Taming The Beast

Dec 1 2012 @ 3:39pm

Joanna Scott recounts how, in the spring of 1962, William Faulkner was thrown from his horse and forced to limp home:

He found Stonewall [his horse] waiting for him back at Rowan Oak, his estate in Oxford, Mississippi. Though he was in severe pain, Faulkner climbed into the saddle for the second time that day and rode over a course of jumps. When a doctor later told him that he could have killed himself getting back on the horse, Faulkner replied, "You don’t think I’d let that damned horse conquer me, do you?… I had to conquer him."

Scott sees a metaphor for the author's literary style:

Faulkner was drawn to the most unpredictable sorts of adventures, and his bravado as a writer was matched by his bravado on horseback. After accompanying Faulkner on 443px-William_Faulkner_1954_(3)_(photo_by_Carl_van_Vechten)fox hunts, his friend David Yalden-Thomson said, "One’s heart was in one’s mouth every time he went over a fence…. He would come swishing by one, face set, lips grim, completely out of control—trying, however, as hard as he could to look in perfect control of his animal." In the last weeks of his life, Faulkner made a special effort to look "in perfect control of his animal," climbing back into the saddle after Stonewall had thrown him. He wanted to show the horse who was in charge, to prove that he could conquer it—or so he maintained. More revealing is something he’d said on an earlier occasion, in a moment of candor: "I’m scared to death of horses," he reportedly admitted. "That’s why I can’t leave them alone"

Every skillful equestrian never lets herself forget that the animal she is trying to control is bigger, stupider and much stronger than she will ever be. Like a writer working with the unwieldy material of language, like all of us struggling to make sense of unordered, unwieldy life, Faulkner, on horseback, had precarious control. And what an exhilarating feeling it is when things go right: your horse takes off at the perfect distance, carries you over the jump and canters away.

(William Faulkner, 1954, by Carl Van Vechten via Wikimedia Commons)