Tag 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.

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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)

Writers Are Just Schmucks with Underwoods

Jack L. Warner? Bill Davidson? Samuel Goldwyn? Louis B. Mayer? Harry Cohn? Apocryphal?

underwood06Insult: Schmuck? Schlep? Schnook?

Dear Quote Investigator: The attitude of Hollywood producers toward writers has been epitomized by the following callous remark:

A writer is a schmuck with an Underwood.

The Underwood Typewriter Company manufactured the best writing implements when the statement was made. Here is another version I’ve seen:

Writers are just schmucks with typewriters.

These words have been attributed to Jack Warner, Samuel Goldwyn, and Harry Cohn. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1961. Oddly, two different versions were given by a journalist named Bill Davidson in that year. The book “The Real and the Unreal” recounted Davidson’s extensive experiences in Hollywood and included the following passage. Boldface has been added: 1

One of the Warner brothers, for example, used to call all writers—even William Faulkner, who was once under his command—“schmucks with typewriters” (schmuck is a derisive Yiddish expression for a bumpkin, an idiot). He used to make all his writers punch a time clock as they entered and left the studio…

While Faulkner was crafting screenplays he was employed by the powerful studio chief Jack Warner. Hence, Davidson was probably attributing the comment to Jack Warner who continued as an influential figure in the film business into the 1960s. This initial instance referred to “typewriters” instead of the particular brand “Underwood”.

In October 1961 Davidson wrote an article in “Show: The Magazine of the Arts”, and the content overlapped with material in his book. In the following excerpt the quotation incorporated the Yiddish term “schlep” instead of “schmuck”: 2

There are several ways of getting hired in Hollywood. The first, and most difficult, is to have talent. The talented are considered untrustworthy interlopers. One of the Warner brothers, for example, used to call all writers—even William Faulkner, who was once under his command—“schleps with typewriters” (schlep is a derisive Yiddish expression for a bumpkin, an idiot).

It is unclear why Bill Davidson presented two different quotations, and the inconsistency reduces the credibility of the ascription. Perhaps Davidson had collected conflicting reports. Etymologically “schmuck” can be traced to the Yiddish term for phallus, and it was considered vulgar by some speakers. This taboo association might have provided a motivation for replacing one term with another.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1961, The Real and the Unreal by Bill Davidson, Chapter 14: How to Get Fired in Hollywood, Start Page 241, Quote Page 242, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1961 October, Show: The Magazine of the Arts, Volume 1, Number 1, Hollywood: A Cultural Anthropologist’s View (Place in the Sun) by Bill Davidson, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, Hartford Publications, New York. (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.

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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

They Haven’t Done Anything to My Book. It’s Right There on the Shelf

Raymond Chandler? James M. Cain? Alan Moore? William S. Burroughs? Larry Niven? Stephen King? Elmore Leonard? William Faulkner? Owen Sheers?

jamescain03Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following anecdote told about Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard. A journalist once visited the house of a popular author who had sold the movie rights to several of his novels to Hollywood. The quality of the resultant movies had been lamented by critics. The reporter attempted to commiserate with the writer by saying that Hollywood had ruined his books, but the author led the visitor into his study and pointed to a bookshelf:

They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re still right there on the shelf. They’re fine.

Is this story accurate? Who were the participants?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence for this tale known to QI was published in the New York Times Book Review in March 1969. The influential cultural critic John Leonard visited James M. Cain at his home in Hyattsville, Maryland. Cain had written several best-selling books in the 1930s and 1940s including: “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Mildred Pierce”, and “Double Indemnity”. These works were transformed into movies of variable quality. Leonard reported on the remarks of Cain: 1

All the early novels were made into movies. (Hollywood made $12-million from Cain; Cain made $100,000.) He has seen only two of the movies made from his books. “There are some foods some people just don’t like. I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

The citation above was located by top researcher Bill Mullins. In 1974 a book titled “Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction” referenced the comments of Cain. The phrasing presented matched the version in the New York Times: 2

The American novelist James M. Cain once remarked that he had rarely gone to see the screen version of one of his novels. “People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

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Notes:

  1. 1969 March 2, New York Times, Section: Book Review, The Wish of James M. Cain by John Leonard, Quote Page BR2, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1974, Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction by Gene D. Phillips, Series: Studies in Culture & Communication, Chapter 2, Quote Page 14, Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. (Verified on paper)

Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal

Steve Jobs? Pablo Picasso? T. S. Eliot? W. H. Davenport Adams? Lionel Trilling? Igor Stravinsky? William Faulkner? Apocryphal?

Stravinsky03Dear Quote Investigator: The gifted entrepreneur Steve Jobs made some controversial comments about innovation during his career. He expressed strong agreement with the following aphorism which he ascribed to the famous painter Pablo Picasso:

Good artists copy; great artists steal.

Did Picasso really make this remark? Are there other examples of similar statements?

Quote Investigator: An intriguing precursor appeared in an article titled “Imitators and Plagiarists” published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1892. The author was W. H. Davenport Adams, and the terminology he used was transposed: “to imitate” was commendable, but “to steal” was unworthy. Adams extolled the works of the famed poet Alfred Tennyson, and presented several examples in which Tennyson constructed his verses using the efforts of his artistic antecedents as a resource. In the following passage Adams referred to his aphorism as a “canon”, and he placed it between quotation marks. Boldface has been added to some excerpts below: 1

Of Tennyson’s assimilative method, when he adopts an image or a suggestion from a predecessor, and works it up into his own glittering fabric, I shall give a few instances, offering as the result and summing up of the preceding inquiries a modest canon: “That great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.”

Note that Adams depicted poets who stole harshly, but the adage used by Jobs was accepting of the artist who copied or stole: one was good, and the other was great. Adams concluded his essay with additional praise for Tennyson and a condemnation of plagiarists. Oddly, the word “plagiarizes” was incorporated in later variants of the expression.

In 1920 the major poet T. S. Eliot published “The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism”, and he presented his own version of the maxim. Eliot interchanged the terminology used by Davenport by suggesting that: “to imitate” was shoddy, and “to steal” was praiseworthy. This change moved the expression closer to the modern incarnation employed by Steve Jobs: 2

One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

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Notes:

  1. 1892 June, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 272, Imitators and Plagiarists (Part 2 of 2) by W. H. Davenport Adams, Start Page 613, Quote Page 627 and 628, Published by Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1920, The Sacred Wood: Essays On Poetry and Criticism by T. S. Eliot, Section: Philip Massinger, Quote Page 114, Methuen & Company Ltd., London. (Internet Archive)