Grandfather said it was the only time he ever knew him to say anything quiet and simple: ‘On this night I am speaking of (and until my first marriage, I might add) I was still a virgin. You will probably not believe that, and if I were to try to explain it you would disbelieve me more than ever. So I will only say that that too was a part of the design which I had in my mind’ and Grandfather said, ‘Why shouldn’t I believe it?’ and he looking at Grandfather still with that quiet bright expression about the eyes, saying, ‘But do you? Surely you don’t hold me in such small contempt as to believe that at twenty I could neither have suffered temptation nor offered it?’ (p 248—Modern Library)
--A hilarious exchange between Sutpen and 'Grandfather,' drinking whisky and talking about their lives with such an economy of words. Just, ‘you wouldn’t believe me if I told you I were a virgin.’ You might think they were out fishing or on some quaint masculine bonding trip if you didn’t know that they were on a living, breathing man-hunt for the escaped architect.
I’m sorry to say that my own Grandfather, prior to his conversion, made a similar comment to my cousin when she dated a thirty-year-old man who gave chastity talks and spoke openly about his virginity. "What the hell is wrong with him?" I believe is how he put it.
Yet Sutpen offers this piece of information as evidence of how thoroughly he considered his long-term design. He had to win his wife honorably, by laying down his life, in a sense, going out to protect her and her family from besiegement. I love the image of her, loading the muskets with her hair falling over her face—the only physical description we have of her, until she lets herself go after Sutpen leaves.
It was part of his design, to win a wife by honor. But how quickly he put honor aside, along with wife and child, when he discovered her secret. Certain facts trump honor—a speck of black blood would suggest she hadn’t deserved such honorifics.
I think this story illustrates the effects of having only “codes” of honor, rather than, as Mrs. Darwin points out, a Christian perspective of honor.
I also think it validates Miss Rosa’s condemnation of Sutpen as the devil himself. Throughout his story, he uses the appearance of ‘good’ to manipulate others. He sets traps for people and holds them in slavery until they have served his ends, his design, and then, once he has used them, he puts them aside.
It’s been an interesting thought evolution for me to read this book, because there are so many details that at first just seem funny, like the quote above, then I think about it a little more and start to feel warmly towards Sutpen, “Oh look, he did have a shred of honor; he wasn’t evil incarnate,” but then I think about it more, and it becomes clear how he used even goodness, the appearance of honor, for his own subversive designs.
“You cannot know yet whether what you see is what you are looking at or what you are believing.” (p 314) Wow—pretty much sums up the whole book for me.
I have to consider S Riddle my marriage counselor with Faulkner. His post made me slow down a bit, be less concerned with romance and plot, more content with the little details along the way, the humor, the mystery, then rest assured that Faulkner saves the best for last; the reward is in sticking it out.
Still thinking though--will be back.
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