n English in Africa - J. M. Coetzee : Two Screenplays, Hermann Wittenberg (Ed.) : review

Volume 43, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



J. M. Coetzee, arguably one of the finest prose writers working in English, has not always had encouraging things to say about the business of screenwriting. Thus, in an essay on the life of William Faulkner, Coetzee remarks on the financial burdens - chief among them the burden of having to support an extended family circle, swollen by any number of hangers-on - that led Faulkner to squander his literary talents, first by writing short stories for popular magazines, and then, between 1932 and 1945, by writing screenplays for Hollywood. Some of the short stories could still be salvaged and reworked into novels, but that the years Faulkner spent writing film scripts were artistically a waste of time there is, for Coetzee, no doubt. We learn that Faulkner had "no gift for putting together snappy dialogue" and that nothing he wrote for the movies "proved worth rescuing" ("William Faulkner" 195). By far the most alarming aspect of Faulkner's Hollywood career, however, is the possibility that writing films could have had "a bad effect on his prose" (195).

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