"Miss Zilphia Gant" (Text Key 4665)

short story

"Miss Zilphia Gant" is one of Faulkner's earliest Yoknapatawpha stories, although it keeps its focus so closely on the grotesque relationship between Zilphia and her mother that except for a reference to mule-trading, the main places in the story - "the Bend" and Jefferson - could just as easily be in Sherwood Anderson's small-town Ohio as in Mississippi. According to Joseph Blotner, the version of the story that Faulkner sent Scribner's Magazine at the end of 1928 was a revision of an earlier submission; this idea is corroborated by the materials in the Faulkner Foundation Collection at Virginia, which include two different (undated) typescript texts. Alfred Dashiell, the editor at Scribner's, told the author it was "by far the most coherent thing of yours I have seen," but nonetheless rejected it. In 1929 it was rejected by H.L. Mencken's American Mercury. The next year it was bought by the Southwest Review, but later deemed too long for that periodical. The Review editor sold it to the Book Club of Texas, which published it as a limited edition volume in 1932; the volume includes a perceptive preface by "Henry Smith," who is better known now as Henry Nash Smith. Faulkner never chose to include it in any of his story collections, and it was not republished until Blotner's Uncollected Stories (1979). Blotner's text reprints the Book Club's text; our representation of the story derives from Blotner's.

Dating the Story: The story's internal time stamps are very specifically spelled out. Zilphia is two years old when it begins, and forty-two when it ends; she and her mother live in a single room in the back of the "dressmaking shop" for 23 years; Zilphia starts school when she is 9; reaches puberty at 13; leaves Jefferson twice for "three years" each time; and so on. However, the text provides no explicit information about when, chronologically, its four-decade narrative takes place. Based on the fact that at its beginning people trade mules and ride wagons, while near the end someone is run over by an automobile, it seems likely that Faulkner imagined it happening from the late 19th century up through the present in which it was written.

The story's one glaring internal inconsistency - the thirteen years that apparently go by between the time Zilphia's husband's pregnant second wife checks into the hospital and the time she dies giving birth - is explained, though not made intelligible, by looking at the manuscript revision, as you can do elsewhere in Digital Yoknapatawpha.

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The Book Club of Texas
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Vintage International
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How to cite this resource:
Padgett, John, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Miss Zilphia Gant.'" Added to the project: 2018. Additional editing 2018: John Padgett, Stephen Railton.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu