Inheritance of Night: Early Drafts of Lie Down in Darkness

Inheritance of Night: Early Drafts of Lie Down in Darkness

by William Styron, Styron

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From 1947 to 1949, William Styron twice attempted to write a novel under the working title Inheritance of Night. On the third attempt he produced the award-winning Lie Down in Darkness, which when published in September 1951 established him as one of the most promising writers of his generation. Published here, in facsimile form, are the long-lost drafts of Styron's…  See more details below


From 1947 to 1949, William Styron twice attempted to write a novel under the working title Inheritance of Night. On the third attempt he produced the award-winning Lie Down in Darkness, which when published in September 1951 established him as one of the most promising writers of his generation. Published here, in facsimile form, are the long-lost drafts of Styron's earliest version of Lie Down in Darkness. Although Styron began the narrative twice, he realized both times that his writing was derivative and his characters not yet fully conceived. These drafts show young Styron feeling his way into the story with various narrative voices and strategies, attempting to work out his plot. Influences from William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Robert Penn Warren are apparent in the text, and there is a character named Marcus Bonner who is an early rendition of Stingo in Sophie's Choice. The typescript drafts of Inheritance of Night for many years were thought to have been lost, but in 1980 were discovered in the files of one of Styron's former literary agents. These drafts eventually made their way to the archive of Styron's papers assembled at Duke University Library. This general interest trade volume is also available in two different limited editions for collectors: a lettered, signed, and boxed edition and a numbered, signed edition. With a preface by Styron and an introduction by James L. W. West III, these drafts afford much insight into the creation of Lie Down in Darkness and the writing of a major twentieth-century American writer.

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"It's fascinating for me to read, for the first time in over forty years, the stumbling starts toward the creation of Lie Down in Darkness. These passages show how, in my early twenties, I may have been in possession of a luminous vision for a novel but how it was a luminosity clouded by much indecision and awkwardness. . . . Inheritance of Night, then, is made up of fragments of a beginning, bits of fruitful inspiration mingled with conceits that were stillborn."--William Styron, from the Preface

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Inheritance of Night

Early Drafts of Lie Down in Darkness

By William Styron

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7859-4


A Vision of Death in August

MAUDIE LOFTIS, at the Mordecai Clinic, Richmond, Virginia, September, 1945.

