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He received Faulkner at his home with Wasson icily, but Wasson, in his memoir, concedes that maybe this reception had less to do with the review, more to do with the fact that Faulkner was red-faced with drink and barefoot, and, when asked to play a game of tennis, proved so obnoxious that Percy suggested Wasson take him home. According to Blotner, this meeting proved jovial and even affectionate, as if the two men were old friends from back home in Mississippi, though it does not appear they were or at least they had a very strange way of showing it.
Wasson later recruited the radio personality Alexander Woollcott to sing the praises of Sanctuary on his immensely popular radio show The Town Crier. Some critics claim Popeye, the twisted gangster at the heart of that novel, is modeled loosely on Reno DeVaux.
To the extent such a claim is true, then the influence of the Delta is twofold in the novel: the agent who helped sell it and the man at its core. This meeting would take place in late ; Faulkner would move to New Orleans in early Yet, as they schemed, Faulkner paused and turned his attention to the river.
You know what the Old Man is saying. On just such a levee near Greenville, people would cling to life during the Flood of That same year Faulkner would begin his series of Mississippi novels that would go on to redefine the very nature of narrative technique.
Though Lafayette County, as an actual place, does not expand quite far enough to encompass the Delta, the apocryphal Yoknapatawpha does. If the southeast corner of that county represents the vast hill country of the eastern side of Mississippi, then the open wilderness on the northwestern edges of Yoknapatawpha exceeds the merely manmade boundaries of a county line to include the entire mythic dimension of the Delta into which the waters of the Tallahatchie flow, ever westward, ever farther and farther on.
One can follow the strain of that apocryphal Delta in the wilderness along the Tallahatchie River in Yoknapatawpha County as a chronological strain flowing east to west in retreat from the encroachments of the modernized, industrial inroads of man and his vain attempts to tame it. Unfurled, these novels and stories present a Faulknerian history of the Delta. While certainly in theory such a space existed at some point in the longer geological history of the Delta, even when Faulkner begins his history of his Delta with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, he includes mention of older Indian mounds that archeological evidence can date to Mississippian Indian cultures vastly older than either of those two peoples.
When Issetibbeha dies, his slave is expected to join him in death; naturally, the slave runs for his life through the vast river bottom in which his enslavers have built a settlement that Faulkner even calls a plantation, or a stretch of cleared land for raising crops along the bottom of a tributary that, with slaves and a strict social hierarchy, approximates the social conditions that will later define white settlement in the Delta years later.
The slave runs for several days; the Indians give chase, but only as a formality and with no display of speed or enthusiasm. They see the chase as part of the ritual, and when they do finally catch the slave, they even congratulate him on a good run. The slave has been unable to escape because the wilderness surrounding him—though a small plantation is carved into the middle of it—is so dense and remote as to be inescapable.
The riverboat used to travel up the tributary during the spring floods, but one year it failed to return downriver in time and was stranded and eventually abandoned by the company that owned it. We eventually learn that, though he was born a poor white in the mountains of western Virginia, he has made himself rich through a previous marriage to a rich planter family in Haiti. He carries into the untamed Mississippi wilderness an unwavering drive for fortune and the dream of creating his own dynasty.
At one point, the French architect, recognizing that he himself is a slave, flees into the swamp. The swampy bottomland is still inescapable, still dense jungle waiting for a man strong enough to wrest from it a small plot of earth and establish a home for as long as he can before the wilderness of canebrakes and cypress trees re-encroaches. James Cobb, in his masterful history of the Delta, correctly points out that Sutpen might be the mythic image of the great Delta planter, but he is not the reality.
Poor men did not come to the Delta and make themselves rich; rich men came to the Delta to get richer. But his poor-white roots show. He hires a man named Wash Jones as a kind of overseer. When this courtship fails, Wash kills Sutpen. The old plantation house falls into disrepair and eventually burns.
They hunt all sorts of game in the bottom, but they are always keen on one particular animal, a bear so mythic as to have its own name, Old Ben. The story follows a sixteen-year-old Ike McCaslin into the Delta for the last great bear hunt. The old Chickasaw hunting guide, Sam Fathers, dies at virtually the same time. Within two years of killing Old Ben, Major de Spain has sold the old hunting camp to a logging company.
When Ike travels to the old camp two years later, he finds in its stead a lumber mill and newly laid railroad.
"The Bear" (Text Key 4672)
He finds Boon hunting squirrel in the one remaining tree in a vast clearing, the tree teaming with squirrels because it is the last place they have for refuge. This is all that is left of that old wilderness, one tree full of trapped squirrels. Ike expounds,. This Delta. But Faulkner, if not Ike, knows the final score of these changes.
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As the inroads of man push farther and farther into the V of the river, that notch of finally untamable Delta wilderness, they come to rely more and more heavily on the optics of control. They build mighty levees to hold back the natural yearly cycle of flooding and even model a prison on a planation, a fitting model in the Delta and one with deep roots. Within the walls of that prison, a tall convict can plow his little piece of earth in that Delta, indifferent to the shadow of the levee towering over him until, in , when the levee breaks. When he is sent to rescue a pregnant woman caught in a bramble, the current pulls his skiff into the flood and shoots him downriver, past Vicksburg and beyond the Delta into the heart of the main current of the Mississippi and even down farther, into the giant basin of the Atchafalaya and the untamed swampland there, and farther still, down to the very mouth of the Mississippi below New Orleans.
The tall convict follows the great path of the mighty pipework of the center of the continent from agrarian Delta to the sea.
The Delta and Yoknapatawpha: The Layering of Geography and Myth in the Works of William Faulkner
Then, slowly, methodically, the tall convict pushes himself back upriver, intent on returning to Parchman, which he considers a much easier, more predictable life than life out in the real world. As the flood recedes, the tall convict considers his adventure from the vantage point of a hapless survivor. It was largely as a result of the flood that in the s Faulkner would watch the old Tallahatchie River bottom flooded for the dam at Sardis, a slow, unfolding construction project contemporary to his writing Absalom, Absalom! As he recorded the Delta in his apocryphal county, he was watching the upper reaches of its footprint disappear from the geography, replaced by the lakes that now dot North Mississippi.
Yet Faulkner knew the land, and no new features could ever subsume his consciousness of it or the deeper, underlying memory of an older, wilder space within it. Still, as the wilderness moves farther and farther into the recesses of the landscape, there is always a sense that one good flood can reclaim the land for the wilderness. The sense that this destruction and reclamation can happen always lingers below the surface. We still value the high ground; we still maintain our levees; we still rely on our huge earthen dams. Perhaps, though, this is why Faulkner can elevate his county to the level of myth and why the Delta itself can retain that mythic sense of being a special space, different from anywhere else in the world, even from anywhere else in Mississippi.
For if the purpose of myth is to create order so as to understand the more mysterious qualities of our origins, then there must always remain below the surface that subcutaneous element on which to build upward our sense of self and of our place in the universe. It is an element at once terrifying and delightful, and exactly the stuff that makes the best stories worth telling at all. He wrote his dissertation on representations of homosexuality in the works of William Faulkner, and he is currently trying to convert that project into a book.
As he and his fellow prisoners enter the flood zone, the scene is described as follows: It was perfectly motionless, perfectly flat.
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Ike expounds, This Delta.