- The Yoknapatawpha Chronicle of Gavin Stevens, and: Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1986, and: Creating Faulkner's Reputation: The Politics of Modern Literary Criticism
In his later years William Faulkner claimed he had one major task that he hoped to complete, and then he could break the pencil. That task he variously described as his Golden Book, his Domesday Book, or his Doomsday Book. Although some reviewers mistook his final novel, The Reivers, to be the Golden Book, James B. Meriwether established beyond a doubt that Faulkner had in mind the role of county historian, writing something comparable to the provincial chronicles that medieval historians called the Domesday Book. And Meriwether also established that Faulkner completed only those fragments, identifiable by panoramic point of view and nonstop sentence structure, that were included in Go Down, Moses (1942), the Appendix to The Sound and the Fury (1946), the interchapters of Requiem for a Nun (1950), and the Snopes trilogy (1940, 1957, 1959).
Now John Kenny Crane has stepped forward to finish the job with an audacious and imaginative flourish that can be inferred from his inside title page: "A YOKNAPATAWPHA CHRONICLE//Compiled by Gavin Stevens, County Attorney, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi//Edited by Charles J. Mallison, Jr., Nephew of Gavin Stevens and Executor of His Estate//and by Melissa Meek, Librarian (Retired), City of Jefferson, Mississippi." Going year by year from 1540 (the time of de Soto's cross-country trek to the Mississippi River) to 1948 (shortly after Gavin Stevens' death), Crane accomplishes the macrocosmic feat of synchronizing the events of Faulkner's huge fictional oeuvre, while at the same time offering a clear and concise rendering of the microcosmic details: the specific plot, character, and thematic complications involved in each tale and novel. To further clarify the Faulkner oeuvre, Crane includes a substantial index of names and characters, and twenty-eight family genealogies.
By using Gavin Stevens' voice rather than his own, Crane is able to project a force of judgment and a sense of humor that give some sparkle to the proceedings. Although the final result cannot match Faulkner's own level of genius, it is admirably well done—a substantial service to Faulkner readers in the scope, [End Page 283] clarity, and precision of its huge overview. An engaging instance of this text's usefulness is its clarification of Sam Fathers' paternity, which Faulkner treats differently in "A Justice" and in Go Down, Moses. Crane/Stevens argues that Ikkemotubbe got the slave woman pregnant before Crawfishford saw her get off the steamboat. In that case, the resourceful chief was even more guileful than we realized in bestowing the name "Had-Two-Fathers" on the woman's child. The more accurate name, in good likelihood, would have been "Had-Three-Fathers."
In so grand a project, we would expect to find some errors. Crane/Stevens makes several mistakes about Absalom!, especially concerning Bon's prospective incest (that Thomas disclosed to Henry at the end of the War, not early on). And a few errors of judgment appear concerning As I Lay Dying, such as the idea that Addie "had insisted on being buried" in her wedding dress—a prospect that, given her hatred of her marriage, she would have regarded with loathing. But overall this book is an excellent addition to the shelf of Faulkner scholarship, performed with fidelity to the master's vision and tone.
Faulkner and Race consists of fifteen essays that were presented at the Thirteenth Annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi in 1986. Predictably, the essays show significant variations in the quality of their scholarship and criticism. At the bottom of the scale is Karl F. Zender's "Requiem for a Nun and the Uses of...