"A Name for the City" (Text Key 18525)

short story

"A Name for the City," Faulkner said, was a "by-product" of his work on the novel Requiem for a Nun (1951). When he sent the 24-page typescript of the story to his agent, Harold Ober, in July, 1950, Faulkner said "I would like to have a Sat Eve Post price" for the story. The Saturday Evening Post, where seventeen of his short stories had already been published, paid writers the most money. But, he added, "I feel that every writer (old bloke) owes some gesture to the Harper golden issue" - referring to the 100th anniversary issue that Harper's magazine had announced - and suggested Ober said the story to them "in case you dont get a good price anywhere" else. Harper's bought the story for $500 and did publish it in its Centennial issue in October, 1950. When the story appeared, it was identified as "the eleventh Faulkner story that has appeared in Harper's."

Our representation of the story is based on that original publication. The story was not written in time for Faulkner to consider including it in his Collected Stories (1950), and Joseph Blotner did not choose to reprint it in his edition of Faulkner's Uncollected Stories (1979).  The story it tells forms the first twenty pages of the opening section of Requiem: "Act I The Courthouse (A Name for the City)."  As Noel Polk notes, for the novel Faulkner made "numerous stylistic revisions" in the text, and a major structural one: in the novel the story is told in the third-person, without the first-person narrator and his "Uncle."  The novel also includes other Yoknapatawpha names on the list of those present in the town’s development - "Sartoris and Stevens, Compson and McCaslin and Sutpen and Coldfield."  Where the story stops as soon as the settlement gets its name, the novel goes on to recount the building and the continuing history of the county courthouse, including its destruction during the Civil War and its eventual reconstruction and modernization.

The short story is unusual in the manner of its telling: the narrator says he learned the story from "Uncle Gavin" (200), although most of the events occur over a hundred years earlier, not long before the time of the Great Removal of the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma. The narrator, who is surely Charles (Chick) Mallison, newphew of Gavin Stevens and a character as well as a frequent narrator in other Faulkner fictions, seems to be imitating or adapting his uncle's familiar Faulknerian rhetoric. The historical range of the story runs from about the turn into the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, contrasting the humorous or heroic behavior of the early settlers with the questionable preoccupations of the "present day" city’s leading citizens and providing a significant complex of additions to the history of Faulkner's mythical county.

Dating the Story: Our 1830 setting in time is much more precise than the actual narrative, which avoids giving its actions definite dates. There are a number of specific chronological referents in "A Name for the City." The militia band that captures the bandits are "ejected" by the settlement that becomes Jefferson on the day after the "Fourth of July" (201); the bandits break out of the jail and precipitate the crisis that results in giving the place its name "almost a quarter of a century" after the first white settlers' arrival (200); the Chickasaw Indians who were there first, and still there during the story, were removed to Oklahoma "in the thirties" - that is, the 1830s (202). But providing a date for the story is ultimately an interpretive act, and in some respects an arbitrary one. Our choice of 1830 is an attempt to balance competing probabilities. By putting the tale's July 4th about as late as possible before "the thirties," we make the arrival of Yoknapatawpha's first white inhabitants occur in 1805 - about as early as historically possible. But it needs to be emphasized that "1830" is our choice; Faulkner may have been thinking of a time half a decade earlier or later.

SOURCES: Joseph Blotner, ed., Selected Letters of William Faulkner, 306; Noel Polk, Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun: A Critical Study, 18.

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Harper's Magazine
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October 1950
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How to cite this resource:
Carothers, James B. and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'A Name for the City.'" Added to the project: 2018.  Additional editing 2020: Stephen Railton; 2022: Jennie J. Joiner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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