Insure Yourself with Faulkner




From December 1921 until October 1924, William Faulkner enjoyed a famously disastrous tenure as the University of Mississippi’s postmaster. He’d arrive late, leave early, play bridge, and work on his fiction—all while losing mail or simply throwing it away. (“I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp,” he wrote in his brief, pungent resignation letter.)

During these years Faulkner wrote regularly for The Mississippian, the school newspaper. Of his contributions, the strangest and most apocryphal is the mock-advertisement above, for the Bluebird Insurance Co., which offered to indemnify students “against professors and other failures.” It goes on to discuss feet, heartbreak, and hollow logs, none of them very coherently.

Faulkner, minus the u, is listed as one of the company’s three presidents, and apparently it’s never been clear whether he helped write the ad or was named without consent. Whatever the case, in the weeks and months to follow, more ads for Bluebird appeared in The Mississippian and the Ole Miss annual. One of them took a (self-deprecating?) jab at Faulkner’s job performance: “It is a gross injustice to say that President Falkner has permanently retired in the Post Office. He merely takes temporary naps—during business hours.”

Carvel Collins tells the story more completely in the introduction to his William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry (1961):

On January 11, 1924, [The Mississippian] carried a large, humorous “advertisement” for a Bluebird Insurance Company which was dedicated to the happiness of students because it would protect them in their college courses by insuring them “against professors and other failures.” This advertisement and those which followed it purported to have been purchased by a company composed of three men: a student who had just returned from England where he had been at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; one of Faulkner’s post office assistants, who later would become postmaster when Faulkner resigned; and Faulkner. Each was listed as a “president” of the company.

The published accounts of Faulkner’s life which mention the Bluebird Insurance Company seem to have assumed without question that Faulkner invented and developed this joke. One cannot with assurance label that interpretation wrong, but there is the possibility that much—or all?—of this series of advertisements originated in the office of The Mississippian and that Faulkner and, perhaps, the other two men were drafted as “presidents” without their consent or knowledge.

[…] It seems doubtful that [Faulkner] would strongly have favored publishing among the defenses of the Company in its advertisement of February 15 such an item as this: “It is a gross injustice to say that President Falkner has permanently retired in the Post Office. He merely takes temporary naps—during business hours.” Faulkner, whose sense of humor has clearly demonstrated that it includes himself, may have taken part in this series of advertisements, which did not end until many months later with a full-page notice in the Ole Miss annual; but until firmer evidence appears either way, admirers of his fiction should be kindly allowed at least to assume that if Faulkner did voluntarily help work up these Bluebird notices he did not write the more flat-footed parts of them, did not favor stretching the joke over such a long time, and had nothing whatever to do with the news article in the February 15 Mississippian which announced that the next day the campus would start “The Bluebird Game,” in which “some popular young man,” secretly the Bluebird, would “carry a striped letter” to deliver “to the first coed” who happened to ask whether he was the Bluebird. “The fortunate young lady” would receive a ticket to the movies and a Bluebird insurance policy. The first game was to be “solely for the coeds. The next solely for the eds.” “Isn’t a ticket to the show worth asking the question? Try it. You’ll find it fun. Play the Bluebird game.”