________ [ital.]

LORD, I don't know how many times I remember seeing Papa come tearing up the lawn when I'd be sitting there sewing on the porch. I sewed a lot that summer. A sampler I remember I did for old lady Dyke who was in the hospital. She died before I was finished but I remember how much trouble it took because Mama taught me a lot of new things about sewing - stitching she called it - and I did that sampler in blue and red with a verse on it that went God bless our home a happy one. I forget the rest but Peyton would laugh at me every afternoon and say that it was old-fashioned and I could hear Mama holler out, "Hush, Peyton, hush." Peyton was around nine years old then, I reckon, because she's six years younger than me and I was fifteen then. Fifteen then because that's how old I was when I got out of The School. And it was that summer that I sat on the porch every afternoon and worked on the sampler. They taught me at The School. And I'd sit there in the swing out of the sun, moving every once in a while when the sunshine would hit me, you know, and then Papa would come home, tearing up the lawn yelling "Peyton, Peyton!" I couldn't see him for the hydrangeas but I could hear his voice. Lord, that was a long time ago, but I remember it plain. I was fifteen then because I remember Peyton had her ninth birthday then. She was born in June and she's six years younger than me. "Peyton, Peyton," I could hear Papa holler, and the dog - his name was Dover. He's dead now but his name was Dover because that's what Peyton called him when she was a baby and couldn't say the name right. I think his name was really Rover or something - he'd run out barking at Papa and Papa would come up the steps with sweat on his face and pat me on the back and say "Hello, Maudie, honey," and run right into the house hollering, "Peyton, Peyton." And Peyton would be hid somewhere in the house and he'd rush all over inside, I could hear him inside whistling and then she'd come out from wherever she was hid and if they were near the window I could see him pick her up and kiss her, him laughing and her laughing just like that. Oh I reckon "he was his favorite, all right. He'd call her his little glamour girl and then Mama would holler out from the sunporch in the back. I could hear her say, "Milton, Milton, please try to be quiet, my migraine is so bad today," and they'd hush up, Papa and Peyton, and then they'd come out of the house real quiet, whispering together like he wasn't any older than her, and go up to Powhatan Road and get some ice-cream and bring me back some. Lord, it was hot that summer. I couldn't walk very far, just like now, on account of my leg, and while they'd be gone I'd sit there and sew and watch the water. We live on the water, on Hampton Roads. Papa always said it was the best place for a house in Port Warwick, where we live, and I guess so. In the summer the water is real blue and you can see the battleships and airplane carriers and all. When Peyton got older Papa would take her out clamming and Mama and me would sit on the porch and drink ice tea and watch them way out in the low tide looking like sticks, Papa teaching Peyton how to clam. I couldn't ever go on account of my leg, you know, and I never wanted to go much anyhow because, Lord, I always thought clams and oysters are the messiest things there are. I like fish and softshell crabs and all, but clams and oysters are messy. Mama didn't ever go with them clamming. She didn't think it was dignified. That's what she'd say. "Milton, why don't you let Clay get those clams? I think it looks awful undignified for you to do that." And Papa would say, "Where's all your spirit, Helen?" That's what he'd say. Clay's our nigger boy, only he's not with us any more. He left a long time ago. Papa said he went up North where he could make more money. I don't know. But Papa would always take Peyton clamming. We live on the Boulevard and there are a lot of houses around us but we own the beach and we had a boat, too, until the storm blew it away. We own the clams, too. Papa was always down there on the beach with Peyton in the summer, building sand houses and all. That is, when he wasn't playing golf. He used to love golf. He doesn't play any more because he's got heart trouble, I think. He's a lawyer and he played golf with all of his and Mama's friends. They were mostly doctors and lawyers that belonged to the country club because they were the only ones in Port Warwick that had any money, Papa always said. But some of the bosses in the shipyard used to play, too. Me and Mama would sit there watching Papa and Peyton way out clamming, watching them go down the beach until they weren't any bigger than sticks, the sunlight shining down and the water real green, until you couldn't see them any more and all you could see was the beach stretching down in a kind of curve to Old Point and Norfolk across the water looking real little with the smoke coming up and making the sky smoky and all. Mama would sit there on the swing by me until you couldn't see them any more, looking mad and saying that Papa forgot all about her when Peyton was around. And then she'd go in and tell Ella Swan - she's our nigger cook - to cook dinner and she'd come out and stroke my hair and say, "my dear little darkeyed girl," and then she'd go back on the sunporch and lie down. I'd just sit there and sew on that old sampler until Papa and Peyton would come back around six o'clock with mud all over their legs and they'd be laughing together like they always did. Peyton was only nine years old but she was smart, Lord, she was smart, like she is now I reckon, and Papa and her would be talking together like she wasn't any younger than him at all. Once Peyton put a clam down my neck and Lord didn't I scream. I just hollered and cried and Mama came out and slapped Peyton good and hard. "Didn't I tell you to quit teasing her?" Mama said, and Peyton cried and Mama cried and I was crying fit to kill. Papa came out and told Mama to quit slapping Peyton and they argued something awful and I walked out on the breakwater and watched the ships. Lord, I remember that summer so well. Papa and Peyton never went clamming together any years after that because I guess Peyton was growing up and she had a lot of friends in school and all. I never went to public school myself, on account of my leg, I mean I was in public school for a while in the first and second grades but I never could do my work as good as the other children on account of my leg and finally Mama and Papa took me out and sent me to a private teacher named Miss Barton. I don't remember much about her. Then when I got a little older they sent me to The School up in Maryland. I was up there five years. It was built like a home, almost, and there were fifteen girls besides me. It was on a green hill looking down on a river and an old woman named Mrs. Flame was the principal. Lord, she was mean. She used to call us "miss." Miss Loftis this and Miss Loftis that until I thought I would go crazy. I was always crying that first year, I was so homesick. One time Mrs. Flame called me into her office and told me I was a silly little ninny and I went out crying and tripped on the floor getting out of there - Lord, I had such a time with my leg until I got grown up - and she tried to help me up, saying, "I'm sorry, dear girl," and I hit her with my hand and got up and went up to my room and put all my stuff in a bag and was going home. I would have gone, too, but Mrs. Flame came up and said she was sorry and not to go home. She sure acted worried. Well, I didn't go home but I stayed in my room and cried for a long time until Miss Monahan came up and told me not to grieve. Oh, she was wonderful. I'll always remember that Miss Monahan. She was so pretty. Always wanting to help you and all, and calling you Maudie instead of miss. She taught arithmetic and horseback riding. I could ride, too, even with my leg, and Miss Monahan was always saying with that smile of her's, "You'll be the best of them all." And I was pretty good, too. When I started bleeding the first time I was so scared I wanted to die. I hid in the closet and stuffed handkerchiefs in my mouth to keep from screaming, I wanted to scream so bad. I passed out in arithmetic class that morning and the niggers took me up to my room and Mrs. Flame was going to call the doctor but Miss Monahan said, no, she knew what was wrong and she told them all to go away and she sat down and told me in that soft voice of her's what was wrong, you know, how girls get that sort of thing and all, and how I was more worried than sick. I could, have kissed her then. I guess I loved her more than anybody except Harvey, and now Harvey's gone. I wrote love letters to her a long time, even after I got out of school but finally I just sort of stopped. She wrote me that she war going to get married and move to California and I was awful jealous for a while, but that was years ago and I've almost forgotten what she looks like. When I came back to Port Warwick from The School everything was real Grange for a while but I finally got used to being at home and helping Mama around the house, just like I got used to The School and even Mrs. Flame after I was there for a while. I made good grades there and I pestered Mama all summer after I got out of The School about going to prep school. I wanted to go to St. Mary's, that's the school that all the girls from our church in Port Warwick go to and Mama said she'd think about it, but I never did go to any prep school or college or anything after The School. One time I got in a fight with Peyton that summer, I forget what over, but Peyton kicked me in my leg, you know, this one, and called me crazy and feeble-minde and all until I got up and threw a book at her. I cried, too, and Mama came out and made Peyton say she was sorry. We never did have any fights after that and Peyton said she didn't mean to say it. Sometimes when I remember what she said I get to thinking that Mama and Papa didn't send me to St. Mary's because I was dumb. But I know that's not so because Dr. Meekins - he's the doctor up here, you know, that I've been coming to ever since my accident when I was a baby - he said that I was as smart as anybody my age, except that my leg has kept me back, that's all. And it's true. I am as smart as Peyton, or anybody. Even if Peyton did go to St. Mary's. Even if she can paint pictures and all. Sometimes I want to hate Peyton because she's so smart and beautiful. I've had a man to love me, too, and I think it's a shame just because Harvey's a gardener Mama and Papa called the police and carried me up to this old hospital again. Lord, I hate it. I hate every bit of it. I'm just as good as anybody. Haven't I got a right to love somebody, just as much as anybody else? I know about Peyton and I know about Papa, too. Peyton loving Luther Bonner and Papa loving Luther's wife. I know all about it. And I think it's a shame that Mama has to stay alone at home, trying to be happy about everything. Luther Bonner is better than his wife and I don't much blame Peyton if she wants to. But Papa ought to be ashamed. And putting me in this hospital just because I love Harvey. He was so good to me. What if he is married? He loved me, he told me so, and I don't care if he is almost as old as Papa. Yes he loved me, I know it. We were in the garden behind the trellis and he kissed me and called me his black-eyed Susan and he felt me all over and he said he wanted me. And I let him do it to me, right there. It was the first time and I could smell the ferns and the azaleas somewhere. And it wasn't like what Peyton said it was like but it was wonderful all the same feeling his body up next to me and feeling his heart beating and hearing him say "oh, honey" over and over again. But he wanted me, he wanted to take me away, he said. That was the best. And what good is it for me to be in this place here when I have a memory like that, just as happy and natural memory as anybody else? I'm almost thirty years old now and I have a right to be happy just like anybody. Sometimes I stay awake at night and remember the thoughts I had when I was already grown and Peyton had started going with Eddie Boutchard and I could see them parked in the car at night and I knew what they were doing. And I'd go back to bed and listen to the silence in the house and look out across the water and see the lights blink on and off at the naval base. I'd throw off the sheets it would be so hot, and I'd listen again and hear the baby squalling in the house next door, sounding far-off and faint, like the noise you hear in a dream. Then there would be footsteps on the sidewalk and the hot summer night outside and Peyton's voice, low like it always was, "Goodnight, Eddie ...goodnight ... goodnight ... goodnight," and silence again, I'd get to wanting something terrible, way inside, down here, almost like a pain. And I'd turn my head so I could feel the breeze from the water touch my face and the wanting would get so bad that I could have hollered out anything, "Take me!" or "My darling!" or anything. Anything, I tell you, to take away the pain, Then I'd go to sleep and in the morning I'd open my eyes and the sun would be shining down on my face. That's the way it is now sometimes. I want to get out of here. I want to be happy like other people. I want to do things like other people and I think it's a shame that Papa put me in this place. I just want to be happy, I tell you.


