Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Common Struggles of Doyle and Faulkner

A Conan Doyle, before he gained popularity with the skills of Sherlock Holmes, struggled with both finances and obscurity. As I wrote in a previous post, Doyle wrote about his struggles with money. He was primarily a physician during this time, in 1882-83. He had left his native Scotland and set up a practice in Southsea, on the south shore of England.

His main correspondent at the time is his mother. Or at least most of the letters included in the book I'm reading are to his mother. I suppose he could have written many others that the editor didn't include. He constantly tells his mother "Don't worry about us [his younger brother was with him]; we have everything we need." In the next sentence he will then say he doesn't know how he will make the rent, or the life insurance payment, or the grocer or butcher bill, etc. Then he goes on to say how he bought some new piece of furniture or painting for the room where he sees patients.

His income during this time was about equal between his medical practice and his writing. Both started growing during 1883. More patients began coming to the new doctor. More editors began accepting his work, including at magazines that paid pretty well. He wrote short stories, not novels, because short stories could be placed relatively quickly and payment was quick too. He spent time working on novels, but the length of time to write, plus the time lag in publishing and payments, meant he would earn no income from them, at least not in a timely manner. So to short stories he went.

That's all a fascinating read. It seems that American author William Faulkner went through similar struggles. Now I need to confess that I've read little of Faulkner. I remember reading a couple of his short stories, one in school and one in adulthood. I suppose I may have read a couple more. But I really know little about his writing other than he has the reputation of using long and complex sentences.

Eudora Welty writes about Faulkner in two reviews in her book The Eye of the Story. One of those books she reviewed was actually a volume of his collected letters. In her review, she made extensive quotes from those letters.

It's interesting to see the parallels between Doyle and Faulkner. The letters quoted by Welty show a Faulkner whose income came only from writing, and who struggled with money. He wrote short stories because they were quick and could be placed quickly and payment came quickly. Yet, in his letters, he complained about late payment from editors. He complained about having to write short stories at all, when he would prefer to be writing novels.

Unlike Doyle's genteel language to his mother, Faulkner used strong language with his correspondents, with frequent use of mild four-letter words. I realize I'm only reading excepts selected by Welty, and that she may have cherry-picked those with the most curse words. I shall have to read all the letters to see what the totality of his correspondence looked like.

So Doyle struggled with money, and Faulkner struggled with money. I'm fortunate to have a good day job that keeps housing, food, utilities, transportation, etc. well supplied. So I'm able to write what I want, at the pace I want, without constant money pressure. Of course, just like sea pressure and a grain of sand with an oyster, pearls are made under stress. Who knows but that the stress of money worries is what drove both those men to greatness, while the lack of that pressure is a missing ingredient toward moving me on to the next level?

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