- On the Prejudices, Predilections, and Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner, and: William Faulkner: The Art of Stylization in his Early Graphic and Literary Work
Anyone familiar with Faulkner studies will be familiar with the work of Cleanth Brooks. Those familiar with Brooks will be familiar with most, if not all, of the twelve essays published here, all but three of which have appeared previously in journals (Studies in Short Fiction, Mississippi Quarterly) or in the proceedings of various Faulkner conferences from 1971-1985 (four from the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at Mississippi). In subject matter and approach they are representative Brooks, products both of the firm foundation of Faulkner studies to which he has been a major contributor, and of his own familiar "prejudices," "predilections," and "firm beliefs" as one of the earliest and foremost of Faulkner's critics.
Brooks has always argued his case for Faulkner's achievement from the perspective of his own Southernness and the Southern experience. His essays on "Faulkner and the Community," "Faulkner and Christianity," and "Faulkner and the Fugitive-Agrarians" are solidly fixed there, and it is as pointless now to take issue with the positions he takes as it would be to reiterate his detailed defense of them. Brooks has perhaps a special authority to say that Faulkner, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren "differed very little in their devotion to their native region and what they have to say about it in praise and in reproof." He is on less certain ground, I think, when he writes about "Faulkner's Ultimate Values" or when he insists on the particular brand of community influence in Faulkner's fiction. [End Page 281]
As their titles suggest, most of these are "special essays," written for the special topics by which conferences acquire continuity. Like the majority of Brooks' work, they are gentlemanly, informative, and carefully argued, products of a humane and serious man of letters at work on a subject that he clearly knows and loves. Yet much of what is here is better done—in the sense that it is more thoroughly developed in a fuller context—in Brooks's two major books, The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963) and Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (1978). So thorough and full is the treatment there that he was able to append to the latter a chronological arrangement of the chapters in the two books for readers who wish to take up the Faulkner canon in the order of its conception and composition. The present essays derive from that systematic view but without reconstituting it and so at times seem random as well as a little dated.
Lothar Hönnighausen's book, by contrast, is an extended essay on the multiple aspects of a single time in Faulkner's career, the early years in which he established the grounds in his poetry, illustrations, and calligraphy on which the verbal art of his great poetic novels is built. Hönnighausen's orientation to Faulkner is not Southern but Modernist: he comes to the influences he cites and assimilations he describes by way of an academic tradition of international studies, and although he covers some of the same ground as the Brooks essays (Faulkner's early attempts at the short story, for example), it is ground thoroughly reseen and reevaluted. For Hönnighausen, Faulkner's Southernness is only half the story of his development as a literary artist. Intent upon Faulkner's "need for a a stylized world of beauty," which the apprentice work manifests, Hönnighausen argues that the Southern experience drove him, by its very barrenness, to the stylized beauties of the late Romantics. Aware that "mere exposure to the reality of his native soil probably would have left him poetically inarticulate," Faulkner experimented with and mastered in his early work such arts of stylization as the mythical method, momentary freeze, silhouette effect...