Who done it? William Faulkner did

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – A dark night. A chalk outline. A murder. A double cross. A woman scorned. A smoking gun.
Fans of mystery stories might recognize some of the genre’s clichés, but will fans of William Faulkner recognize the Pulitzer Prize-winning author in that list?
“He seemed pretty interested in some of the popular literary forms of the 1930s, one of which is hard-boiled detective fiction,” said Donald Kartiganer, Howry professor of Faulkner Studies at the University of Mississippi.
During the 36th annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, July 19-23, scholars and fans will delve into “Faulkner and Mystery.” Kartiganer, conference director, said the topic works on a variety of levels.
“Sometimes he actually wrote a kind of detective fiction,” Kartiganer said. “‘Intruder in the Dust’ is an example of that, where you have a man accused of murder and some people have to go out and clear him of murder and find the killers. It’s a detective-type story.”
While working in Hollywood, Faulkner earned writing credit for bringing Raymond Chandler’s crime novel, “The Big Sleep,” to the big screen. Howard Hawks directed the movie that starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
“Plus, he has a collection of short stories called ‘Knight’s Gambit,’” Kartiganer said. “It’s a series of stories about crimes and their solutions.”

Digging deeper
If the discussion stopped there, they’d have plenty to consider at the conference, but mysteries run even deeper in Faulkner’s work.
“It occurred to us that all of his novels tend to be mystery stories, where there’s a basic mysterious question at the heart,” Kartiganer said. “In ‘Light in August,’ the question is: ‘Is Joe Christmas part black or is he not?’”
In “Absolom, Absolom!” Henry Sutpen kills his best friend, Charles Bon. The novel follows a series of narrators looking for answers.
“The thing about Faulkner and his detective style is that there’s no solution,” Kartiganer said. “You never actually find out for sure what happens. You never find out for sure if the character in ‘Light in August’ is black or not. You never find out for sure why Charles Bon was killed.
“He’s using this type of strategy,” Kartiganer continued, “but he leaves things open at the end.”

Professional help
Those who attend the conference could think of themselves as detectives, as they uncover new clues in Faulkner’s writing. They’ll be aided in that effort by a trio of Faulkner fans who also write crime novels. A panel will feature authors Ace Atkins, Jere Hoar and Daniel Woodrell.
“Actual detective writers, crime writers, will talk about what goes on when they write this sort of story,” Kartiganer said. “We’ve had writers come to the conference before, but this is something entirely new.”
You don’t have to ask, ‘Who done it?’
Faulkner did it.
And you’re invited to Oxford to get a better understanding of how.

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

Click here for more on the Faulkner conference.