On an Unpublished Faulkner play and The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
As odd as it sounds, the first “grown-up” work I read as a boy was the play The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. It took me a long time to complete, the ending came from left field, and I was absorbed by how the dialogue carried the action of the play. From then on, I became a fan of reading plays (and of course watching them when I had a chance) whether it was Christie, Molière, or Chekhov.
While looking at some archived papers of William Faulkner, I was surprised to see a play titled ‘Twixt Cup and Lip, which to my knowledge and that of several Faulkner scholars had never before been published or produced. This one-act play was probably written when Faulkner was a student at Ole Miss and demonstrates a comical and light romantic style. Faulkner’s standing as one of America’s greatest authors of the 20th century is assured thanks to stream of conscious works such as As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, but it was fun to see a lighter side of the author in a play showcasing swift dialogue and comic timing, something that is also seen to full effect in his short story collections — New Orleans Sketches and Knight’s Gambit. These shorter pieces display his vivid and unforgettable characters, talent for crafting biblical parables in contemporary settings, and distinctive ability to create humor in any situation.
The playwright in Faulkner can be found in some of screenplays, notably The Big Sleep which he adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel and Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Faulkner’s great ear for dialogue made him a fine screenplay writer; he had the talent to streamline, pace, and create points of interest, which are all essential skills for a great screenplay and film. Authors have an arsenal at their fingertips of techniques, style, plots, and skills that they can use at any given time and one of Faulkner’s talents was his enormous versatility and plays are not easy to to write! It’s a mean effort to transform readers into a world where a lot of the parts readers skip are cut out and you have action through dialogue propelling a story forward quickly. You won’t have a time for many breaks and if you did, you’ll be contemplating what will happen next and most importantly, plays keep writers grounded; you can’t have unrealistic special effects, action scenes, flashbacks or fast forwards rescue a writer who momentarily is at a loss on what needs to happen next!
A few times, I’ve been asked if maybe so this manuscript and some of the other lost works should never have seen the light of day and that if an author didn’t attempt to have something published in their lifetime maybe they’d bristle seeing their work published today. For the past five years, I’ve published unpublished works by John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James M. Cain, H.G. Wells, and Dashiell Hammett and several others so it’s easy for someone to say that one or two of these authors might if they were alive raise objections to the release of their works. I’ve edited the Strand for 15 years and I can testify that some of the most talented authors I’ve worked with are stern critics of their work and oftentimes an author can’t see the brilliant piece they’ve created and need an editor and publisher to bring their talent to larger audience. Also, unpublished works are curated by our staff and our policy is not to publish just anything by a literary legend but works that will honor their memory and for the past six years and publishing 16 unpublished works I’ve only seen one or two negative reviews from the press. We have had several unpublished manuscripts in our archives and after reading those works we decided to pass on them, since after all publishing a magazine with mass consumer appeals means you need to keep your readers happy and it’s poor form to have the name of a bestselling author or literary legend on your front cover only to disappoint a reader, lose a subscription and worse still have me turn on my computer and receive a nasty email from a customer! If an author ever wished to have their unpublished works suppressed, we would of course respect those wishes, but if none of that proof exists, who can say with certitude that a lost work should remain hidden from millions of fans?
This venture though is not all about just looking over manuscripts but the key is working with an estate who can share your vision and I’d like to thank Lee Caplin, the executor of the William Faulkner estate, for giving us permission to publish this. Finding lost works by literary legends at times requires lots of red tape, delays and many more odd situations which are frustrating, but working with someone like Lee who was able to push things through in a speedy manner, was always patient with any of my questions, was wonderful and something I won’t forget.
A big thanks as well to the staff at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia for providing me with copies of the play and for all their help and dedication.
I hope publication of this play will inspire some readers to read or reread some of Faulkner’s works. On a recent trip to Chicago, I picked up a copy of Intruder in the Dust and am ordering a few more works by Faulkner. Going through the pages of Intruder in the Dust serves as a reminder as to why Faulkner’s works are timeless classics — his novels and stories have a melodious prose that is seamless, his characters are realistic yet their quirks make them unforgettable, and his multilayered plots have the magic to always keep his readers on their toes.