"Elly" (Text Key 4667)

short story

The story of "Elly"'s composition is unusually long and complex. We first hear of it when Scribner's Magazine rejected it in February, 1929. The rejection letter refers to it as "the story 'Salvage' done by you and E. Oldham." The story's actual title at that time was "Selvage" (a sewing term). "E. Oldham" was Estelle Oldham, whom Faulkner married in June, 1929; also from Oxford, Estelle was an unpublished writer, and the ambivalent rebelliousness displayed by Corinthia (as Elly, or Ailanthia, was originally named) appears in the central female protagonists of several other of the stories she wrote in the 1920s. But the earliest manuscript of "Selvage|Elly" does not survive, and there is no scholarly consensus on the nature of the collaboration between husband- and wife-to-be. The extant manuscript of "Selvage" has no author's name, but the typescript that Faulkner made from it carries only his. It may have been this version that he submitted, unsuccessfully, to two other magazines in April and May. Some years later he revised it as "Elly," the title under which it was finally published by Story magazine in February, 1934, with no acknowledgment of Estelle's authorial role. Faulkner republished it twice, in Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934), and in the "Village" section of Collected Stories (1950). It is the latter version on which we base our representation of it.

The story of "Elly" itself is also full of mysteries. Very little beyond his name is known about Paul, not even his race - though Elly's friend, her grandmother, and Elly herself all believe he is a "negro" who is passing as "white." Elly's sexual behavior, even before Paul abruptly enters her story, is mysterious even to herself. Faulkner's revisions expand the glimpses into her actions and state of mind before meeting Paul, drawing the focus away from him as a disruptive force in her life and toward Elly's frustration with the social expectations that have dogged her, as embodied in the forbidding form of her grandmother.

Dating the Story: The story's text is very specific about the chronological relationship among its events: "one afternoon" (209), "that night" (210), "the next afternoon" (210), and so on. And the phrase about "the augmenting summer" (214) helps us locate the time of year. But what year? "Selvage" would have been set during the 1920s, but would readers of "Elly" in 1934 have reason to push the events half a decade back into the past? The text gives them no reason to do that, so we have chosen the year before "Elly" was published - 1933 - for our representation. But it's important to acknowledge that a good case could be made for any year between 1928 and 1933.

References: James B. Meriwether, "Faulkner's Correspondence with Scribner's Magazine," Proof (1973); Judith L. Sensibar, Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art (New Haven: Yale, 2009).

First Publisher: 
Story Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
February 1934
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Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Penner, Erin Kay, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Elly.'" Added to the project: 2017.  Additional editing 2019: Stephen Railton; 2022: Ben Robbins. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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