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William Faulkner. Novels 1930-1935: "As I Lay Dying," "Sanctuary," "Light in August," "Pylon." Ed. Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk. New York: The Library of America, 1985. 1034 pp. $27.50.

Faulkner: Novels 1930-1935 is the first volume of works by a twentieth-century author to be included in the massive program of definitive texts by "America's foremost authors in uniform hardcover editions" published by the Library of America. This volume is predicated, according to the dustjacket, on the fact that "between 1930 and 1935, Faulkner came into full possession of the genius and creativity that made him America's finest writer of the twentieth century"—a claim that is odd or astonishing when we recall that The Sound and the Fury, arguably the best novel of them all, was published in 1929. Following its predecessors in this remarkable and genuinely useful series, Novels 1930-1935 has the virtues and shortcomings that characterize the series as a whole.

The authoritative texts are the raison d'etre for the Library of America, and Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk's succinct and informative "Note on the Texts" sets forth many of Faulkner's quirks and inconsistencies and acknowledges many of the difficulties in establishing a text, especially in the absence, at times, of original holograph copy and printer's galleys (on which Faulkner continued to make changes, not all of them clear-cut improvements). Most of the variants described in the note are accidental rather than substantive—the cosmetic straightening out of peculiarities, omissions, and outright error—and so the editors have chosen wisely to compare the text of the first editions with both galleys and Faulkner's latest typescript. It is the typescript, finally, that serves as copy text.

Anyone who has worked with Faulkner's manuscripts and typescripts, as I have, will know what a challenge this presents. The note points out the rearrangement of chapters in Sanctuary, for instance, but it fails to mention that the last typescript we have of As I Lay Dying, now housed at the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, is full of slips of cutting and pasting, where small and large passages have been repositioned, and trails of marginal changes—sometimes one or two words where Faulkner has gone back and forth thinking, apparently, more of sound pattern and rhythm than of lexical choice—all belying the fact that this tour de force came direct and steaming from the pen, as Faulkner claimed and this note confirms. Rather, it came limping and halting, perhaps in as short a period, from an author who constantly revised and who constantly tinkered. It is just this tinkering that creeps also into the revised galleys of Sanctuary, a fact that at least needs discussing when determining a copy text for an edition as important as this one. The editors are aware of problems:

Evidence from the holograph manuscript [of Sanctuary] completely refutes Faulkner's claim of haste and carelessness. This manuscript, among the two or three most complex documents in the Faulkner archive, preserves the painstaking effort, the thousands of revisions, the hundreds of shifts of large bodies of material and small that went into the composition of [that book].

What is desperately needed in such a case, of course, is a full table of textual variants—and this is the first vital shortcoming we always find in The Library of America volumes supervised by Daniel Aaron. How are we to know what choices [End Page 616] had to be made, and whether the present text has chosen the clearly superior readings? I have checked the four texts of the present volume against my own first editions—admittedly by Faulkner's standards one step removed from what might be his final intentions (and those for better or worse, tinkering away)—and have found puzzing variations. The punctuation in As I Lay Dying at 78.8-9, for instance, is not typical for Faulkner, although the typical Faulkner pointing does appear in the printed first edition. Sanctuary, on the other hand, makes an important silent correction of spelling at 398.22. In Light in August, the arabic chapter numerals of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 616-617
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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