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NOTES THE CHRONOLOGY AND GENEALOGY OF ABSALOM, ABSALOM!: THE AUTHORITY OF FICTION AND THE FICTION OF AUTHORITY Robert Dale Parker University of Illinois The nature of fictional authority seems forever suspect in Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner offers a series of competing explanations for a skeletal set of central facts: first Rosa Coldfield's befuddled nonexplanation , "without rhyme or reason or shadow of excuse;"1 then Mr. Compson's improbable fantasy that even he admits is "just incredible" and "just does not explain" (p. 100); then Quentin's story about fear of incest (pp. 264-65); then, finally, Quentin's and Shreve's story about fear of miscegenation (p. 355).2 The first two explanations, Rosa's and Mr. Compson's, eventually show up as inferior histories in that they live up to the unreliability they confess to but not necessarily, therefore, as inferior stories, as inferior fictions. Thus in one sense their authority diminishes as the story expands, but in another sense their authority is both constant and also greater than readers might feel tempted to acknowledge. Given such an extraordinary blur of what—within the confines of a fiction, that is, the confines of a novel and not a history—might be fact and what might be fiction, the chronology, genealogy, and map that Faulkner adds to the narrative of Absalom, Absalom! acquire an especially indeterminable status. Their relation to the novel per se exemplifies the problematic relation between any two parts of the Yoknapatawpha tales, or between the Appendix for The Sound and the Fury and the original version of that novel, or between The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! itself. And yet the uncertainty in one way is more intense for the Absalom appendices, for they originally appeared with the body of the novel, which, as compared to the other related Yoknapatawpha pieces, makes them more inherently a part of the same text, almost like another chapter. Still, they are not another chapter; they bear no number as the chapters do but instead are set apart and appended to the end, with labels or titles, "CHRONOLOGY" and "GENEALOGY ," that define them as secondary. Moreover, the chronology and genealogy (pp. 379—83) are riddled with discrepancies, new and unexpected details, uncertain assertions, and outright errors. It may help to list those oddities and to speculate on the interest they hold—be it weightily critical or merely curious—for readers and critics of Absalom, Absalom!* 192Notes The chronology and genealogy both list Sutpen as born in 1807, which contradicts Shreve's guess that he was born in 1808 (p. 220). Shreve's guess would only be accurate within a year, so that readers might reasonably feel inclined to grant the chronology's and genealogy's assertion some superior authority, given that it comes directly from the author, whom people usually assume to be god of the book. Yet the same entries in the chronology and genealogy go on to say that Sutpen was born in West Virginia, which Quentin says also, but which Shreve sensibly points out, in the same breath that he guesses Sutpen was born in 1808, is impossible, because there was no West Virginia until almost sixty years later. Thus on the one hand the appended materials seem to stake claim to some superior—because authorial—authority, yet on the other hand they wave a comically ironic banner of fallibility, of the author's susceptibility to the same barriers of circumstance and medium that make all authority suspect in Absalom, Absalom! The chronology and genealogy give other dates that conflict with the rest of the text. They say that Ellen Coldfield Sutpen was born in 1818 and died in 1862, whereas her gravestone lists 1817 and 1863 (p. 188). How readers account for such a discrepancy will bear on their interpretation of the authority of both the later and the earlier materials. Perhaps Quentin misremembers the dates on the gravestone; and yet since those dates come in an omniscient author's voice and come with more detail—month and day as well as year—than Quentin would probably remember, it hardly seems appropriate to suspect their reliability or to blame Quentin for any mistakes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 191-198
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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