Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Faulkner and then

I slowly made my way through Quentin’s story of Sutpen and finally finished last night - I couldn’t stay awake for more than 20 pages or so at a time. Every time there’s an interruption of Q’s narrative, I’m both irritated by Shreve and curious about Quentin’s frame of mind as he talks about his own father. Shreve with his pink skin and fascination with “the demon” is a bit offputting, but here am I, just like him, the northerner fascinated by the tale of southern moral morass: “Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”

Not that a northerner wouldn’t be equally as capable as Sutpen of such picking up and casting aside of human affection – is it affection? But Quentin seems to encourage Shreve to think that there is a difference – does Shreve’s reaction contain a sense of superiority or plain curiosity? “It’s something my people haven’t got. Or if we have got it, it all happened long ago across the water and so now there aint anything to look at every day to remind us of it. We don’t live among defeated grandfathers and freed slaves . . . a kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago? A kind of entailed birthright father and son and father and son of never forgiving General Sherman’ . . . Quentin said ‘You cant understand it. You would have to be born there.’” (Modern Library ed. p377)

I don’t have a coherent comment to make, but here are some favorite quotes I marked:

Mr. Compson to Quentin:
”We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letteres without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whos living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant waiting, in this shadowy attenuations of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable … you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.” p. 103

And Judith giving her letter to Quentin’s grandmother: “Read it if you like or don’t read it if you like. Because you make so little impression, you see. You get born and you ty this and you don’t know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and the others all trying and they don’t know why either except that the strings are all in one another’s way like five of six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug . . . maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something – a scrap of paper – something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it, at least it would be something just because it would have happened, be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that Iwas once for the reaon that it can die someday, while the block of stone cant be is because it never can become was because it can’t ever die or perish…” p. 131

Here’s Miss Rosa: “Because there is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both: -- touch and touch of that which is the citadel of the central I-Am’s private own: not spirit, soul; the liquorish and ungirdled mind is anyone’s to take in any darkened hallway of this earthly tenetment. But let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too.” p 144

Judith again, in Quentin’s imagination: “I was wrong. I admit it. I believed that there were things which still mattered just because they had mattered once. But I was wrong. Nothing matters but breath, breathing, to know and to be alive.” p. 216

Did she really think that? Does Quentin believe it now but reject it in The Sound and the Fury? Or only wish it were true.

Mrs. Duffy reminded me that it is time to choose another book. And I can’t, so I’m calling for votes. Here’s my list: On my table I have from the library Elizabeth Goudge’s Castle on the Hill, which is not cheap from Amazon, and Alice Munro’s collection of short stories Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. I bought Chekhov’s The Horse Stealers, Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas at the library sale shelf and haven’t read any one of those. Although it’s been slow going, I’ve been enjoying the richness of Faulkner and would be happy to stick with something classic – I told myself I was going to read another Dickens this year, and I’ve been wanting to reread My Antonia, which was one of my favorite books in high school. Death Comes for the Archbishop really has more religious themes, but I just reread it a couple years ago for another book club. And if we want to stick with southerners, another book I’ve been meaning to reread: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Then there are two books I’ve seen recommended multiple times: Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, (loved the movie) and Embers by Sandor Marai.

If we wanted something more overtly religious I’ve been wanting to read Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh and more Thomas Merton - there is a book of his letters to writers at our library – and available from Amazon for less than $5. Also, I’ve only read selections of Simone Weil and Edith Stein and would like to read more from them, but fear that I would have trouble reading anything heavier than a novel this month, which is always a busy one for us.

My top four are probably My Antonia, McCullers, and Percy and Chekhov.


BettyDuffy said...

I'd be happy with any of those. I have copies of almost all of those except the Goudge, so that makes it easy.

Emily J. said...

Want another option -- I forgot I also want to read Muriel Spark, too. I have her collected short stories adn Memento Mori, which was good, and the library has The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie collected with 2 others...

mrsdarwin said...

I hope this isn't a cop-out, but I'd be happy to read whatever you ladies decide on. I really feel like I need to broaden my reading horizons, so it's good for me be given a book selection and told, "Take and read."

Emily J. said...

You ladies are not help!

And here's yet another item from my list - Has anyone read Edith Schaefer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking?

Mrs. D, the excerpt at your blog from The Leopard also looked interesting...are you reading it or Mr. D?

Otepoti said...

Yes, I've read Edith Schaeffer's "Hidden Art" - it's very conversationally written. she wrote pretty much as she spoke. But it did cheer me up on the subject of being a housewife when I was the only housewife in my social group of post-university women.

mrsdarwin said...

Emily, Darwin was the one reading The Leopard. I read it a few years back and the book has lived on his nightstand ever since. It is very good, and I do recommend it. Now I'd like to see the movie, since I hear good things about it.