Faulkner, Foote, Percy, Percy, and Kauffman, P.C.

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A snapshot of the southern literary tradition in the early 20th century

Photo by Emily Corley on Unsplash

I think Bill Kauffman has more literary anecdotes than any man alive. If you go to the Quote Machine on the front page of this site (lower right corner), the top four quotes currently are all from Kauffman’s relatively-unknown Poetry Night at the Ball Park.

I ran across this passage last night while recovering from a migraine and just flipping through my random notes:

Among my favorite interviewees was novelist and Civil War epicist Shelby Foote. I showed up at his stockbroker-Tudor home in Memphis about noon. Foote, long-haired, wearing ratty pajamas, answered the door and drawled, “Ah wuz jes’ fixin’ ta go ta thuh whiskey stoah.” He had more cool in one grey hair than every Southern expatriate writer in Manhattan combined.

I don’t know much about Shelby Foote, but I remembered that he was friends with Walker Percy and they both admired William Faulkner, especially Foote.

When he was about 22, in the summer of 1938, Foote and Percy decided to drive to Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi. Foote concocted a reason to contact Faulkner: He wanted to get a copy of The Marble Faun, which was the first book Faulkner published (a collection of poems).

When they got there, Percy refused to get out of the car. “I don’t know that man and he doesn’t know me and I’m not going to bother him.”

Foote went up to the door by himself, and Faulkner apparently received him graciously (they would go on to be friends). At the end of this first conversation, Foote said that a relative of Will Percy’s was in the car and asked if he wanted to meet him.

Will raised Walker after his father committed suicide. Will was a well-known literary figure. Though homosexual and a Catholic sympathiser, I get the impression he was a proper southern gentleman otherwise and didn’t have a great view of Faulkner.

A few years earlier, Faulkner was invited to Will’s house with a friend to play tennis. Faulkner, “being in one of his bohemian phases” (Jay Tolson), refused to wear shoes. He had also been sipping corn whiskey and was pretty drunk when they arrived. By the time the doubles match started, Faulkner was having troubles standing up and at one point fell down while lunging for a ball.

Will suggested to Faulkner’s friend that he “take him for a drive,” which I think is a polite way of saying, “Get him out of here.”

So it was an awkward memory for Faulkner, but he went out and met Walker anyway. It was apparently a polite but awkward exchange, then Foote and Percy drove away.