NEW YORK — “‘Twixt Cup and Lip,” written soon after World War I and being published for the first time, is a one-act comedy in which a modern, free-thinking woman finds herself courted by two men and changes her mind at the last moment.
Compared to other plays from the 1920s, “‘Twixt Cup and Lip” was not uncommon with its matter-of-fact references to sex and drinking and the characters’ unending cigarettes. Even now, audiences might laugh at such lines as “Marriage is stylish again you know” and “I thought all men papered their room with actresses and fat girls in bathing suits.”
But the name of the playwright is the real attraction: William Faulkner.
Written when the future Nobel laureate was in his early 20s, “ ‘Twixt Cup and Lip” was discovered in the University of Virginia archives by The Strand Magazine managing editor Andrew Gulli, who over the past few years has also tracked down long-lost and obscure works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and many others. The play appears in the Strand’s holiday issue, which went on sale Friday.
“Faulkner wrote this at a time of great change in society especially for women,” Gulli told The Associated Press recently.
“This work is unique in that it showed a side of Faulkner that was comical yet that at the same time explored the nascent theme of the independent jazz era female which F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker carried on further.”
Faulkner, who died in 1962, is an acknowledged giant of American fiction, but in his early years was more likely to write plays and poetry. Christopher Rieger, director of the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, believes “‘Twixt Cup and Lip” was written in the early 1920s, when Faulkner was part of a theater group at the University of Mississippi.
The play’s title is lifted from an old English expression “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip,” meaning a seemingly settled event can still unravel. But readers will find nothing suggesting the tragic vision and anguish about the Southern past that made “Absalom, Absalom,” “The Sound and the Fury” and other Faulkner novels some of the most influential and haunting works of the 20th century.
“He’s showing a knack for comedy and a knack for dialogue, too,” says Rieger, noting that years later Faulkner worked on Hollywood screenplays. “You’re not seeing the trademarks from his more famous works, although the techniques he’s perfecting here would serve him well.”
Around the time he wrote “‘Twixt Cup and Lip,” Faulkner also worked on the one-act “The Marionettes,” a romance based on Faulkner and his high school girlfriend (and future wife) Estelle Oldham. Rieger says “‘Twixt Cup and Lip” also may be drawn from Faulkner’s relationship with Oldham.
“Not long before he worked on those plays, Estelle had caved to her parents’ pressure and married another man,” Rieger said. “Faulkner may have had some resentment that she didn’t stand up for them and used the play as a kind of wish fulfillment — imagining her as more independent.”