William Styron

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This was not judgement day — only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.

William Clark Styron, Jr. (11 June 19251 November 2006) was an American novelist. He is most famous for two controversial novels: the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), depicting the life of Nat Turner, the leader of an 1831 Virginia slave revolt, and Sophie's Choice (1979), which deals with the Holocaust.

See also: Sophie's Choice (1982 film based on his novel)

Quotes[edit]

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.
It could be all unwittingly that I wrote in Darkness Visible what amounted to a Rosetta stone for my other work.
  • Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one wordlife. Certainly this might be an age of so-called faithlessness and despair we live in, but the new writers haven’t cornered any market on faithlessness and despair, any more than Dostoyevsky or Marlowe or Sophocles did. Every age has its terrible aches and pains, its peculiar new horrors, and every writer since the beginning of time, just like other people, has been afflicted by what that same friend of mine calls “the fleas of life”—you know, colds, hangovers, bills, sprained ankles, and little nuisances of one sort or another. They are the constants of life, at the core of life, along with nice little delights that come along every now and then.
  • A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.
    • Interview in Writers at Work, First Series (1958), edited by George Plimpton.
  • The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.
    • Writers at Work (1958).
  • I discovered that I had, in the past two decades, written a far greater amount in the essay form than I remembered. Certainly I have written enough of it to demonstrate that I harbor no disdain for literary journalism or just plain journalism, under whose sponsorship I have been able to express much that has fascinated me, or alarmed me, or amused me, or otherwise engaged my attention when I was not writing a book.
    • "A note to the reader" - This Quiet Dust and Other Writings (1982).
  • When, in the autumn of 1947, I was fired from the first and only job I have ever held, I wanted one thing out of life: to become a writer. I left my position as manuscript reader at the McGraw-Hill Book Company with no regrets; the job had been onerous and boring. It did not occur to me that there would be many difficulties to impede my ambition; in fact, the job itself had been an impediment. All I knew was that I burned to write a novel and I could not have cared less that my bank account was close to zero, with no replenishment in sight. At the age of twenty-two I had such pure hopes in my ability to write not just a respectable first novel, but a novel that would be completely out of the ordinary, that when I left the McGraw-Hill Building for the last time I felt the exultancy of a man just released from slavery and ready to set the universe on fire.
    • "Lie Down In Darkness", This Quiet Dust and Other Writings (1982).
  • It could be all unwittingly that I wrote in Darkness Visible what amounted to a Rosetta stone for my other work.
    • "A Conversation with William Styron", Humanities (May/June 1997).
  • My life and work have been far from free of blemish, and so I think it would be unpardonable for a biographer not to dish up the dirt.
    • "A Conversation with William Styron", Humanities (May/June 1997).

The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)[edit]

Surely mankind has yet to be born. Surely this is true!
A novel depicting Nat Turner, in a fictionalized form extending from the records of The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. As fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray (1831)
Great God, how early it is!
  • Grieving, yet somehow unbending, steadfast, unafraid, the voice rose through the evening like memory, and a gust of wind blew up from the river, dimming the song, rustling the trees, then died and became still. I’ll lay in de grave and stretch out my arms … Suddenly the voice ceased, and all was quiet.
    Then what I done was wrong, Lord? I said. And if what I done was wrong, is there no redemption?
    I raised my eyes upward but there was no answer, only the gray impermeable sky and night falling fast over Jerusalem.
    • Part I : Judgment Day
  • Surely mankind has yet to be born. Surely this is true! For only something blind and uncomprehending could exist in such a mean conjunction with its own flesh, its own kind. How else account for such faltering, clumsy, hateful cruelty? Even the possums and the skunks know better! Even the weasels and the meadow mice have a natural regard for their own blood and kin. Only the insects are low enough to do the low things that people do — like those ants that swarm on poplars in the summertime, greedily husbanding little green aphids for the honeydew they secrete. Yes, it could be that mankind has yet to be born. Ah, what bitter tears God must weep at the sight of the things that men do to other men!” He broke off then and I saw him shake his head convulsively, his voice a sudden cry: “In the name of money! Money!
    • Part II : Old Times Past : Voices, Dreams, Recollections.
  • I shivered in the knowledge of the futility of all ambition. My mouth was sour with the yellow recollection of death and blood-smeared fields and walls. I watched the girl slip away, vanish without a hand laid upon her. Who knows but whether we were not doomed to lose. I know nothing any longer. Nothing. Did I really wish to vouchsafe a life for the one that I had taken?
    • Part III : Study War.
  • I raise my eyes upward. There alone amidst the blue, steadfast, unmoving, fiery marvel of brightness, shines the morning star. Never has that star seemed so radiant, and I stand gazing at it and do not move though the chill of the damp floor imprisons my feet in piercing icebound pain.
    Surely I come quickly …
    • Part IV : "It Is Done…".
  • I would have done it all again. I would have destroyed them all. Yet I would have spared one. I would have spared her that showed me Him whose presence I had not fathomed or maybe never even known. Great God, how early it is! Until now I had almost forgotten His name.
    “Come!” the voice booms, but commanding me now: Come, My son! I turn in surrender.
    Surely I come quickly. Amen.
    Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
    Oh how bright and fair the morning star …
    • Part IV : "It Is Done…"

Sophie's Choice (1979)[edit]

Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz.
See also Sophie's Choice (the 1982 film based on the novel)
  • Her thought process dwindled, ceased. Then she felt her legs crumple. "I can't choose! I can't choose!"
    • Ch. 15.
  • Let your love flow out on all living things. These words at some level have the quality of a strapping homily. Nonetheless, they are remarkably beautiful, strung together in their honest lump-like English syllables... Let your love flow out on all living things.
    But there are a couple of problems with this precept of mine. The first is, of course, that it is not mine. It springs from the universe and is the property of God, and the words have been intercepted — on the wing, so to speak — by such mediators as Lao-tzu, Jesus, Gautama Buddha and thousands upon thousands of lesser prophets, including your narrator, who heard the terrible truth of their drumming somewhere between Baltimore and Wilmington and set them down with the fury of a madman sculpting in stone.

Darkness Visible (1990)[edit]

It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. … One does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.
  • In Paris on a chilling evening late in October of 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind — a struggle which had engaged me for several months — might have a fatal outcome.
    • First lines.
  • Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self — to the mediating intellect — as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode.
  • In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come — not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying — or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity — but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.
  • My brain, in thrall to its outlaw hormones, had become less an organ of thought than an instrument registering, minute by minute, varying degrees of its own suffering.

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