Faulkner at West Point

In April of 1962, nearly 49 years ago this day, author William Faulkner visited the United States Military Academy at West Point at the invitation of Major General W.C. Westmoreland. On the night of April 19 he read excerpts from his forthcoming novel The Reivers before a rapt audience of cadets, faculty, and staff. The following day, clad in a Donegal tweed suit and repp tie, he lunched with the brass and met with cadets in two advanced literature courses and discussed a wide range of subjects including his work, philosophy of life and views on America.

Faulkner was not himself much of a military man, though critics have noted his “lifelong romance” with the military experience beginning with his first novel Soldier’s Pay in 1926; unable to join the U.S. Army due to his short stature, he had enlisted in the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I but never saw action. Nonetheless he exuded something of a military bearing on the stage at West Point with his pipe and British officer’s mustache.

The evening event required black tie, but the tweeds were more in Faulkner’s line, a nod perhaps to his equestrian pursuits at Rowan Oak. The photos, taken by Carl Mydans for Life magazine, are a study in how to wear them. Tweeds (and pipe) were a trademark of Faulkner’s; he can be seen wearing them in an earlier Life essay from 1940 as well when the author was in Hollywood working on scripts for The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (see below) – when it wasn’t too damn hot for anything but shorts.

Three short months after his visit to West Point Faulkner died in Mississippi at the age of 64, making it one of his last public appearances; he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963. Luckily both of the West Point sessions were recorded, and two members of the Academy’s English department later edited the transcripts for this book. “We had long admired his literary genius,” the editors note, “but in an acquaintance of just about twenty-four hours we learned to appreciate his innate humility, grace, and dignity.”

-Jared Paul Stern is the editor of DRIVEN.

Related: West Point Class of 1938

Comments on “Faulkner at West Point

    Robert@AmericanAntler on May 9, 2011 10:08 AM:

    The perfect example of why “trying too hard” (in fashion) is a bad thing.
    Great post.

    Paul on May 9, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Last photo – out on the desk with his laptop! :)

    Dennis Herring on May 9, 2011 10:53 AM:

    i read you’re blog for the wonderful style, but as an Oxford, MS resident, love this post on a couple of levels….
    thanks MW

    Michael Williams on May 9, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Dennis — All praise is due to JPS.

    Paul — that was a great comment!

    andy on May 9, 2011 10:57 AM:

    Who was he? Did he have a blog? Was he a reality TV contestant? Did he promote himself online?

    JPS on May 9, 2011 11:40 AM:
    chris b. on May 9, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Faulkner was responsible for”To have and have not”?One of the greatest letdown movies of all time?No!
    The book was bad enuff,but it couldve been redeemed as a movie.
    Faulkner.Of all people.

    anothergloriousbattle on May 9, 2011 2:13 PM:

    love the stripe tie in the first photo.

    This man has style

    Ye Ole General on May 9, 2011 4:00 PM:

    Top notch………man and post.

    ds on May 9, 2011 6:31 PM:

    “To Have and Have Not” was Hemingway.

    However, Faulkner did write one of my favorite stories of all time about WWI. It was in a collection of short stories compiled by Harper’s. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a great story about a torpedo boater and a pilot; soundly anti-war.

    ds on May 9, 2011 6:42 PM:

    Oh. I just found it. It’s called “Turnabout” and is well worth a read if these pictures have inspired anyone at all.

    JPS on May 9, 2011 7:46 PM:

    Faulkner just worked on the scripts, he didn’t write those books obviously. And Chris, agreed re: “To Have and Have Not” but WF was only one of the writers on it so I’m not sure it’s entirely his fault. He hung out with Bogart and Bacall while they were making that and Big Sleep though so I bet there are some good drinking stories somewhere.

    the_madmonk on May 9, 2011 11:08 PM:

    The first two sentences of this post are wonderfully well-written.

    the_madmonk on May 9, 2011 11:09 PM:

    Er, sorry the first three sentences…

    george c on May 10, 2011 10:58 AM:

    great photographs of a remarkable writer. check out if you can his nobel acceptance speech as well, as spoken by faulkner himself.

    David J. on May 10, 2011 4:20 PM:

    I love the gauge of the tweeds. It seems like something that’s pretty hard to find in the age of central heating. Bespoke seems the only option, but even then rarely in the stocks.

    great zamboni on May 10, 2011 4:40 PM:

    Answers the question: how does genius look- quite well.

    allen on May 11, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Nowadays West Point would be more likely to invite the author of “Heaven Is Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip To Heaven And Back” (currently #3 on Amazon).

    Michael Murphy on May 13, 2011 6:09 PM:

    Dunhill pipe.

    Graham B on May 22, 2011 8:06 PM:

    The tie Mr Faulkner is wearing is not a repp tie, but a regimental tie. The colours of which indicate he was a member of the Royal Air Force (formerly the Royal Flying Corp). These ties should only be worn by current or former members of that service or regiment.

Comments are closed.