Rereading William Styron
Publication Year: 2014
The first critical study of William Styron since his death in 2006, Rereading William Styron offers an eloquent reflection on the writer's works, world, and character. Bringing an innovative approach to literary criticism, Gavin Cologne-Brookes combines personal anecdote, scholarly research, travel writing, and primary material to provide fresh perspectives on Styron's achievements.
For Cologne-Brookes, rereading unfolds in two ways: through close analysis of texts, and through remembrance. He begins with reminiscences about the man behind the books and then, giving due consideration to Styron's stories, incidental writings, and posthumous publications, interprets anew all his significant work -- from the nonfiction, including his acclaimed memoir of depression, Darkness Visible, to the novels Lie Down in Darkness, Set This House on Fire, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and Sophie's Choice. Defining the relevance of Styron's writing in terms of everyday life, Cologne-Brookes explores the intricate relationships between an author, his work, and his readership, and between history and fiction, and writing and place. The book's emphasis on subjectivity and dynamic interaction makes it unique in Styron criticism and a striking contribution to the debate about what it means to study literature.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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I began to reread William Styron after a suggestion that I should write an essay discussing a manuscript page of Sophie’s Choice. This essay appeared in The Mississippi Quarterly in 2009 along with a conversation Styron and I recorded in 1998. Recalling the conversation led me to combine personal experience and scholarly analysis in this critical memoir. I...
1. The Meaning of Rereading
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Rereading William Styron is a critical memoir. It involves two kinds of rereading, just as it was born of two impulses, one more objective and critical, the other more personal and passionate. Rereading refers to close critical reading. My concerns here involve showing how and why the best of Styron’s writing rewards this activity. But to reread Styron is...
2. His Heart Laid Bare: Personality, Craft, Compassion, Intimacy
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In Rereading William Styron I have in mind both the writing and the man. This chapter is ultimately a memoir, but the two forms of rereading I have outlined are entwined. The prose reflects the person. Styron’s mature writing creates in many a reader a remarkable sense of intimacy. As the reams of letters among his papers testify, he was a...
3. Self-Realization from This Quiet Dust to Havanas in Camelot
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An author’s thoughts on fellow writers clarify our sense of that author’s own artistic aims and values. In his This Quiet Dust essay on Malcolm Cowley’s The Second Flowering, Styron notes that the modernists possessed “a shared morality which viewed the husbanding of one’s talent as the highest possible goal” and so provided “a lesson in the art of...
4. The Significance of Lie Down in Darkness
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There are many remarkable things about Lie Down in Darkness, and one of them is that Styron wrote such a novel in his mid-twenties and with barely any publications to his name. But rereading it now, we can situate it as part of the panorama of his career. Three particular books stand in interesting relationship to this first novel. The best of his apprentice fiction...
5. Two Readings of Set This House on Fire
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It was always going to be hard for the young writer to swim triumphantly through to a second major novel in the wake of his extraordinary debut. Styron followed Lie Down in Darkness with the novella The Long March and struggled to produce a second large novel to match or surpass his first. But this is why Set This House on Fire is such a Rosetta Stone of his...
6. The Confessions of Nat Turner Carved of Air and Light
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The Confessions of Nat Turner is a ruminative novel, full of references to the passing of time, the rotting away of material objects, and the disappearance of once vital, living beings. “Carved” (as Arthur Miller put it of Styron’s novels in general) with precision, the style and quality of its writing invites us to contemplate not just an episode in American...
7. Reflections: Terror and Tenderness in Sophie’s Choice
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Rereading Sophie’s Choice for this book coincided with my first visit to Auschwitz and my discovery that the Auschwitz of my mind only vaguely resembled the physical sites. Perhaps like many first-time visitors, I felt I already knew the place. Yet I hadn’t fully taken in that what we call “Auschwitz” (the German name) consists of three main sites...
8. Train to the Tidewater: A Journey of Rediscovery
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Awaiting the train from New York to Newport News one mid-September morning, I pondered how to end this critical memoir. If all books are journeys, Styron himself was adept at structures that expressed both the linear trajectory of a life and the cyclical nature of memory. Lie Down in Darkness follows Peyton’s parents through the day of her funeral but...
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Manuscript material by and unpublished letters from William Styron
reprinted by permission of Rose Styron.
Details of an e-mail from Alexandra Styron to James L. W. West III, 29 November 2010, printed by permission of Alexandra Styron.
Letter to William Styron™ & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1973. All...
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2014