November 14, 2004
From Faulkner's Wild Palms
The main character, Wilbourne, has quit his job as a hack writer in Chicago to run off with his lover Charlotte, a failed artist and sometime window-dresser, to freezing weather and no prospects in a Utah mining camp. He explains why to his friend and drinking buddy McCord (who is said to be modeled after Hemingway):
"Respectability. That's what did it. I found out some time ago that it's idleness breeds all our virtues, our most bearable qualities--contemplation, equableness, laziness, letting other people alone; good digestion mental and physical: the wisdom to concentrate on fleshly pleasures--eating and evacuating and fornication and sitting in the sun--than which there is nothing better, nothing to match, nothing else in all this world but to live for the short time you are loaned breath, to be alive and know it--oh, yes, she taught me that; she has marked me too forever--nothing, nothing. But it was only recently I have clearly seen, followed out the logical conclusion, that it is one of what we call the prime virtues--thrift, industry, independence--that breeds all the vices--fanaticism, smugness, meddling, fear, and worst of all, respectability. Us, for instance. Because of the fact that for the first time we were solvent, knew for certain where tomorrow's food was coming from (the damned money, too much of it; at night we would lie awake and plan how to get it spent; by spring we would have been carrying steamer folders in our pockets) I had become as completely thrall and slave to respectability as any--"
"But not her," McCord said.
"No. But she's a better man than I am. .... And mind, I liked it. I never denied that. I even liked the way I made it, the thing I did, as I told you. It wasn't because of that that one day I caught myself back from thinking, 'My wife must have the best.' It was because I found out one day that I was afraid. And I found out at the same time that I will still be afraid, no matter what I do, that I will still be afraid as long as she lives or I live."
"You are still afraid now?"
"Yes. And not about money. Damn money. I can make all the money we will need; certainly there seems to be no limit to what I can invent on the theme of female sex troubles. I don't mean that, nor Utah either. I mean us. Love, if you will. Because it can't last. There is no place for it in the world today, not even in Utah. We have eliminated it. It took us a long time, but man is resourceful and limitless in inventing too, and so we have got rid of love as last just as we have got rid of Christ. We have radio in the place of God's voice and instead of having to save emotional currency for months and years to deserve one chance to spend it all for love we can spread it thin into coppers and titillate ourselves at any newsstand, two to the block like sticks of chewing gum or chocolate from the automatic machines. If Jesus returned today we would have to crucify him quick in our own defense, to justify and preserve the civilization we have worked and suffered and died shrieking and cursing in rage and impotence and terror for two thousand years to create and perfect in man's own image; if Venus returned she would be a soiled man in a subway lavatory with a palm full of French post-cards--" McCord turned in his chair and beckoned, a single repressed violent gesture. The waiter appeared, McCord pointed to his glass. Presently the waiter's hand set the refilled glass on the table and withdrew.
"All right," McCord said. "So what?"
Faulkner never met Hemingstein,Erin,so...what?