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  • Faulkner
  • Theresa M. Towner

"Memory believes before knowing remembers," the narrator of Light in August tells us. "Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders." My own memory contains an anecdote I have secondhand from a Faulkner conference I did not attend, during which one of the participants opined, "Criticism believes before scholarship demonstrates." The past year in Faulkner studies has produced a great deal of criticism. Even the welcome new developments—more attention paid to Faulkner's work after 1940, for example—tend to assert critical belief rather than trace the trail of scholarly wondering.

i Biography

A refreshing exception to this pattern is M. Thomas Inge's William Faulkner (Overlook, 2006). A short, accessible biography and guide to Faulkner's works, Inge's volume is of particular value to general readers. It incorporates copious visual images, including illustrations, photographs of the writer, Mississippi venues, and icons of popular culture, in order to situate Faulkner's literary accomplishments in his time and in ours. Many of these images come from Inge's own collection and so represent an impressive range and blend of scholarly interests.

Of more specialized interest is Lisa C. Hickman's William Faulkner and Joan Williams: The Romance of Two Writers (McFarland, 2006). Based on interviews with Williams beginning in 1993 and on many of the letters that she and Faulkner exchanged, the book centers on the [End Page 195] years 1949–53, from the time that Faulkner and Williams met until she became seriously involved with her future husband Ezra Bowen. Interest in this book might well depend on the degree of curiosity one has about Faulkner's extramarital romantic life. The book is thoroughly researched and meticulously constructed; it contains a great many previously unpublished letters and primary sources. For all of that, however, The Romance of Two Writers is too much a hybrid to be of much use to scholars. Hickman explains that she "decided to let the letters, interviews, and whatever context [she] might supply determine the narrative flow" of the book and to "remain as objective as possible so that "readers may interpret the relationship as they will." Yet what follows this disclaimer is an artfully shaped story of an older man and younger woman with similar personality traits and professional interests—a "romance" indeed. Of more use to scholars would have been a collection, even a selection, of their correspondence and a transcription of the interviews with Williams. We would then have the basis to judge the accuracy of Hickman's interpretations of Williams's roles in Faulkner's literary production and life and vice versa.

Reviewing the sorts of challenges that face all biographers, Jay Parini contributes a chapter titled "Faulkner's Lives," pp. 104–12 in Richard C. Moreland, ed., A Companion to William Faulkner (Blackwell). Parini reviews most of the major biographies of Faulkner and the trends in writing biography generally, and he offers interesting explanations of the goals he had and choices he made when writing One Matchless Time, his 2004 biography of Faulkner. He reminds us of Faulkner's "personal mythmaking," of how "his own life was, indeed, one of his greatest fictions." In this he complements nicely the work of scholars before him who have taken on the task of more detailed commentary on specific years of Faulkner's life—James G. Watson, for instance, who has compiled compelling accounts of Faulkner's early years as a writer. Parini also notes that "biographers will sketch Faulkner again and again" for new generations of readers, and he offers the refreshingly modest observation that "no amount of criticism or biographical energy will ever fundamentally alter the author's unique relationship with grateful readers, who will always open his books with excitement."

Deborah Cohn offers the most freshly written, cogently argued piece of original research this year. In "Combating Anti-Americanism During the Cold War: Faulkner, the State Department, and Latin America" (MissQ 59: 395–413) she examines the visits Faulkner made to Latin [End Page 196] America "at the behest and on the dime of the State Department, which sought to cultivate goodwill towards the US through cultural channels during a period of significant anti...


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