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Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition

Noel Polk

Publication Year: 2008

As one of the preeminent scholars of southern literature, Noel Polk has delivered lectures, written journal articles and essays, and discussed the rich legacy of the South's literary heritage around the world for over three decades. His work on William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, and other writers is incisive and groundbreaking. His essays in Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition maintain an abiding interest in Polk's major area of literary study: the relationship between the smaller units of construction in a literary work and the work's larger themes. The analysis of this interplay between commas and dashes, curious occlusions, passages, and characters who have often gone unnoticed in the critical discourse--the bricks and mortar, as it were--and a work's grand design is a crucial aspect of Polk's scholarship. Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition collects Polk's essays from the late-1970s to 2005. Featuring an introduction that places Faulkner and Welty at the center of the South's literary heritage, the volume asks useful, probing questions about southern literature and provides insightful analysis. Noel Polk is professor of English at Mississippi State University and editor of the Mississippi Quarterly. From 1981 to 2006, he edited the Library of America's complete edition of William Faulkner's novels. He is the author of Outside the Southern Myth; Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner; and Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

These essays began as invited lectures given to specific audiences on specific occasions and designed to contribute to discussions of specific themes in Faulkner’s and Welty’s works. Some were written for and delivered to foreign audiences and then published in foreign journals and proceedings and so have been mostly unavailable in this country. Their...


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pp. xi-xii

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Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition

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pp. 3-21

William Faulkner’s eye is a defining eye. Generations of post-Faulkner southern writers and readers have adopted his vision and so seen “The South” through his eyes rather than through their own or struggled against that vision, experiencing it as a barrier to be gotten around behind above or below in order to keep from seeing only the South that he saw. For so many writers in...

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How Shreve Gets in to Quentin’s Pants

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pp. 22-30

The occasion for my title occurs in The Sound and the Fury just after Gerald Bland, his mother, Spoade, Shreve, and two veiled young ladies encounter Quentin Compson in the clutches of the law and of an angry brother who wants Quentin pilloried for molesting his sister, whom Quentin has ostensibly been helping to find her way home. Julio, the brother, is as certain of Quentin’s inten-...

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Faulkner in the Luxembourg Gardens

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pp. 31-43

One of the strangest twists in Sanctuary is its final scene, for which Faulkner quite unexpectedly drags us to Paris’s fabled Luxembourg Gardens. It is a profoundly rendered scene, almost a nature morte, a poem profoundly imagiste whose unnarrated elegance gives it the same visual hold upon our imaginations as Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and partakes of some of that...

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Testing Masculinity in the Snopes Trilogy

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pp. 44-67

I’ve argued elsewhere that race in Faulkner’s fiction often serves as a mask for gender. In fact, race occupied him in only four of his nineteen novels and in only one or two of nearly 140 short stories, so that race, statistically at any rate, is a very minor part of his concerns. Sexual and sexualized relationships, on the other hand, are everywhere,...

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Reading Blood and History in Go Down, Moses

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pp. 68-81

Isaac McCaslin’s renunciation of his birthright is an iconic moment in American literature. Early critics accepted the renunciation as a heroic act—and therefore accepted Isaac as Faulkner’s hero— because the language of his renunciation fit the high idealism of the time that believed that Jim Crow racism was a plague on the land and that...

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Faulkner and the Commies

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pp. 82-94

I begin by noting three scenes in The Unvanquished. The first occurs a couple of pages into the second part of “Retreat,” the second of The Unvanquished’s chapter-stories. Bayard and Ringo, in Jefferson for supplies for their trip to Memphis, encounter Uncle Buck McCaslin. Buck, whom we know far better from Go Down, Moses, had served under...

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War and Modernism in A Fable

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pp. 95-105

Modern European sculpture and painting appear prominently in two scenes in A Fable. The sculpture appears in an intricately staged setting for the old general’s interview with the three women, his son the corporal’s sisters and wife, who have come to Allied Headquarters at Chaulnesmont to ask him to spare...

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pp. 106-132

The least bloody battle of the Civil War occurred at Harrykin Creek, on the Sartoris farm just outside Jefferson, Mississippi, on 28 April 1862, just after the fall of Memphis. According to Bedford Forrest’s official written report of this battle, the only victim was Lieutenant P. S. Backhouse. Perhaps “battle” is too grandiose a name for what actually hap-...

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Water, Wanderers, and Weddings: Going to Naples and to No Place

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pp. 133-162

In “Moon Lake,” Easter, Nina, and Jinny Love approach an old boat hidden in the vines in a forbidden part of the shore. To get to it they have to transgress a barbed wire fence, fight their way through fierce vines, and tromp through treacherous mud. As they near the boat they see a snake drop off into the water, perhaps another one swimming...

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The Landscape of Alienation in “Old Mr. Marblehall”

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pp. 163-175

In its own way, “Old Mr. Marblehall” is as much a tour-de-force as William Faulkner’s “Carcassonne”—richly poetical, densely imaged; cooler and more detached, but just as calmly deliberate, as totally confident in its power to shake and move and tantalize, and no less stubbornly reluctant to yield itself to us completely. Despite its...

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Domestic Violence in “The Purple Hat,” “Magic,” and “The Doll”

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pp. 176-185

I want to get a running start for a reading of Welty’s odd story “The Purple Hat” by backing up to two very early stories, “Magic” and “The Doll.” The first is an exact contemporary of its more famous sibling, “Death of a Travelling Salesman.” Both were accepted by Manuscript on 19 March 1936 and published in the summer and fall issues of the same year; “The Doll,” published in The Tanager in June 1936,...

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The Ponderable Heart

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pp. 186-198

The Ponder Heart is Eudora Welty’s oddest book. Every line, every illustration, seems to scream “Laugh! Laugh! Laugh, damn you!”—and yet I never feel quite like laughing, never quite feel like taking the book seriously enough to laugh either at it or with it. It always seems too slight, indeed too silly, to be the work of a major writer. Perhaps because I don’t have an uncle just like Edna...

Works Cited

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pp. 199-202


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pp. 203-207

E-ISBN-13: 9781604733235
E-ISBN-10: 1604733233
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110843
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110841

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2008