- Absalom Reconsidered
Assistant Professor of English and Russian, University of Alberta
1. Randall Stewart, American Literature and the Christian Tradition, a pamphlet in the third series of Faculty Papers on Christian Perspectives in University Life, The National Council, Episcopal Church (New York, 1955), 17; Hairy M. Campbell and Ruel E. Foster, William Faulkner: A Critical Appraisal (Norman, 1951), 75; Ilse Dusoir Lind, “The Design and Meaning of Absalom, Absalom!,” PMLA, LXX (Dec., 1955), 907.
2. Ward Miner, The World of William Faulkner (Durham, N.C., 1952), 95. Of many works which indicate the presence of history in Faulkner and which provide interesting parallels with his fiction, some of the more interesting are: “Mississippi Unionism: The Case of the Rev. James A. Lyon,” ed. John K. Bettersworth, The Journal of Mississippi History, I (Jan., 1939), 37–52 [Light in August]; “Notes and Documents, the Civil War Letters of Cordelia Scales,” ed. Percy L. Rainwater, The Journal of Mississippi History, I (July, 1939), 169–81 [The Unvanquished]; “The Life of a Southern Plantation Owner During Reconstruction as Revealed in the Clay Sharkey Papers,” ed. George C. Osborn, The Journal of Mississippi History, Vt (Jan., 1944), 103–12 [The Unvanquished]; “Diary of a Miss. Planter, Jan. 1, 1840 to April, 1863,” ed. F. R. Riley, Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, X (Oxford, 1909), 305–481 [“The Bear”]; Mrs. N. D. Deupree, “Greenwood LeFlore,” Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, VII (Oxford, 1903), 141–51 [Requiem for a Nun]; “The Trial of Tishomingo,” The Journal of Mississippi, II (July, 1940), 147–55 [Faulkner’s Indian tales].
The presence of current Southern social problems in Faulkner’s work is perhaps best illustrated by comparing the novels with Allison Davis, Burleigh B. and Mary R. Gardner, Deep South, A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (Chicago, 1941).
3. All references are to the Modern Library edition, 1951.
4. I join the two names advisedly. George Marion O’Donnell calls Faulkner “the Quentin Compson or Bayard Sartoris of modern fiction” (“Faulkner’s Mythology,” William Faulkner: Two Decades of Criticism, ed., Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery [Lansing, Mich., 1954], 62). Irving Howe also acknowledges the author’s importance in this novel: “Because the material of Absalom, Absalom! was so oppressively close to Faulkner, he had to find a device by which to hold it, so to speak, in suspension; and that device…was Gothic. Sutpen’s destruction was a paradigm of the homeland’s fate; his career brought to light the darkest promptings of his will—with what fascinated exasperation and at what cost did Faulkner approach this material?” (William Faulkner: A Critical Study [New York, 1952], 161.)
5. Faulkner’s interpretation of history is undoubtedly idealistic; not only does he assert the central assumptions of this position artistically (e.g. in Intruder in the Dust he writes, “…yesterday today and tomorrow are is: Indivisible”), evidently he accepts the position personally. “Beginning with Sartoris I discovered that my own little postage stam p of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top. It opened up a gold mine of other peoples, so I created a cosmos of my own. I can move these people around like God, not only in space but in time too. The fact that I have moved my characters around in time successfully…proves to me my own theory that time is a fluid condition which has no existence except in the momentary avatars of individual people. There is no such thing as was—only is.” (Jean Stein, “William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review, IV [Spring, 1956], 52.)
6. Faulkner’s “centres of consciousness” very frequently convey this impression. Witness Gail Hightower and Gavin Stevens whose special duty it is to preside over the social conscience. And Ike McCaslin is divinely appointed to his mission of social salvation, while Bayard Sartoris is only self-appointed in The Unvanquished. As in Dostoyevsky or Camus, so in Faulkner...