The Search for Writing Voice can Yield Many Voices

The answer to the question posed on Friday is William Faulkner. The excerpt is from his second book, MOSQUITOES. MOSQUITOES is the satirical tale of a Lake Pontchartrain boat trip out of New Orleans with an assortment of colorful passengers including as our paperback jacket says, “the rich and the aspiring, social butterflies and dissolute dilettantes.”
According to Faulkner, he wrote MOSQUITOES “for the sake of writing because it was fun.” Possibly his writing got less fun (or at least more personal) after that because his next book took up the subject matter that would occupy him for the rest of his life, fictional Yoknapatawpha County and his own upbringing in rural Mississippi.
MOSQUITOES had gotten good reviews: “…a brilliance that you can rightfully expect only in the writings of a few men”-Lillian Hellman, New York Herald Tribune . But Faulkner could not find a publisher for FLAGS IN THE DUST which was finally published in a scaled back version as SARTORIS.
It is wrong to say he found his voice with FLAGS because Faulkner spoke with many voices in his books. That incredible range is one reason he is among the greats. In AS I LAY DYING (1930) he writes from the multiple viewpoints of the Bundgren family. Here’s patriarch Anse:
But it’s a long wait, seems like. It’s bad that a fellow must earn the reward of his right-doing by flouting hisself and his dead. We drove all the rest of the day and got to Samson’s at dust dark and then that bridge was gone too.”
In the long, long sentences of ABSALOM, ABSALOM! (1936) (our personal favorite) Faulkner writes from the point of view of Quentin Compson:
“It was a summer of wisteria. The twilight was full of it and of the smell of his father’s cigar as they sat on the front gallery after supper until it would be time for Quentin to start, while in the deep, shaggy lawn below the veranda the fireflies blew and drifted in soft random–the odor, the scent, which five months later Mr. Compson’s letter would carry up from Mississippi and over the long iron New England snow and into Quentin’s sitting-room at Harvard.”
Each of these excerpts and the one on Friday are all Faulkner’s voices. We think they demonstrate that the search for voice is not something that occupies first time writers alone. It is a career long quest.