"Lizards in Jamshyd’s Courtyard" (Text Key 239)

short story

"Lizards in Jamshyd's Courtyard" is one of Faulkner's earliest Yoknapatawpha stories. He probably began writing it in the late 1920s, and intended it, like "Spotted Horses," for Father Abraham, his unfinished novel about the rise of Flem Snopes. After reworking it for a year or so, in May 1930 he sent the story to the Saturday Evening Post, which published it on 27 February 1932.

Faulkner's original title for the story was "Omar's Eighteenth Quatrain." For most readers that title is probably as mystifying as the one he finally chose, though it does at least explain the source he drew on. The following couplet is from Edmund FitzGerald's 1884 translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: "They say the Lion and the Lizard keep/The courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep." Both titles may seem remote from Yoknapatawpha, but the idea of fallen grandeur was in fact very close to the heart of Faulkner's own artistic and cultural vision, especially early in his career. Jamshyd was a great Persian king; the "Old Frenchman" whose decaying plantation provides the setting of the story was an old southern grandee. There are no Lions in Faulkner's story, but it's easy to see who the Lizards are: the greedy and gullible "peasants" of Frenchman's Bend (141), who prey on each other and grub for treasure in the dirt. The story treats its theme of the lost past (and the squalid present) with a well-maintained balance of comic and serious elements.

About a decade after finishing the story, Faulkner revised it again for inclusion in The Hamlet (1940), the first volume of the Snopes Trilogy. The goat-buying business is depicted in Book One of the novel. The treasure-seeking is recounted in Book Four; the novel ends with Flem, with his ill-gotten title to half a Jefferson restaurant in his pocket, heading toward town, determined to keep moving up in society.

Dating the Story: When re-told in The Hamlet, Flem moves to Jefferson in the late 19th century, but the events of the short story take place in the 1920s. This is indicated by a pair of unambiguous chronological references at the beginning: the road to the Old Frenchman's place has been unused "for almost sixty years" (135), and it's been "sixty years" since "Grant passed through the land on his Vicksburg campaign" (136). Vicksburg fell to Grant in 1863; the Frenchman's place was abandoned at the end of the Civil War in 1865. So we have located the story's second act, Flem conning the treasure seekers, in 1923, and its first act, Flem out-maneuvering Suratt over the goats, "three years" earlier, in 1920 (140). The specific July dates we have assigned in 1923 are more arbitrary, but based on the text's reference to two nights as "two brief summer darks" (150).

First Publisher: 
Saturday Evening Post
First Publisher Date: 
27 February 1932
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Burgers, Johannes H., and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Lizards in Jamshyd’s Courtyard.'" Added to the project: 2016.  Additional editing 2021: Stephen Railton; 2022: Christopher Rieger. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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