Not Your Father’s Faulkner

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GAY FAULKNER: Uncovering a Homosexual
Presence in Yoknapatawpha and Beyond
by Philip Gordon
Univ. of Mississippi. 279 pages, $25.

 

 

WHEN I SAW the title of this Faulkner study, researched and written by a professor of English and gay studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, my first reaction was a “What?” of disbelief. I’ve read most of Faulkner’s novels and many of his short stories and the gay hypothesis never occurred to me. Faulkner struck me as the epitome of the straight, married, traditional Southern author, living his life far from the up-to-date delights of the metropolis.

            But it appears that I didn’t read closely enough; nor had I happened on earlier studies of the author’s work that gently open the topic of queerness. Young Faulkner’s self-presentation was affected enough to be called “quair” by the more conventional residents in Oxford, Mississippi, writing decadent poetry and adding dandyish touches to his outfits. Professor Gordon doesn’t claim unequivocally that Faulkner ever engaged in same-sex acts. He only allows for the possibility that it might have happened with a pretty undergraduate at Ole Miss named Ben Wasson. Their friendship began in 1910 and continued throughout Faulkner’s life, taking on a business aspect when Wasson worked as the author’s literary agent for several years. It seems that during the early phase of their friendship, they spent long evenings together at a friend’s house during his absence, the two listening to music and discussing the arts.

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Alfred Corn is the author of eleven books of poems, two novels, and three collections of essays. His new version of Rilke’sDuino Elegies will be published by Norton in 2021.

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