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The title and subtitle of John Rabbetts' book would seem to promise evidence of—or speculations upon—the possibility of a direct line of transmission from Hardy's Wessex to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. To the contrary, however, the discussion almost entirely bypasses the question of Hardy's having generally or specifically influenced Faulkner, concentrating instead upon putative correspondences between the two authors and the two fictional worlds without attempting to establish any links of a substantial kind.
The resulting comparative approach is written in a lively style and displays considerable ingenuity and sensitivity in highlighting points of tangency both between Wessex and Yoknapatawpha and between the respective literary careers of Hardy and Faulkner themselves. For instance, Rabbetts offers illuminating observations on the ways in which each writer's rural background and response to social change contributed to the creation and expansion of his fictional territory.
Such emphasis upon the parallels between Hardy and Faulkner assumes, however, that Wessex and Yoknapatawpha were fundamentally similar in conception and development, and it is not at all clear that this was in fact the case. For example, whereas Hardy's Wessex novels share, broadly speaking, the same setting, they strikingly lack that extensive cross-referencing that makes Yoknapatawpha so much more fully integrated a fictional cosmos. Rabbetts' neglect of such distinctions causes many of the correspondences he detects between the works of Hardy and Faulkner to appear to be merely coincidental, whereas other similarities he promotes—as in his assertion that both writers favor "doing" over "words"—seem to depend upon unduly simplified readings of both writers and to diminish their generally acknowledged complexities of attitude and outlook, of what in Hardy's case is still sometimes called his "philosophy."
It must also be said that although Rabbetts exhibits a close familiarity with most of the major books devoted to each writer—and with much pertinent historical [End Page 874] and sociological material as well—he demonstrates only a very slight acquaintance either with the extensive periodical literature devoted to both writers or with more recent criticism in general: his bibliography contains only five items dated later than 1979 and none later than 1982. Quotations from Hardy and Faulkner are drawn from a miscellaneous assortment of textual sources, and it seems particularly unfortunate that Rabbetts should choose to depend upon the often heavily Anglicized British texts of Faulkner rather than upon their more authentic and almost always more authoritative American counterparts.
The intertextual relationships within the Hardy and Faulkner canons offer a fascinating and extremely intricate area of investigation. From Hardy to Faulkner deserves credit for confronting these complexities, but it does not, in the end, go far toward resolving them: it offers intelligent and useful observations upon some individual texts by these two major authors, but it also tends merely to document areas of common concern rather than convincingly to substantiate its explorations of what arguably remain "accidental" parallels between Wessex and Yoknapatawpha.