27 Sep 2016

“As Faulkner Lay Drinking”


Philip Greene memorializes the great man’s treasured relationship with the bottle.

“There is no such thing as bad whiskey,” Faulkner once reasoned. “Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others. But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damn fool if he doesn’t.”

Indeed, the man loved his whiskey. Too much. It became a muse and a constant writing companion. In 1937, he explained his method to his French translator Maurice Edgar Coindreau: “You see, I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach; so many ideas that I can’t remember in the morning pop into my head.”

To some of his critics (not to mention his rivals), this method was a double-edged sword. During an interview with Hemingway during the mid-1950s, when he was asked if he made himself a pitcher of Martinis before each writing session, Hemingway snorted, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes—and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.”

Faulkner did say that “civilization begins with distillation;” perhaps his writing sessions did, too. He was known to go on long drinking binges where he would lock himself into, say, a hotel room and drink for days straight. While booze may have been Faulkner’s inspiration, it surely took a toll on his health and years off his life. During a 1937 visit to the Algonquin Hotel in New York, after a days-long bender, he passed out against a steam radiator and severely burned his back. He took the unfortunate incident with his typical sense of humor. His friend Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of book publisher Random House, chastised him: “Bill, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You come up here for your first vacation in five years and you spend the whole time in the hospital.” Faulkner quietly replied, “Bennett, it was my vacation.”

Read the whole thing.


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