The other day my bookseller airily assured me that nobody reads Faulkner nowadays. If he had said 'nobody under sixty' I might not so easily have dismissed his opinion as Celtic hyperbole. Certainly age is cardinal in this matter. When Faulkner got the Nobel Prize for 1949 we all wanted to read this genius who was apparently not widely known even in his own country: four or five years earlier, when Malcolm Cowley was preparing his anthology The Portable Faulkner, it had come as a shock to him to discover that only one of his author's novels was in print. And that one was the near-porno Sanctuary, about a young woman who was raped with a corncob, a cheap yarn which Faulkner, then in dire penury, had concocted to sell and which, one hopes to his annoyance, sold more than all his previous works. Today his entire canon is available but no volume that I have looked at in our local public library has been issued to more than three subscribers each year. His fine As I lay dying, which after his indubitable masterpiece Light in August I consider his best, has been borrowed only four times since 1977 by the discriminating members of the London Library. Out of his 23 novels and books of stories, Penguin now offers only seven. That Nobel is over thirty Nobels old.
LRB 16 April 1981 | PDF Download