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READING SHREVES LETTERS AND FAULKNER'S ABSALOM, ABSALOM! David Krause* In Chapter VIII of Absalom, Absalom!1, working with Quentin to re-imagine, re-create, re-interpret the story of Charles Bon, "the silken and tragic Lancelot" (p. 320), Shreve invents several letters which probably never existed and focuses on the ways at least five of these letters might have been received, interpreted, and read. Shreves retelling of the Bon story as "Henry's fairy tale" has been provoked by the letter his roommate has received that day from his father, the letter informing Quentin of Miss Rosa Coldfield's death and burial. Since Shreve cannot help but have noticed Quentin's intense physical and psychological fixation on the letter, the apparent ease and spontaneity with which Shreve invents his letters and imagines them being read seems a dramatically and psychologically appropriate response to Quentin's state of mind.2 On one level Shreves letters are designed to resolve difficulties or improbabilities of plot, to deflect potential objections that certain moments in Bon's career "could not be true; that such coincidences only happened in books" (p. 318). But Shreve, no doubt subconsciously, has absorbed something of the complex experience of Quentin's letter-reading, something of the emotional and imaginative energies released in the act of reading, and he introduces reading experiences analogous to Quentin's into his narration. In other words, for Shreve, talking about what might happen when Eulalia Bon or Henry Sutpen or Charles Bon tries to read a letter provides a way of talking, albeit a sublimated way of talking, about Quentin trying to read Mr. Compson's letter. Similarly, for William Faulkner, writing about his characters writing and reading letters provides a way of writing, albeit a sublimated way of writing, about writing and reading novels. Shreves epistolary scenarios occur within the contexts of a novel unusually full of, and self-reflexive about, problematic acts of reading. For example, Quentin's obsessive, repressive engagement with his father 's letter commands attention throughout Chapters VI-IX; it culminates in a radical act of reading: "It was becoming quite distinct; he would be able to decipher the words soon, in a moment; even almost now, now, now" (p. 377). In this remarkable final scene Quentin lies in bed but appears to read the letter that remains on his desk. Only through an act *David Krause is an Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University, where he teaches American Literature, Shakespeare, and Literary Criticism. He is at work on a study entitled "American Transformations ofHamlet: Melville and Faulkner Reading Shakespeare ." 154David Krause of total recall—an act of memory which transcends, subverts, or consumes the materiality of the text, at once locating the letter within Quentin and Quentin within the letter—does Quentin read, a reading which is not a reading of a text which is not a text. Another problematic act of reading shapes Chapter IV of Absalom. Mr. Compson selfconsciously holds a letter "without salutation or signature" (p. 100) but presumably written by Charles Bon to Judith Sutpen. The chapter ends with Compson handing the letter to his son (in a gesture reminiscent of Judith handing the same letter to Compson's mother a week after Bon was buried) and with Quentin's unusual reading of Bon's letter. There are at least five additional perspectives on reading Bon's letter: the letterwriter 's (Bon's), Henry's, Mr. Compson's, Judith's (as conceived by Compson), and the unidentified narrator's. No one of these perspectives nor any combination of perspectives provides an adequate paradigm for a definitive or even satisfying reading of the letter. Through Quentin, Shreve knows about Bon's letter and in Chapter VIII his version of its inception in a decisive moment in 1865 emerges through the italicized narrative voice born of his "happy marriage of speaking and hearing" with Quentin (p. 316): . . . und that was why he could write about the captured stove polish like he did in the letter to Judith when he finally knew what he was going to do at last and told Henry and Henry said "Thank God. Thank God." not for the incest of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 153-169
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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