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The Sound And The Fury…In Color!

I really hated The Sound and The Fury.

And that surprised me. Faulkner’s a southern boy, he’s “my people,” so I really thought I would enjoy that novel.

But I think I would rather eat cold grits and 3-day-old scrambled eggs than read that novel again.

That said, if I ever choose to read The Sound and the Fury again, I have a better option than the traditional versions of the novel.


The Folio Society will soon be publishing the novel as Faulkner had originally desired—with color-coded sections that indicate the everchanging timeline of the story.

Here’s how The Folio Society describes their reasoning behind this unusual approach:

One of the reasons Benji’s narrative is hard to follow is because it jumps around in time with little indication of the change, other than italics. But when Faulkner was working on the book in the 1920s — “The Sound and the Fury” was published in 1929 — he imagined a way to make the section clearer to readers. “I wish publishing was advanced enough to use colored ink,” Faulkner wrote to his editor, “as I argued with you and Hal in the Speakeasy that day.”

“I’ll just have to save the idea until publishing grows up,” he added, inadvertently launching a challenge to future publishers. Nine decades later, the Folio Society took it up.

This sounds promising.

Though it might be a little unusual, and possibly painful on the eyes, to read a variety of colored text on every page, I think it would make a huge difference in understanding the novel.

Faulkner himself seemed to realize the complexity of timeline in his novel, and it seems that he would fully endorse reprinting the book like this.

Maybe other novels that jump around in a timeline should take this approach. What do you think?

(Image: The Folio Society)

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32 Comments Post a comment
  1. This sounds pretty awesome. I’m assuming you’ve seen the stories of the book with disappearing ink already?

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • Yes, but I didn’t read the story. Why would someone pay for a book with ink that disappears?

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • Haahaa – well it’s to make sure new authors get read. And once it disappears you have a journal/sketchbook. The first one they’ve done is short stories.

        Like

        July 26, 2012
  2. For me, Faulkner is rather tough, but worth the effort. I’ve read several of his short stories, but only two novels: The Sound and the Fury, and Intruder in the Dust. Intruder was definitely easier, and quite a bit shorter, than S&F. I’m very curious about A Light in August, since it was an Oprah pick. Would she really recommend to her viewers a Faulkner novel? Seems a bit incongruous to me, and that makes me want to read it. Reading a color coded version of S&F would make it worthwhile to give it a second go. I can’t thin of any other novels offhand that are so intricately woven, and so would benefit from color coded sections.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • I’ve heard Light in August is definitely more accessible. It’s on the list, so I’ll get around to it at some point.

      Like

      July 26, 2012
  3. Nel #

    A brilliant idea. I’ve not read Sound and the Fury, but I’ve read Absalom, Absalom; surprisingly, I decided I liked the book once I was finished even though it was a tough read. I found reading it really really fast helped. Maybe colored ink would have helped more?

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • I’ve heard Absalom is quite difficult. What did you think about it?

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • Nel #

        I didn’t like it much when I started it and probably only finished it out of sheer stubbornness. But as I got into the story, I enjoyed it (as much as one can enjoy a story that involves incest, murder, and racism). A bunch of people rehash a story from 50 years and you learn more details as each person tells his version, but so many people have retold the story and speculated about motives that I’m not really sure you know what happened at the end.

        Like

        July 26, 2012
  4. The last person you should use to comment on a novel is the author himself. Being a very public drunkard and seeker of fame in his early days, Faulkner was just as likely funnin’ with the journalist who recorded those comments on using colored ink to make it easier to understand the narrative structure of The Sound and the Fury. It always sounded to me like Faulkner was having a jest at those who were more comfortable with Dick and Jane than Caddy and Benjy.

    And now the Folio Society has fallen for the ruse.

    There are many other novels that already have been published in a multicolor pre-interpretation by a third party and we call them Classics Illustrated.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • This didn’t come from an interview with a journalist. It came from a letter to his editor, which is mentioned above. You can read all about it in his biography: http://bit.ly/O1gOi6

      This is legitimate.

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • Whether it is from an interview or a letter, you should cast a jaundiced eye on anything Faulkner or most other authors have to say about their own works. Since it is from something Faulkner wrote, it’s even more likely he was being ironic and having a poke at lazy readers. And this is from a biography which adds another layer of fiction to Faulkner’s original statement? It is assuredly a legitimate reference but is it a legitimate interpretation?

        Bottom line, it is a terrible idea. I have read a few overly cute works using up to four colors and the text is a disaster to read.

        Like

        July 26, 2012
  5. Interesting post and comments today Robert. I also hated Sound and the Fury, but will give it another go perhaps with the color coding. I plan to read August with you when you get to it as I have been curious about it for many years. I love my southern writers.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
  6. I think it is a great idea. I loved the book, but struggled with the timeline and the duplicate character names until I figured out that Benji’s caregiver was the determining factor in sorting out the three time periods (and with that, the characters). But it didn’t have to be so difficult. Think of film – film makers use different lighting and camera techniques to indicate flashbacks.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
  7. I think the Benny section is the most interesting … but it helps to know that Benny is mentally handicapped (we’d be more likely to say he has intellectual disabilities today) and that the section is narrated from his point of view. Nobody warned me the first time. But to the extent that modernism is “realism taken to its natural extreme” … I really like Benny.

    Then, I’m ambivalent. I liked the book enough to re-read it. But Quentin’s torment over his sister’s promiscuity left me incredulous, and much of the story felt like a bad soap opera hiding behind its technique.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • “Much of the story felt like a bad soap opera hiding behind its technique.”

