Flags in the Dust (Text Key 217)


This was Faulkner's third novel, and the first he ever wrote about Yoknapatawpha, although at this early stage he called the county "Yocona." He began writing it in late 1926. It has been published in three different versions, which also have two different names: Sartoris and Flags in the Dust. After being rejected by eleven publishers, the book was accepted by Harcourt, Brace, on the condition that about a fourth of the manuscript be cut. The excisions were made by Ben Wasson, Faulkner's agent, and the shortened text published with the title Sartoris on 31 January 1929. In 1973, Douglas Day re-edited the book from the surviving typescript, restoring the cut passages and adding one from the published Sartoris. This edition, published by Random House, also restored Faulkner's original title, Flags in the Dust. In 2006 Noel Polk established a third version, also titled Flags in the Dust but differing in some respects from Day's edition; this was published in the Library of America volume William Faulkner: Novels 1926-1929. In 2012, the current publishers of Faulkner's fiction, Random House/Vintage International, chose to replace Day's edition with Polk's, making it the only version of the novel presently in print. For this reason, the Polk "corrected" text is the one on which this digital re-presentation is based.

Mapping the Story: Although Faulkner calls it "Yocona" (94), a lot of the unreal estate of Yoknapatawpha is already brought into existence by this first account of the county. Jefferson is there at its center, and the courthouse and square are there at the center of the town. The Sartoris plantation is there, north of town and exactly "four miles away" (76). So is the McCallum place, slightly further than "14 miles" northeast of town (359).  For the rest of Faulkner's career these locations will remain on the same spots in two dozen subsequent texts, though in 8 of them the McCallums' will morph into the McCaslin place. Other places that will recur are not so precisely plotted. For example, the Snopeses come from a "small settlement known as Frenchman's Bend" (166), and the hamlet already includes "Varner's store" and "Miss Littlejohn's boarding house" (278), but Flags gives no clear indication where to put the Bend on a map. In such cases we usually rely on the maps Faulkner drew 7 and 16 years after the novel was published. But if you're familiar with either of those maps, you will quickly see the most prominent difference between them and our representation of the county as it appears in the text. On Faulkner's representations Yoknapatawpha is bounded both north and south by a pair of rivers that run all the way across the maps. Two rivers are mentioned in the text. When Byron Snopes stops outside Frenchman's Bend at Minnie Sue Turpin's house, he hears an owl hooting "from the river bottom a mile away" (280); there's no reason why this couldn't be the southern river. When Bayard Sartoris sojourns at the MacCallums, he and Buddy hunt nearby "along the river channel" (351), but while this river must be north of Jefferson, it would misrepresent the text to follow Faulkner's maps in this case - because when Bayard earlier drove up the valley road to the unnamed college town north of Jefferson, the route "rises into hills," where one wouldn't find a slow-moving river (142). So on our map, this northern river just visits the county's northeastern corner.

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Harcourt Brace
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New York
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Padgett, John, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's Flags in the Dust." Added to the project: 2012.  Additional editing 2019: Ben Robbins.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

Associate Editors: