It is with great sadness that we learnt of the death last week of Noel Polk, Professor Emeritus in English literature at Mississippi State University. Over a long and illustrious academic career at MSU and, previously, the University of Southern Mississippi, Noel established himself as a leading authority on the American novel and in particular the Mississippi writers Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. He will be known to many Folio Society members as co-author of the companion volume to our recent limited edition of Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. For the Folio Society edition Noel and fellow Faulknerian Stephen M. Ross revised and updated their ground-breaking 1996 text Reading Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. They also identified the different chronological layers in the first part of the novel, which Folio then printed in different-coloured inks, fulfilling a wish Faulkner himself had expressed to his agent.
When we first contacted Noel about our Faulkner project he was in the middle of a road trip around New York and New England, and gave a guardedly enthusiastic response – second-guessing Faulkner’s true intentions for his masterpiece would be a tricky undertaking. After a few days ‘gallivanting around’, which finally took him to Ohio for a baseball match, he agreed that it was indeed a very exciting proposition, and invited Stephen to renew their collaboration. They were to split the Folio Society commission, but Noel immediately emphasised that Stephen’s portion of the fee ‘won’t go as far as my half, because I suspect he drinks more expensive single malt than I do’. Noel, as it turned out, was himself a connoisseur of Fuller’s beer.
It was this easy charm and good humour, coupled with uncompromising rigour and erudition, that made working with Noel an entertaining and a humbling experience. He lived to see the publication of what has been one of Folio’s most successful limited editions, and for which we will always owe him and Steve a considerable debt of gratitude. It was a privilege to have known Noel for the last year of his life. The last word, however, should go to his friend Stephen M. Ross: ‘Noel, though only a year or so older than I am, was also my mentor as well as a co-author. He will be sorely missed.’