- William Faulkner, and: Faulkner's Country Matters: Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha
David Dowling's William Faulkner is the fifteenth in a St. Martin's Press series "devoted to the novelists who created the modern novel and to those who, in their turn, either continued and extended, or reacted against and rejected, the traditions established during that period of intense exploration and experiment." Certainly Faulkner belongs in such company; where Dowling's treatment of Faulkner belongs is less certain. For one thing, Dowling makes no attempt to place Faulkner in the contexts of the modern novel. The book is instead a handbook in the manner of Edmund Volpe's Reader's Guide to William Faulkner, from which it borrows genealogical charts, and Dorothy Tuck's Handbook of Faulkner, from which it borrows a fourteen-page "History of Yoknapatawpha." End-matter includes a list of "Faulkner's Works" (Chatto and Windus British editions, to which page references are keyed), seven citations under "Biographical, Interviews, Etc." (with Blotner's two-volume but not the revised one-volume Biography), and a brief, random bibliography of "Selected Criticism" (thirty-seven entries, twelve of which are collections of essays from Garland and from Prentice-Hall's Twentieth Century Interpretations series). The body of the book consists of a general introduction to issues in Faulkner studies (that is, his treatment of women and blacks), followed by brief reports on most of the novels (The Reivers is excluded as a "slight work"), most of them in chronologic order (Requiem for a Nun is paired with Sanctuary in the chapter on "The Thirties"). A final chapter on the short stories discusses The Unvanquished as an instance of Faulkner's "anthology technique," pairing that novel with the 1950 collection Knight's Gambit. Dowling himself raises the issue of "the obvious objections" to such an undertaking when he asks, "Do we need another book on Faulkner?" I would say that we do not need a book like this one, which adds very little to our understanding either of the modern novel or of Faulkner.
Daniel Hoffman's Faulkner's Country Matters is a more serious piece of work that unfortunately does not accomplish very much more than Dowling's. Intended originally as the concluding chapter of Hoffman's Form and Fable in American Fiction (1961), it lacks the richly defined contexts of its parent volume, in which folklore and fable are tools that enrich our reading. Echoed here but not rendered, the wealth of folklore that informs the earlier book is applied to but not integrated with Faulkner's Mississippi fables and the strategies of their making. This is exacerbated by Hoffman's treating in detail only three novels, The Unvanquished, The Hamlet, and Go Down, Moses. In addition, the book is out of date with Faulkner criticism. For the most part, the critical dialogue is contemporaneous with Form and Fable —Beck and Brooks on The Hamlet, for example, and Calvin Brown on Go Down, Moses. Except for occasional quarrels with contemporary theory and theorists, mostly late in the book, Hoffman sidesteps not only the huge body of interpretation but also the issues that fostered and shaped it in the last thirty years.
The end result is that we do not learn much at all about what Hoffman calls Faulkner's "country matters." Old controversies are rehashed (the problem of whether to read Go Down, Moses as a novel, a collection, or "something else," [End Page 238] for example), and complexities of fact are reclarified (the individual advantages gained in Ab Snopes's horse trade with Pat Stamper, for example, and in Radiff's goat trade with Flem). Plot summary substitutes for analysis. Although Hoffman exhumes folk stories from the archives of the Federal Writers Project and the Mississippi State Department of Archives and History, they are not related consistently to the fiction-making. Instead, Hoffman reviews old chestnuts such as Faulkner's use of Christian myth...