Faulkner in the French Quarter

Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune was distributed only electronically, via the newspaper’s blog, after the staff had to exit the flooded building. In a recent post, “Can New Orleans survive?,” staff writer James Varney reflects on the city’s current predicament and its legacy, and notes

William Faulkner was first published in The Times-Picayune while he was living in the city and writing his first novel. He called the city, “a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, and to whose charm the young must respond.”

On the centenary of Faulkner’s birth, W. Kenneth Holditch recounted the role New Orleans played in the author’s development:

He began his days drinking black coffee at French Market coffee stands, usually the Morning Call, then spent the mornings writing, “afternoons walking and the evenings in visiting people.” Another favorite diversion for Faulkner and his friends was drinking: the Prohibition that had inhibited alcohol consumption in the rest of the country phased New Orleans very little. Not only was there bathtub gin in quantities, but also liquor brought in through the gulf by rumrunners and sold in the rear of Italian grocery stores in the Vieux Carre.

Sherwood Anderson served as Faulkner’s guide and introduced him to a seemingly endless array of fascinating Quarterites, including Aunt Rose Arnold, a prosperous brothel operator, now retired, who held open house for struggling writers and artists. Anderson wrote a short story, A Meeting South, about the three of them — the elderly madame, the older writer and a young poet with a metal plate in his head who drank too much and fell asleep on the flagstones of the patio.

In a 1925 letter to his mother, Faulkner said of the French Quarter:

Everyone here is grand to me — painters and writers; In the evening we gather somewhere and discuss the world and politics and art and death.

Notice how he didn’t mention the prostitutes or the bathtub gin to Dear Old Mom.

The house (pictured above, right; it’s the only image I could find) where Faulkner lived is located at 624 Pirate’s Alley, and is a national literary landmark and bookstore.

If you have any favorite literary New Orleans stories, please send them along.


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