Monday, April 12, 2010

Random Thoughts on Absalom, Absalom

Over at Betty's blog, she says in a comment series:
I was struck while reading it (Crime and Punishment) though that most people really don't obsess like that over their own sins. Lies, stealing, cheating, whatever...so easily forgotten, but murder, the BIG GUN, I don't know. I'd like to interview an actual murderer just to see if it's as affecting as Dostoevsky wants it to be. Not to downplay murder, but to paraphrase Don Draper (Mad Men) on how he gets over his sordid history: "You will be shocked at how much this didn't happen." Anyway, C&P and Sigrid Undset's Master of Hestviken are both giant novels whose narrative drive depends on the main characters remaining unrepentant for murder, and I think both novels fail for some reason. ...the natural law works in more subtle ways than flattening with guilt anyone who disobeys it.
I contrast this "crisis of conscience" style of character and plot development with what's going on in Absalom, Absalom. None of the characters seems to have the remotest sense of sin, and yet the consequences of sinful actions stretch through the years and doom an entire family (all of whom, to some extent, have bought into the lifestyle wrought and afforded by sin, so all of whom bear the guilt -- there are no innocent bystanders hurt in that novel, except maybe Quentin Compson, who isn't really involved in the drama but feels the weight of the Old South hanging over his head).

I speculate that it might be a help in reading Faulkner to have roots in the Deep South. My mom's family is from Louisiana, and though we're not of old slave-holding stock, the whole southern gothic thing resonates with me in a way that it does not for my husband, West-Coast born and bred, and with family from Iowa. On the other hand, perhaps I'm just intrigued by the plot and characters of Absalom, Absalom, since I've foundered on other Faulkner books such as The Sound and the Fury. At any rate, I find the pride and the rigid ettiquette and social codes and the societal norms and strictures completely believable, though my experience of such has been in a much more human and familial setting, and as an outsider (I myself have never lived in the Deep South, only visited for extended periods).

Rosa Coldfield strikes me as a character who has lived her life completely devoid of love (though perhaps that's applicable to every character in the book with the exception of the Compson family. They seem almost normal, though you wouldn't know it by the way that Mr. Compson talks).

1 comment:

BettyDuffy said...

Re Mr. Darwin's comment on last post, I'm finding that to follow Faulkner's syntax, I have to kind of zone out a little. When I let it slip into my own stream of consciousness, it doesn't seem as difficult to follow as when I'm like, "Now who is the subject of this sentence?" His sentences sort of loop around themselves, the big idea of one sentence becomes the little idea of the next one, where he reveals a new detail that becomes the new big idea. Like that incidental mention of Henry and Judith having a negro half-sister. Almost missed it, even though the narrator had mentioned about twenty times that Judith was not alone when she watched her Father fighting tooth and nail with a black man.

It hadn't occurred to me yet, Mrs. D, that nobody seems to have a concept of sin in this book. Interesting thought. They really have bought into an aberrant lifestyle: the three types of women that Henry classifies; the virgins, the courtesans, and the slaves, the latter two, whose use actually protects the virginity of the former. What a horrific thought.

And you're right, Mrs. D. it doesn't seem like anyone in this book is the recipient of love--even from their own parents.