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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume VIII, Number 2, Fall, 197;. The Subjective Intensities of Faulkner's Flagsin theDust KerryMcSweener William Faulkner's third novel was published under the title of Sartons. early in 1929. The novel that Faulkner had actually written - it was finished in the autumn of 1927 - was entitled Flags in the Dust; at the insistence of its first publisher, eleven other- firms having turned it down, his agent cut Faulkner's manuscript by almost a fourth, an operation in which the author could not bring himself to participate. The uncut version was finall~ > published in 1973, eleven years after Faulkner's death, and no matter what reservations one may have about the definitiveness of its text, Flagsm the Dust must come to take the place of Sartoris in Faulkner's canon notr only because it more closely approximates the novel he wrote and wanted to have published, but also because, as Douglas Day says in his introduction to Flags in the Dust, "it is a more complete fictional document of a timei and place in history [and] a better introduction to the grand and comple\. southern world that William Faulkner was to write about until he died."1 There can be no doubt that Flags in the Dust is a deliberately panoramic·, novel. It is as if, having realized that a central part of his creative labors would henceforward be the recreation of his patch of native soil, Faulkner , put into the novel preliminary sketches of as many aspects of this world as he could fit. The land of Yoknapatawpha County (called Yocona Count: in the novel), its seasons and its inhabitants - from the older aristocratic families like the Sartorises through several gradations to the poor whitei' and the negroes - are rendered with an old-fashioned amplitude. And· although the novel is set in the post-World-War I period, the temporal panorama of Southern history, particularly its romantic apogee during the 155 Civil War and the contrast between those years and the anti-heroic present, issketched in through the memories and anecdotes of some of the older characters.Not unnaturally, it is primarily as an introduction to the "grand andcomplex" world of Faulkner's fictional canon that Sartoris I Flags intheDust has been considered by commentators. This emphasis has led, notto a neglect, but to an insufficiently detailed scrutiny, of other aspects ofthe novel. It is with some of these non-panoramic aspects, particularly withwhat I shall call its subjective intensities, that I am here concerned. The fact that Flags in the Dust is a more complete text than Sartoris doesnot mean that it is any more aesthetically satisfactory or that its central thematicconcerns are any less imperfectly articulated. Flags in the Dust wasa giant step forward after Soldiers' Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927), butthe gap in achievement between it and the novels that were to come inthe next few years - The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light inAugust, Absalom, Absalom ! - is so enormous as to justify the atomic analogyof the quantum leap. While not without its strengths and felicities, Flagsin the Dust tries to do far too much and is strikingly uneven, in someplaces distinctly mediocre. If "The Wreck of the Deutschland" may be called the dragon at the gate of Hopkins' poetry, Flags in the Dust maybe called the veranda -- creaky and here and there warped, furnished ina variety of styles, and understrut by timbers of different size and strength - through which one enters the mansion of Faulkner's mature works. So considered,Flags in the Dust is of great interest not only as an introduction toYoknapatawpha County but also for its telling early examples of some of Faulkner's fundamental thematic concerns and characteristic ways of representing them. As Jean-Paul Sartre has said of the novel he knew as Sartoris: we do not accept it as a natural phenomenon "and that is what makesthe book so precious. Faulkner betrays himself in it; we catch him red-handed all the way through." 2 Part of the reason why we do not accept the novel as a natural phenomenonis suggested by a consideration of an extremely interesting document, Faulkner...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 154-164
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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