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Faulkner at Virginia Photo
Photograph by Ralph Thompson
© Rector and Visitors, University of Virginia

During the 1957 and 1958 Spring semesters, William Faulkner was the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. During that time he appeared at thirty-six different public events, reading from his work and answering over 1400 questions from students, faculty and others. Thanks to two members of the Department of English, Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner, most of those sessions were recorded, and preserved on tape in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library. Over 28 hours of the recordings have been digitized, and are available online in the Faulkner at Virginia audio archive . The mp3 clips available below have been taken from that archive, and are playable on most devices.

The Sound and the Fury Audio Clips

NOTE: Faulkner read a passage from the novel on May 23, 1958, as part of his last public event as Writer-in-Residence. You can hear it at the Faulkner at Virginia archive.

Why doesn’t Caddy have her own section? (15 February 1957; 1:24)
How should we feel about Caddy? (15 February 1957; 1:03)
Why does the novel include so many italics and so little grammar? (27 April 1957; 2:08)
What do the shadows in Quentin’s section signify? (15 February 1957; 1:02)
What is the significance of the novel’s dates? (13 March 1957; 0:33)
What role does Mr. Compson play in Quentin’s life? (15 February 1957; 1:43)
Which people are doomed? (2 May 1958; 1:00)
Is Jason a bastard? (15 April 1957; 0:25)

Why doesn’t Caddy have her own section? (15 February 1957; 1:24)

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner

William Faulkner: Sir.

Unidentified participant: In The Sound and the Fury, the first three sections of that book are narrated by one of the—of the four Compson children, and in view of the fact that Caddy figures so prominently, is there any particular reason why you didn't have a section with—giving her views or impressions of what went on?

William Faulkner: That's a good question. That—the explanation of that whole book is in that. It began with the—the picture of the—the little girl's muddy drawers, climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers that didn't have the courage to climb the tree waiting to see what she saw. and I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn't enough. That was Section One. I tried with another brother, and that wasn't enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to—to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more—more passionate to see her through somebody else's eyes, I thought. And that failed, and I tried myself, the fourth section, to tell what happened, and I still failed. [audience laughter] So—


How should we feel about Caddy? (15 February 1957; 1:03)

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I've been very much interested in what it seems to me you did—maybe you didn't—in The Sound and the Fury, in the character of Caddy. To me she is a very sympathetic character and perhaps the most sympathetic white woman in the book, and yet we get pictures of her only through someone else's comments, and most of these comments are quite hostile and—and wouldn't lead you to admire her on the surface, and yet—and yet I do. Did you mean for us to have this feeling about Caddy, and if so, how did you go about reducing it by these negative pictures that we get of her?

William Faulkner: To me she was the—the beautiful one. She was—she was my heart's darling. That's what I wrote the book about—

Unidentified participant: Well that's what I —

William Faulkner: And I used the—the tools which seemed to me the—the proper tools to try to tell—try to draw the picture of Caddy.


Why does the novel include so many italics and so little grammar? (27 April 1957; 2:08


William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in The Sound and the Fury, can you tell me exactly why some of that is written in italics? What does that denote?

William Faulkner: I had to use some method to indicate to the reader that this idiot had no sense of time, that what happened to him ten years ago was just yesterday. The—the way I wanted to do it was to use different colored inks, but that would have cost so much the publisher couldn't undertake it.

Unidentified participant: Doesn't that go on with Quentin, too?

William Faulkner: Yes, because he was about half-way between madness and sanity. It wasn't as much as—as in Benjy's part, because Quentin was only half way between Benjy and Jason. Jason didn't need italics because he was quite sane.

Unidentified participant: And another thing I—I noticed, you don't advise that people have to have a subject, a predicate, and a verb, and all those things. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Well, I—I think that's really not a fair question. [audience laughter] I was—I was trying to—to tell this story as it seemed to me that idiot child saw it. And that idiot child, to me, didn't know what a question, what an interrogation was. He didn't know too much about grammar. He spoke only through his senses.

Unidentified participant: I'm referring mostly to Quentin, and he certainly—he attended Harvard. He should have known.

William Faulkner: Well, Quentin was—was an educated half-madman, [audience laughter] and so he dispensed with grammar. Because it was all clear to his half-mad brain, and it seemed to him, it would be clear to anybody else's brain, that what he saw was quite logical, quite clear.



What do the shadows in Quentin's section signify? (15 February 1957; 1:02)

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: I am interested in the—in the symbolism in The Sound and the Fury, and I wasn't able to figure out exactly the significance of the shadow symbol with Quentin. It's referred to over and over again. He steps into the shadow, his shadow is before him, his shadow is over him, after him, [behind]. More importantly, what is the significance of this shadow?

William Faulkner: That wasn't a deliberate symbolism. I would say that that—that shadow that stayed on his mind so much was a—a foreknowledge of his own death, that he was—death is here, shall I step into it, or—or shall I step away from it a little longer? I won't escape it, but shall I accept it now, or shall I put it off until next Friday or—I think that was—if it had any reason that must have been it.


What is the significance of the novel’s dates? (13 March 1957; 0:33)

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: What symbolic meaning did you give to the dates of The Sound and the Fury?

William Faulkner: Now there's a matter of hunting around in the carpenter's shop to find a tool that will make a better chicken-house. And probably—I'm sure it was quite instinctive that I picked out Easter, but that I wasn't writing any symbolism of the Passion Week at all. I just—that was a tool that was good for the particular corner I was going to turn in my chicken-house, and so I used it.


What role does Mr. Compson play in Quentin’s life? (15 February 1957; 1:43)

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, I'd like to ask you about Quentin [and] his father. I think many readers get the impression that Quentin is the way he is to a large extent because of his father's lack of values or the fact that he doesn't seem to pass down to his son many values that will sustain him. Do you think that Quentin winds up the way he does primarily because of that, or are we meant to see, would you say, that the action comes primarily from what he is, just abetted by what he gets from his father?

William Faulkner: The action as portrayed by Quentin was transmitted to him through his father. There was a—a basic failure before that. The grandfather had been a failed brigadier twice in the Civil War. It was the—the basic failure Quentin inherited through his father, or beyond his father. It was a—it's—something had happened somewhere between the first Compson and—and Quentin. The first Compson was a—a bold ruthless man who came into Mississippi as a free forester to—to grasp where and when he could and wanted to, and established what should have been a princely line, and that princely line decayed.


Which people are doomed? (2 May 1958; 1:00)

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

John Church: Sir, you've mentioned that these people in The Sound and the Fury are doomed. Is it your theory also that people everywhere are doomed or is it just these people in Mississippi?

William Faulkner: No, no, [audience laughter] only the— [Faulkner laughing] no, only—only the Compson family—

John Church: Sir?

William Faulkner: Only that Compson family.

John Church: Oh, the Compsons.

William Faulkner: That they had refused to accept now and tomorrow. And there's no place for them in now because they wouldn't accept it. Or maybe that's backward, if there had been a place for them, they wouldn't have been Compsons. No, that's what Dilsey meant by the first and the last. It was the Compsons, that family. That was Quentin's thought. It's not Mississippians nor folks in Jefferson, but—but "us Compsons are doomed, that we have had it."


Is Jason a bastard? (15 April 1957; 0:25)

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. I'm sorry. Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Well, this is more or less a question of fact. In The Sound and the Fury, was Jason Compson, did you—was he a bastard?

William Faulkner: No, no, not a—not an actual one, only but—in behavior. [audience laughter]