By the time William Faulkner finished writing his 19th novel, The Sound and the Fury, in 1937, the situation in Mississippi was volatile. And, like other Southern poets before him, Faulkner took inspiration from Southern black literature – specifically, Langston Hughes’ poetry collections, Harlem Nights and Meet The McCoys.
Originally published in 1935, Meet The McCoys bore the lightning-bolt reviews that Fitzgerald won’t abide: “Charles Darnay, urbane, rich, pensive; Orie Day, black panther; Willoughby, fat, jiggly, bored.” Over the years, Fitzgerald proved a critic’s delight, often naming his own opinions in his wordplay. As he wrote in 1948: “The mighty black brute, meaning the person of Negro America, must remain as pure and wild as Abraham Lincoln the courageous anti-warer.”
George Bernard Shaw delivered a 1999 speech at Oxford University discussing his desire to emulate William Faulkner, on account of his fear of being pigeonholed as a writer who “simply writes about men”. At the same time, though, Faulkner had a reputation for being personally cruel to his characters. And sometimes Faulkner’s fiction lapsed into the rhetorical territory of shouting matches. But Fitzgerald still prefers Faulkner to the postmodernists, and, after hearing him speak about Hughes at the Laurence Olivier theatre in London in 1979, he admits that he has a longstanding admiration for him. “He had great faith in black American literature,” Fitzgerald wrote in Glamour in 1999. “He wrote the great sequel to Shakespeare, The Sound and the Fury, with the same heart and devil at its heart.”