Monday, November 10, 2014

Sanctuary/The Story of Temple Drake

The best course I'm taking this semester-and perhaps the best course I've taken in my college career-is Faulkner's Vision. There are five novels on the syllabus (The Unvanquished, Absalom, Absalom!, As I Laying Dying, The Hamlet, and Light in August) and one term paper due at the end of the course. For the paper, there is one requirement, that we truly create something unique for our professor, and one recommendation, that we write about a Faulkner novel not listed in the syllabus.

I'm very careful about the things I buy, and rarely purchase something just for the sake of spending money and obtaining something. But one thing I will never pass up is a Modern Library edition of a Faulkner novel. The editions are lovely, not too hard to find, and usually pretty cheap. I've such editions of nearly all the major Faulkner novels, and also one slightly lesser known title called Sanctuary. I picked it up last May, intended to read it over the summer, failed, put it on my bookshelf, and hardly imagined I'd ever get around to giving it a try. 

However, with this term paper business for the Faulkner class, I realized I had the perfect opportunity to read the book, and as I write I'm currently about a third of the way through the text. It's a fluid read with generally short chapters, plenty of dialogue, and a straightforward narrative technique with an omniscient narrator. In other words, it's a walk in the park compared to some of Faulkner's other works (thus far in the course, I found Absalom, Absalom! to be quite intimidating with its perpetual blocks of text, and As I Lay Dying to be fairly trying, though as a whole much more manageable). It's also a violent and harsh story, containing some of the more controversial material in Faulkner's canon. On top of that, it doesn't quite fit in with some of Faulkner's more renowned novels because it was written-supposedly-with commercial incentives. This book was written three years ago, writes Faulkner in the Introduction. To me it was a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money. I haven't finished the book so I can't quite comment on the extent to which the book is more a sellout than a work of art, and yet in terms of the principle of the matter I'm completely fine with Faulkner-or any writer-working under such motivations. Now of course letting one's entire career be guided by such principles is shoddy, and yet a writer needs to put food on the table like everyone else, and it's better to sacrifice some of one's integrity to do so than to solely create so called pure works their entire life. There's something very human about an artist every so often gunning for gold, and humbling in his admitting this motivation. 

Now, what I'm getting at with all this is that in writing a book to sell copies, Faulkner produced something that was actually film-able (not that he movies can't be made out of his major works, as James Franco is attempting to prove-also, as I've written about before, I think Light in August has the potential to be a great movie). And sure enough, after the book was published in 1931, a film adaptation, called The Story of Temple Drake (directed by Stephen Roberts, a prolific but largely workmanlike and unremarkable director from the 20s and 30s), arrived two years later. Considering the novel's very clear structure, this isn't surprising. But what is is that Sanctuary is a notoriously brutal novel, and while the film apparently tames down on some of the harsher elements, it's supposed to still be pretty shocking for its time. It just goes to show how daring pre-code Hollywood really was. The film was considered mostly lost for a good long while, but a restored edition came out in 2011, and now the movie is readily available for public viewing. I eagerly await it once I finish the novel.

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