      Very well said. If I had it to review again, I’d quote you on that.

      Like

      July 26, 2012
  8. Andi #

    $345 I guess that I won’t be reading it in color.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
  9. sylviemarieheroux #

    Could be interesting because you could choose to read just one stream at a time. Who says that you have to read a book in the order in which it is printed?

    This reminds me of Cortazar, the Argentinian author, who suggested an alternative order to read the chapters of his novel Rayuela (Hopscotch, in English).

    Like

    July 26, 2012
  10. I think this is a great idea! Hopefully it’ll make this book more accessible to readers. I never knew the novel jumped around like that and, if it’s not common knowledge, then the reader would indeed be quite confused and probably wouldn’t like the book. Maybe some contemporary authors will take a cue and start styling their books to make them easier to read as well. Whatever makes reading easier for people is a plus!

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • Books that are for easy readers are readily available and constitute a major portion of the earnings most publishing houses receive nowadays. In fact, like the movies, the publishers are not going to take a chance that their profits will slip and their year-end bonuses will decline if they publish more experimental, more thought-provoking, more challenging works.

      When Faulkner was writing, his publisher sought the most important and influential authors; now the publisher is a part of a huge consortium that is more concerned with profits than for literature.

      Anything which makes reading easier for people is a minus. Why is humanity obsessed with reducing culture and art to the least common denominator and then drowning it in the bathtub?

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • You call it “dumbing down.” I call it making it more approachable. Nothing wrong with that, in my view.

        Like

        July 26, 2012
  11. donjheath #

    Wouldn’t work so well with monochromatic e-readers.
    Mike, we get it, you’re intellectually superior, hooray.

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • I do my best to counter the systematic dumbing down of American.

      Like

      July 26, 2012
  12. I haven’t read The Sound and the Fury but I have read A Light in August. I’m on the fence about Faulkner. It was an interesting book and I enjoyed parts of it, though I did get frustrated with his writing style.

    Color coding to make the story easier to follow? How about just writing it in a way that still preserves a personal voice and style but also makes it easier for a reader to follow the story? How about punctuation and better transitioning?

    Why is writing considered ‘great’ when it’s also so obtuse? Well, okay – I understand that to a point. I do recognize that facility with language and story-telling is a talent to be celebrated, and sometimes that means the writing becomes complex. However, I also get frustrated when it seems the writing is tortured and complex for the sake of complexity rather than for story telling. Where’s the line, I wonder, between brilliantly complex and gratuitously complicated? And does Faulkner walk that line?

    Like

    July 26, 2012
    • donjheath #

      Faulkner was wildly inconsistent. Perhaps because of his drinking. When he was at the top of his game (try The Town) he was sublime. When he was bad, he was infuriating.

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • I know this is true about Faulkner’s screenplays, but other than a couple of early novels when he was developing his craft, what were the novels that were so bad as to be infuriating?

        Speaking of the screenplays, a fun fictional accounting of William Faulkner is found in the movie Barton Fink … it may say W.P. Mayhew and the Cohen’s may refute it, but their argument is weak. Watch the movie and decide for yourself.

        Like

        July 26, 2012
        • I saw and enjoyed Barton Fink. The novel Mosquitos certainly infuriated me. Faulkner spoke poorly of it.

          Like

          July 26, 2012
          • Mosquitoes was Faulkner’s second novel and he said he wrote it for fun. I am one of the few that found some merit in his first novel, A Soldier’s Pay, but the Faulkner we generally admire did not even start developing until Flags In the Dust, his third novel.

            Like

            July 26, 2012
    • Careful, it’s Light In August. Similar to Finnegans Wake, it’s important to maintain the ambiguity so painstakingly developed by the author. If you say “A Light” then the ambiguity disappears. “Light” is a term that is used, especially for animals, to indicate that they have just given birth (for obvious reasons).

      The truly enigmatic question often raised about Light In August is: “What color is Joe Christmas?”

      Like

      July 26, 2012
      • Yes, it’s been a long time since I read it and I got the title wrong. It reminds me of high school when one of my classmates asked me if I had read How to Kill a Mockingbird 😉 I could see the “Light” as referring to skin color, but I never would have known the meaning related to animals giving birth. Were urban readers supposed to get that reference as well? Does that add another nuance?

        I did find the ambiguity of Joe Christmas to be fascinating and enjoyed teasing out nuances. If I remember correctly, however, there were also stretches of the book, pages long, that were so “nuanced” that I couldn’t even figure out what was happening until I’d reread those pages several times. Those are the parts when I thought that Faulkner was just getting a bit indulgent, getting lost in his style and sacrificing clarity.

        The idea that a publisher thinks the text in The Sound and The Fury in order to make the narrative clearer (because presumably the writing itself cannot do it on its own!) kind of puts me off the idea of tackling that book. I still might, because I had similar objections to Nabokov but managed to turn a corner with his writing and ‘get it’ better. Maybe I can do that with Faulkner, but it’s certainly a daunting prospect.

        Like

        July 27, 2012
        • Oops – that the text in…needs to be colorized…

          Like

          July 27, 2012
  13. I too found Benjy’s portion confusing…but couldn’t that be Faulkner’s intention for the reader to see the story through Benjy’s confused eyes. I didn’t love it, but this story definitely grew on me. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2012/07/sound-and-fury-by-william-faulkner-1929.html

    Like

    November 17, 2014

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  1. Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 26, 2012 « cochisewriters

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