Monday, March 04, 2013

Hemingway, Faulkner, and longer sentences

Reid's post below absolutely delighted me, because it showed me once again how my good friend and I share certain tastes and beliefs even when we don't know it. If you haven't read his post below read and come back...

All set? Next month Lyons publishes my A Sportsman's Library: 100 Essential, Engaging, Offbeat, and Occasionally Odd Fishing and Hunting Books for the Adventurous Reader. Here are some of my thoughts on Hemingway and Faulkner.

On EH and Green Hills: "Turn away from the petty rivalry and savor this wonderful passage (just two sentences, for those who insist that Faulkner wrote better ones) on the hunter’s life in our oldest home:

'I’d make some money some way and when we came back we would come to the old man’s village in trucks, then pack in with porters so there wouldn’t be any damned car to worry about, send the porters back, and make a camp in the timber up the stream above the Roman’s and hunt that country slowly, living there and hunting out each day, sometimes laying off and writing for a week, or writing half the day, or every other day, and get to know it as I knew the country around the lake where we were brought up. I’d see the buffalo feeding where they lived, and when the elephants came through the hills we would see them and watch them breaking branches and not have to shoot, and I would lie in the fallen leaves and watch the kudu feed out and never fire a shot unless I saw a better head than this one in back, and instead of trailing that sable bull, all gut-shot to hell, all day, I’d lie behind a rock and watch them on the hillside and see them long enough so they belonged to me forever.'

And on Faulkner and Big Woods:

"'The Bear,' embedded later in Big Woods and earlier in the shaggy collection Go Down Moses, which some still think is his best work, is America’s iconic hunting saga. Without it would writers like Bill Humphrey ever have written their tales?

The battle between a heroic feral Airedale mix, Lion, and the wounded bear, Old Ben, is a clash of titans.

'This time the bear didn’t strike him down. It caught the dog in both arms, almost loverlike, and they both went down. He was off the mule now. He drew back both hammers of the gun but he could see nothing but moiling spotted houndbodies until the bear surged up again. Boon was yelling something, he could not tell what; he could see Lion still clinging to the bear’s throat and he saw the bear, half erect, strike one of the hounds with one paw and hurl it five or six feet and then, rising and rising as though it would never stop, stand erect again and begin to rake at Lion’s belly with its forepaws. Then Boon was running. The boy saw the gleam of the blade in his hand and watched him leap among the hounds, hurtling them, kicking them aside as he ran, and fling himself astride the bear as he had hurled himself onto the mule, his legs locked around the bear’s belly, his left arm under the bear’s throat where Lion clung, and the glint of the knife as it rose and fell.'

Faulkner is often accused of not being able to do action; the last paragraph should cure any thoughts of that. He is justly celebrated as the master of southern impressionism. Let me leave you with his land and the hunter’s place in it:

'The Big Woods, the Big Bottom, the wilderness, vanished now from where he had first known it; the very spot where he and Sam were standing when he heard his first running hounds and cocked the gun and saw the first buck, was now thirty feet below the surface of a government-built flood-control reservoir whose bottom was rising gradually and inexorably each year on another layer of beer cans and bottle tops and lost bass plugs; the wilderness itself, where he had served his humble apprenticeship to the rough food and the rough sleeping, the life of hungers; mean and horses and hounds, not to slay the game but to pursue it, touch and let go, never satiety; —the wilderness, the Big Woods themselves being shoved, pushed just as inexorably further and further on until now the mile-long freight trains were visible for miles across the cotton fields, seeming to pass two or even three of the little Indian-named hamlets at one time over the ground where every November they would run the ritual of the old warp-footed bear; —the Big Woods, shoved, pushed further and further down into the notch where the hills and the Big River met, where they would make their last stand.'


Reid Farmer said...

Well then, you need to come up here for another book signing!

Anonymous said...

"The Bear" has always been MY favorite Faulkner tale, too, probably because there is enough dawg and critter lore to keep me interested. Long sentences? Are there laws er summthin' about that? If they kin hold thar breth long enough to say it out, I reckon the length is their bizzness. I never put much stock in spellin' ner punkchewashun, anyway. But then, you guys awreddy new that.....L.B.

Anonymous said...

Here is one of Hemingway's best paragraphs:

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.

Faulkner certainly could write action. I often think of Darl's account of Jewel collecting his horse in the third chapter of As I Lay Dying. And of course the final scene of The Sound and the Fury, a work IMHO equal to the best of Shakespeare.


Anonymous said...

....hey, that could actually make a purty good quote, come to think of it--"I never let spelling or punctuation get in the way of telling a good story"--and you can quote me on that!....L.B.