‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner

William Faulkner might not be the first author that comes to mind when thinking about short stories, but this is the short story that made me fall in love with short stories. Miss Emily Grierson lives (of course) in Jefferson, and is under mounting pressure to find a husband. After an engagement is called off, Miss Grierson becomes more reclusive, dismisses her staff and closes off half of her house. Her strange behaviour becomes part of the town’s fabric, and it’s only after her death that her strangeness is revealed for what it truly is.

First published in The Forum, April 1930. Collected in the Collected Stories, Vintage, 2009

‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner

Chosen by Hazel Boyle

She carried her head high enough–even when we believed that she was fallen. Miss Emily Grierson lives with her father in Jefferson, a town known for The Battle of Jefferson in the War of Northern Aggression. The mood is such that you can smell magnolias and trepidation below the surface. Miss Emily puts a foot wrong, so the townspeople believe, when, after her father’s death, she takes up with Homer Barron, a manual labourer and a Yankee! [pass me the sal volatile!] Not only that but she refuses to acknowledge that property taxes are required of a woman of her status, nor does she need to provide a reason for purchasing arsenic. Various cousins arrive to provide companionship/spying for the family, but Miss Emily is going to do what she is going to do. Spoiler: Miss Emily and Mr. Barron do not live happily ever after but they do stay in close contact.

This is a twisted tale that I first read in 8th grade when I thought I was a genius and invincible and that I would still never have a boyfriend. This spoke to my inner awkwardness and anger, but also gave me a creepy forbidden thrill that Emily just did it. “Don’t you know how amazing I am! Why aren’t you willing to stay.”

First published in The Forum, April 1930. Collected in the Collected Stories, Vintage, 2009

Hazel Boyle has a lifelong obsession with books and writing and works as an office manager to pay her husband’s library fines.

‘Uncle Willy’ by William Faulkner

An unnamed teenage narrator recalls Uncle Willy who ran the local drugstore. The boys of the town would eat ice-creams and watch Uncle Willy inject himself with morphine: “somebody would say, ‘Don’t it hurt?’ and he would say, ‘No I like it.’” To the people of Jefferson he is a sinner who must be saved but to the narrator he is “the finest man I ever knew”. The teenager comes to Uncle Willy’s assistance in his final flight of agency: “He wound up his life getting fun out of being alive and he died doing the thing that was most fun of all.” I am not the first to say that this is the best film the Coen Brothers have not made.

First published in the October issue of American Mercury, 1935; collected in Collected Stories, Chatto and Windus, 1951, newest edition Vintage, 2009