This past weekend, I went to New Orleans to visit friends, and, while I was there, I went to the French Quarter to make a pilgrimage to a yellow row house on Pirate Alley. (Yes, its actually called Pirate Alley; it borders St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. New Orleans is weird like that). I wanted to see the house because, eighty-six years ago, one of the greatest literary careers of all time was lauched within its confines.
William Faulkner, one of CSD's favorite writers, lived in the house at 624 Pirate Alley for several years in his late 20's, during which he wrote his first nvoel, Soldier's Pay, published in 1925. Just a few years later, Faulkner began what has to be considered among the greatest sustained periods of literary production in this country, publishing his most famous Yoknapatawpha County novels -- The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, A Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom! -- as well as numerous short stories, between 1929 and 1936.
I haven't read Soldier's Pay; I suspect that relatively few people have, other than scholars and serious Faulkner enthusiasts. It is not as renowned ashis Yoknapatawpha County novels, and there are probably good reasons why that is the case. Regardless, I felt a tingle standing in the foyer of the house, trying to imagine how it looked when Faulkner lived there, and, in what is now one of the busiest tourist neighborhoods in the south, if a writer could have gotten the quiet and solitude he needed to write such serious literature. Because the house is still in use, there were no tours available; it would have been nice to see the view from his window.
The top floors of the house are still lived in; the first floor of the house is a book store called Faulkner House Books. It is a beautiful little shop - not at all the tourist trap I had feared. It has high ceilings and polished wooden bookshelves to house a small-but-well-curated collection of new books, with substantial shelves for both local authors and non-fiction books about New Orleans and Louisiana history. It had a number of very expensive first editions, many of which were signed by the author. Its owner was knew her books; while I was in the store, she dropped some serious knowledge on a middle-aged couple that had come in looking for a first edition F. Scott Fitzgerald. Its a pretty little bookstore, and one in which it is fun to browse, but not a place you would buy many books unless you have a lot of money to spend. Still, it is as good of a use for that space as any - you really appreciate the reverence she has for Faulkner, and Faulkner, who so famously struggled with money for most of his career (before becoming a Hollywood screenwriter in his late 40's) would probably be happy to see so many books being sold.