened as Doom, with eight slaves and a box of poison. Ikkemotubbe|Doom appears in Faulkner's first two Indian stories and is referred to in other texts, including the so-called Compson Appendix to The Sound and the Fury; the details of his family history vary among these, but his biographical arc remains consistent. He is the corrupt, murderous leader of a people also corrupted by the institutions of a white culture that literally removes them from its midst.

Sewanee published the story in October 1948. It won the 1949 O. Henry Prize. In 1950 Faulkner reprinted it in his Collected Stories, as the first of four stories about Native Americans; our representation of the story is based on that publication. "A Courtship" was the last published of the forty-two tales included in Collected Stories, and is among the last short stories Faulkner ever wrote.

Dating the Story: Faulkner wrote three stories about the Yoknapatawpha Indian tribe once ruled by Ikkemotubbe|Doom. Certain events occur in all three, in particular Ikkemotubbe's trip to New Orleans and return some years later as Doom. Though third in order of publication,  "A Courtship" comes first in terms of Ikkemotubbe's life.  But its specific reference to the treaty between chief Issetibbeha (here Ikkemotubbe's uncle) and General Andrew Jackson means that Ikkemotubbe's trip has to take place chronologically years after the same trip takes place in either "Red Leaves" or "A Justice." This kind of discrepancy almost certainly didn't matter to Faulkner, but it means that any date we choose for this "courtship" is essentially speculative. Our speculations have some basis: we locate the story and the later telling of it between the historic treaty the Chickasaws signed with the U.S. government in 1818, and the removal of the tribe from Mississippi by the U.S. government in the early 1830s. But Faulkner may have had different dates in mind as he wrote.

First Publisher: 
Sewanee Review
First Publisher Date: 
Fall 1948
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Vintage International
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How to cite this resource:
Railton, Stephen, and Theresa M. Towner. "Faulkner's 'A Courtship.'" Added to the project: 2016. Additional editing 2020-2021: Ben Robbins, Jennie J. Joiner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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