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  • Strange Attractions:Sibling Love Triangles in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or
  • David Walter (bio)


Before he wrote The Sound and the Fury, the young William Faulkner was trying to be the Honoré de Balzac of the South. He had a plan to reproduce Balzac's fictional world in which characters and settings reappeared from story to story, and he was making works that closely emulated Balzac's style. Jacques Pothier describes how Faulkner, under the close hand of his literary mentor Phil Stone, conceived his first Yoknapatawpha fictions:

After Soldier's Pay and Mosquitoes, Stone enthusiastically encouraged Faulkner to get started on a double novel which he must have regarded as the promising beginning of a Southern "Human Comedy." A Sartoris book and a Snopes book must have been started at the same time. . . . They were Flags in the Dust, and the manuscript cryptically entitled "Father Abraham." Scenes of town-life in one book would have been offset by scenes of rural life in the second one, just as Balzac contrasts "Scenes of Parisian Life" with "Scenes of Provincial Life."1

Critics have published comprehensive articles discussing the titles, characters, and storylines that Faulkner specifically borrowed from Balzac during this early, imitative phase.2 But when it comes to exploring how Balzac's influence inhabits Faulkner's most revered works—and by this I mean the string of great novels that begins with The Sound and the Fury and culminates [End Page 484] in Absalom, Absalom!—criticism has little to say.3 Why has scholarship overlooked the debt that important works such as Absalom owe to Faulkner's French "master"?4 One reason is that The Sound and the Fury signals a departure from the dogmatic Balzacian realism of Faulkner's previous work and ventures boldly into the realm of experimental narrative. Critics who track Balzac's influence on Faulkner's early work hesitate to follow him into this "modernist" phase of his writing. Instead, they bypass this period altogether and pick up their examination with the Snopes trilogy, Faulkner's return to an instantly recognizable Balzacian format.

A more salient reason why Balzac's contribution to Absalom goes unexplored is that influential English and American scholars have hastened to locate the "ancestors" of Absalom and The Sound and the Fury too narrowly within the province of their own national literatures. In the introduction to his seminal book on the Compson saga, John Irwin outlines a "partial genealogy . . . within American literature," of "the use of the structure" of doubling and incest that is central to the two tales.5 Irwin's genealogy includes stories by Poe, Twain, James, and Robinson Jeffers. More recent, Karl Zender, in an impressive article, cites Shelley (and to a lesser extent, Byron) as a progenitor of Absalom's incest theme, stating that the works of the English poet would have given Faulkner "access to more various understanding of the incest metaphor than the ones advanced in most current readings of his fiction."6 Although it is almost certain that the American and English works Irwin and Zender discuss form a part of the general body of influence on Absalom, not one of them resembles Faulkner's tale nearly as closely as the French story I am about to discuss.

This study traces the influence of a novella by Balzac, The Girl with the Golden Eyes, on the Henry-Judith-Bon love triangle in Absalom. It identifies narrative patterns in Balzac's story that link incest and doubling to other central themes, such as paternity and submission; race and female sexuality; and hermaphroditism and homosexuality, that are woven together in both tales. The discussion forms a part of a larger project designed to reveal the striking degree to which a closely-related family of Balzac's works underlies the structure of Absalom and its companion work The Sound and the Fury. Because of space limitations, I avoid introducing other triangulated works of Balzac's (the tales of Rastignac, Rubempré, and Jacques Collin) that contribute greatly to Faulkner's two interlinked novels. My goal here is to call attention to the literary source that was most important to...


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pp. 484-506
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