RIDING down to Port Warwick from Richmond the train begins to pick up speed on the outskirts of the city, past the tobacco factories with their ever-present, hovering haze of faintly acrid dust and past the rows of uniformly-brown, clapboard houses which stretch down the hilly streets for miles, it seems, the hundreds of rooftops all reflecting the pale light of dawn; past the suburban roads still sluggish and sleepy with early-morning traffic, and rattling swiftly now over the long bridge which separates the last two hills where in the valley below you can see the James River winding beneath its acid-green, malignant crust of scum out past the chemical plants and more rows of uniformly-brown, clapboard houses and into the woods beyond. Suddenly the train is burrowing through the pine woods and the conductor, who looks middle-aged and respectable, like someone's favorite uncle, lurches through the car asking for tickets. If you are particularly alert at that unconscionable hour you notice his voice, which is somewhat guttural and negroid - certainly vaguely fatuous-sounding after the accents of New York or Columbus or wherever you came from -, and when you ask him how far it is to Port Warwick and he says, "aboot eighty miles," you know you're in tidewater Virginia.

Then you settle back in your seat, your face feeling unwashed and swollen from the intermittent sleep you got sitting up the night before, and your gums sore from too many cigarettes, and you try to dose off,but the nap of the blue felt seat prickles your neck and so you sit up once more and cross your legs, gazing drowsily at the pipe manufacturer from Allentown, P-A, next to you, who told you last night about his hobby, model trains, and the joke about the two college girls at the Hotel Astor, and whose sleek white face, sprouting a faint gray crop of fine stubble, one day old, is now peacefully relaxed and immobile in sleep, his breath issuing from slightly parted lips in delicate sighs. Or, turning away, you look out at the pine woods driving past at sixty miles per hour, the trees standing close together, green and somnolent, and the brown-needled carpet of the forest floor dappled brightly in the early morning light, until the white fog of smoke from the engine ahead swirls and dips against the window like a tattered scarf, and obscures the view.

Later the woods thin out into fields green and nodding with rows of corn, the corn getting brown because it's August, and later still as the trainsdips into the tidelands the fields merge into acres of wooded bottoms where the pines grow tall, standing in marshes deep in saw-grass and murky with the brackish ooze that seeps off the river. Here the horse-doctors flit soundlessly with small, swift flutterings of irridescent wings, searching for grubs in the algae-green water, and at night, standing on the highway, you can hear a hound baying through the darkness. Now the sun is up and you see the mist lifting off the fields and in the middle of the fields the solitary cabins with their slim threads of smoke trailing out of plastered chimneys and the glow of a fire through an open door and then, at a crossing, the sudden, swift tableau of a Negro and his hay-wagon, and a lop-eared mule: the Negro with his mouth agape, exposing calcimine teeth, staring in astonishment at the speeding train, until the smoke obscures him, too, from view, and the one dark brown hand held cataleptic in the air.

Stirring, the pipe manufacturer squints sleepyeyed out at the sunlight and grunts, "Where are we?" and you murmur "Not far from Port Warwick, I hope," and as he turns on his side to sleep some more you finger your copy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch which the newsboy sold you an hour ago, and which you haven't read and won't read because maybe you have things on your mind; and instead you look out once more at the late summer landscape and the low, sorrowful beauty of the tideland swamps and the pine-shadowed creeks - turgid, involute, and secret - winding through marshes full of small, darting, frightened noises and glistening and dead silent at noon except for a whistle, far off, and a distant rumble on the rails. Then the fields once more, and the shacks, and now and then a white-painted house where you can see a truck standing in the yard and a sycamore which casts a trembling light on the ground and a farmer, one overalled leg on the running board, about to climb in the truck, but with his head turned toward the train, staring. Then the house is gone and the sycamore with its tender, trembling light, and the fields again, hot and dusty and sending up greasy waves of heat, and the marshland again. And you think about the farmer for a moment, wondering where he's going and what his wife looks like - but you forget him, because you see a sign on the bordering highway which points to Port Warwick and that, most likely, is where you're going.


Excerpted from Inheritance of Night by William Styron. Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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