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An intellectual in William Faulkner's Mosquitoes praises Honor, de Balzac as a writer whom "translation cannot injure"--a more salient point than it might seem because the translations available to Faulkner were poorly done (Levin 166) and we don't know which he was exposed to first. In his youth he read an unknown number of his grandfather's Balzac books, and the oldest Comedie tome in his own library could have been one of these because he autographed it in his family's original "Falkner" spelling, which implies that he read it while comparatively young. The book belongs to the 1896 Centenary edition by Boston's Little, Brown and Company; I speculate that its companions were destroyed when Phil Stone's house burned in 1942, a year that marked a break in Faulkner's productivity. If the Young Colonel owned the Centenary, then we should admit the possibility of an even more intimate influence. Faulkner read his paternal grandfather's volumes prior to 1925 but he owned a 1925 Comedie volume (published by Black) that his father Murry signed twice but left undated, which suggests the book was a reacquisition or replacement. Murry died in August of 1932 and William signed the book in his surname's new spelling sometime the next year (Blotner, Faulkner 110, 160). At his own death Faulkner held an incomplete Library Edition of the Gebbie Publishing Company's The Novels of Balzac (Philadelphia: 1897-99, consisting of Droll Stories and La Comedie humaine), which I cite here. (1) Perhaps he didn't inscribe the secondhand set because an earlier owner had done so. George Gordon Battle (1868-1949) (2) was a North Carolina native and University of Virginia alumnus who became prominent in Manhattan legal, political, and humanitarian circles; indeed, native New Yorker and future Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy was named for the Democrat. Unfortunately, we are reduced to speculating about why and how Faulkner acquired the books. A plausible answer to the first question is the Stone fire; if this was the case then it is reasonable to suppose that Battle's set was purchased as a replacement, and two possibilities suggest themselves for how and, more vaguely, when the sale or transfer occurred. Battle had a summer home in Virginia and was buried in Richmond (Hellman 21-25; Powell 110), so perhaps some of his holdings made their way onto the local market or even into the hands of Faulkner friend and Virginian collector Linton Massey. However, Faulkner didn't begin residing in Charlottesville until 1957, and textual evidence suggests that he didn't wait fifteen years before replacing his volumes. A somewhat better conjecture is that his publishers were acquainted with the Battles and facilitated the purchase, but this scenario strongly implies that Battle parted with his books prior to his death in 1949. Faulkner was still consulting (or remembering) the Centenary when revising the stories that became 1942's Go Down, Moses: when Uncle Buck genuflects to Miss Sophonsiba--he "dragged his foot" (10)--Faulkner was mining Little, Brown's "Cesar Birotteau," where a young man is "dragging his foot timidly because [his beloved] Cesarine was there" (126). (3)

Professional & Technical
March 22
The Faulkner Journal

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