Category Archives: William Faulkner

The Dictionary Feud: Faulkner versus Hemingway

William Faulkner? Ernest Hemingway? Apocryphal?

dictionary10Dear Quote Investigator: Two major writers of the twentieth century disagreed sharply about the type of vocabulary that was advantageous in literary works. Apparently, Faulkner said that Hemingway had “no courage” because he tightly circumscribed his word choice. Hemingway punched back by stating that he did not need “ten-dollar words”. He also said that Faulkner’s writing had deteriorated because of his dependence on alcohol. Would you please examine this altercation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1947 William Faulkner visited the University of Mississippi by invitation. He answered questions posed by students in a Creative Writing class, and his remarks were transcribed. After a multi-year delay the text was published in the Summer 1951 issue of the quarterly “The Western Review”. When asked to evaluate his own position in the literary pantheon he made a critical comment about Hemingway. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Q. If you don’t think it too personal, how do you rank yourself with contemporary writers?

A. 1. Thomas Wolfe: he had much courage and wrote as if he didn’t have long to live; 2. William Faulkner; 3. Dos Passos; 4. Ernest Hemingway: he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used; 5. John Steinbeck: at one time I had great hopes for him — now I don’t know.

. . .
Q. Mr. Faulkner, do you mind our repeating anything we have heard today outside of class?

A. No. It was true yesterday, is true today, and will be true tomorrow.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1951 Summer, The Western Review: A Literary Quarterly Published at the State University of Iowa, Volume 15, Number 4, An Interview with William Faulkner, Edited by Lavon Rascoe, (Interview was conducted in April 1947), Start Page 300, Quote Page 304, Published by the State University of Iowa, Iowa City. (Verified on paper in 1967 reprint from Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York)
  2. 1999, Conversations with William Faulkner, Edited by M. Thomas Inge, (Collection of William Faulkner interviews from miscellaneous publications), Series: Literary Conversations Series, Chapter: An Interview with William Faulkner, Edited by Lavon Rascoe, (Reprinted from Summer 1951 issue of “The Western Review”), Start Page 66, Quote Page 71, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately It Strikes at Nine Every Morning

William Faulkner? Peter De Vries? Herman Wouk? Somerset Maugham? Jane Yolen? Raymond Chandler? Anonymous?

NineAM10Dear Quote Investigator: As a writer I find the following quotation about motivation both amusing and invigorating:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

I have seen these words attributed to the satiric New Yorker writer Peter De Vries, the Nobelist William Faulkner, and playwright-novelist Somerset Maugham. Who do you think originated this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1966 in a “Washington Post” profile of the bestselling author Herman Wouk who was best known for the novels “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Winds of War”, and “War and Remembrance”. Wouk ascribed the remark to William Faulkner. The phrasing differed from the version provided by the questioner, but the underlying joke was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

For a writer with so many books to his credit, he finds writing an exceedingly difficult process of “gritting one’s teeth and putting down one word after another.” He averages 1500 to 2000 words a day and likes to quote William Faulkner: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

This Wouk profile was reprinted in several newspapers including the “Des Moines Register” in Iowa 2 and the “Springfield Union” in Massachusetts. 3 Faulkner died in 1962, four years before the story was published, and QI has not yet located any direct support for the attribution.

In 1971 the poet and novelist Reynolds Price was interviewed in “The Raleigh News and Observer” of North Carolina, and he presented a version of the jest credited to William Faulkner: 4

Someone once asked Mr. Faulkner if he wrote by inspiration or habit and he said he wrote by inspiration, but luckily inspiration arrived at 9 every morning. I know what that means. And there is a kind of magic about keeping the stride once you’ve got it going.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1966 November 13, Washington Post, Writing Is Workaday For Herman Wouk: Inspiration Strikes at Nine Every Morning by Meryle Secrest (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page F3, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (Note: ProQuest database gives the incorrect author name of Meryle Secret)
  2. 1966 November 24, Des Moines Register, The Wouk Formula For Writing Success by Meryle Secrest (Acknowledgement to The Washington Post), Quote Page 16, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1966 December 11, 1966, Springfield Union, Herman Wouk Tells What Literary Success Means by Meryle Secret, (Acknowledgement Washington Post News Service), Quote Page 18C, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1991, Conversations with Reynolds Price, Edited by Jefferson Humphries, (A Glimpse into the Very Private World of a Novelist, Interview of Reynolds Price by Rod Cockshutt, Reprinted from The Raleigh News and Observer, Date: January 24, 1971, Section: 4, 3) Start Page 30, Quote Page 34 and 35, Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, (Verified on paper)

A Man Is a Fool If He Drinks Before He Reaches Fifty, and a Fool If He Doesn’t Drink Afterward

Frank Lloyd Wright? William Faulkner? The Elder Gross? Charles Seiberling? Charles Douville Coburn? Anonymous?

wrightwhiskey01Dear Quote Investigator: The celebrated and innovative architect Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with the following remark about alcohol consumption:

A man is a fool if he drinks before he reaches the age of 50, and a fool if he doesn’t afterward.

Recently, I found a very similar saying attributed to the major literary figure William Faulkner:

But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damnfool if he doesn’t.

Are these quotations accurate? Is it possible that one of these individuals heard it from the other? Perhaps this saying predates Wright and Faulkner. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The quotations ascribed to Frank Lloyd Wright and William Faulkner are well-founded and detailed citations for them are given further below.

The idea that drinking in the early decades of life might attenuate its long-term pleasurability can be found in the eighteenth century. Here is an example in a Salem, Massachusetts newspaper in 1792 where the age of demarcation was thirty. Boldface has been added to some excerpts: 1

Do you think that singing boys take great delight in music? Satiety makes it rather tedious to them. He who drinks before he is thirty, can take no great pleasure in drinking.

By 1900 a statement matching the sayings used by Wright and Faulkner was in circulation. The guideline was offered as medical advice during the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association: 2

The best judges of the proper use or abuse of alcohol are medical men, who carefully note causes and effect. I would rather have personally observed facts than whole tomes of theories. In youth alcohol is of no benefit: it is harmful. In the aged it is a blessing, if used properly. Some one has said, “A man is a fool who drinks before he is fifty, and a blank fool who does not do so moderately thereafter.” Whiskey should be taken by the aged when overcome with fatigue and before taking food, as a tired man has a tired stomach; and a small portion of the stimulant will lift up the vitality and make good digestion possible.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1792 September 11, Salem Gazette, Volume VI, Number 309, An Extract, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Salem, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1900 December, Journal of Social Science, Number 38, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association Held in Washington, D.C. on May 7 to May 11, 1900, (Comments at the close of the morning session of the Department of Education and Art on May 9, 1900), Start Page 125, Quote Page 127 and 128, Published for the American Social Science Association by Damrell & Upham and the Boston Book Company, Boston, Massachusetts and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link