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  • Recreating Faulkner’s Fictional World: The Publication of the Chronology and Genealogy in Absalom, Absalom!
  • Christian Howard (bio)

Published in 1936, Absalom, Absalom! is perhaps William Faulkner’s most radical experiment in the perspectivism of storytelling. Each of the four primary narrators—occasionally supplemented by a fifth, ex-tradiegetic narrative perspective—tells of Thomas Sutpen, reordering and reinterpreting the events of this story to correspond with his or her personal understanding of the South and the Sutpen family. While these narrative perspectives comprise the bulk of the novel, Faulkner also included an appendix to AA consisting of a chronology, genealogy, and map; this was the only one of his novels originally published with such an appendix. Most scholars have regarded these end materials as “crutches for the reader of a difficult book,” as John E. Bassett has pointed out (285), and indeed, Peter Brooks has called them “traditional schemata for the ordering of time and experience” (286). Yet such views derive largely from editorial decisions, which have relegated the end materials to “mer[e] aids to the reader” rather than “modernist adjuncts to the novel,” as Noel Polk puts it (18). Nonetheless, upon examining Faulkner’s correspondence with his editors housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia, I’d like to reassess the hitherto supplementary status of these end materials. Indeed, rather than assessing them in terms of accuracy or inaccuracy, I argue that we should consider their content and form, free of the assumption that they are merely readerly “aids.” To this end, I offer a parallel between these end materials and biblical chronologies and genealogies, which offer a viable means of understanding the operation of the chronology and genealogy within Faulkner’s storyworld. To show this, I will first provide an account of the textual editing of AA, and I will then examine parallels between Faulkner’s fictional chronology and genealogy and their biblical counterparts.

I. Editing Faulkner

Part of the critical confusion regarding the status of the end material arises from editorial decisions. Noel Polk, the careful and conscientious editor of the Vintage International reissued editions of Faulkner’s work in the 1980s and ‘90s, describes the difficulty of “differentiat[ing] between authorial error and [End Page 83] authorial intention,” particularly in the works of modernist experimental writers such as Faulkner (3). Polk states:

Even though there are large issues in editing Faulkner’s texts, nearly all of the most perplexing editorial problems center around the regularity, or irregularity, of Faulkner’s manipulation of these textual devices, the extent to which either regularity or irregularity is part of the texture of his intention; the problems of that “intention” anyway.


Given the many discrepancies between the text of the novel and the chronology and genealogy, these end materials are particularly difficult to classify in terms of authorial intention. This difficulty is exacerbated by the lack of information surrounding their publication. Indeed, like most writers—especially ones of such international reputation—Faulkner had a complicated publishing history, and during his lifetime, he worked with several publishing groups, including Boni & Liveright, Cape and Smith, Harcourt Brace & Company, Random House, and Viking Press. In 1935, Faulkner initially submitted chapters of AA to Harrison Smith, who was Faulkner’s editor at Cape and Smith and then at Smith and Haas; upon Smith and Haas merging with Random House in 1936, Harrison Smith remained Faulkner’s primary editor through the publication of AA in October of that year. Nonetheless, given the merge, much information regarding the publishing process has been lost. Indeed, upon reexamining the documents concerning the publication of AA in the late 1980s, Noel Polk states: “There is an early manuscript and an early typescript version of the chronology; nothing remains of the genealogy but the published version, and neither chronology nor genealogy is connected to the extant manuscript, typescript, or galley proofs of the novel” (17).1 As such, Polk’s decision to emend the chronology and genealogy “to agree with the [dates and] ‘facts’ of the novel” (17) rested upon his comparison of the early manuscript and first published version of the chronology, a comparison that ultimately...


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