Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wise me up

Kia ora friends

I finally cracked open the Faulkner, but I need some guidance. The ending of Chapter One, viz:

"I was not there to see the two Sutpen faces this time - once on Judith and once on the negro girl beside her - looking down through the square entrance to the loft."

Scale of one to ten - how shocking is this supposed to be? For the time of setting? For the time of publication? For today? Because it's the sort of thing no-one would blink twice at in New Zealand, even back in the day.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting to the Good Stuff

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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Southern Writers

While discussing Absalom, Absalom! last night, Darwin (who's been reading along) and I were wondering if there were any great Southern writers from before the Civil War. Casting back my mind to my Survey of the American Novel class, in which I first read this book, I remember reading Melville, Hawthorne, and James (though he's a bit later), but no specifically Southern writers. Mark Twain (again, later) was from the south, but wrote Americana, even if he set some of his books in the South.

Working from memory, some southern writers that spring to mind are William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Margaret Mitchell, but they were all writing well after the turn of the century. Perhaps the earliest specifically Southern author I know of is Kate Chopin, but she was writing in the 1890s. In terms of literature that references the South, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published the wildly popular Evangeline in 1847, but Longfellow was a New Englander who never visited the region.

So: is there Southern literature before the Civil War? Did it take the War to produce a specifically Southern style? Perhaps that has something to do with what Quentin Compson ponders at the begininng of Absalom, Absalom: that although he was born after the War and had no personal connection to it, just by the fact of living in the defeated South his psyche is populated with the ghosts of those who died to defend a doomed culture.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Characterization in Absalom, Absalom!

I have a wandering eye with Faulkner. Any time I put the book down for a day or two I start to lust after more interesting covers, more involving plots, more exuberant characters. The man takes a lot of discipline for me, and I'm trying to figure out why.

Here's what I've come up with so far (I have about a hundred pages to go): After reading Brede and having so many characters that I felt like I understood completely, Faulkner's characters are all kept at a distance. He uses a short-hand to describe them, for instance, Sutpen is the "devil himself" and always drawn from Rosa's point of view, which I'm not certain is a reliable point of view. Sutpen had a friend in Quentin's grandfather, which would suggest otherwise, as Q's grandfather seemed like a decent man. Of course there are such scant details about any of them. What we know if Judith, is that she has a calm unmoving face--that's it. Always calm. Well so what?

MOst of what I believe I know about the characters, I have learned from the time line and geneology at the back of my book. I think I cheated though by looking at it.

S. Riddle, has much to say on Absalom and I think he's right in suggesting one might need to work up to it by reading some of Faulkner's other works.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book review link

Another off topic post here - I'm not far enough into Absalom, Absalom yet (just picked it up yesterday) to comment, but this review in the Wall Street Journal did its job in piquing my interest in Muriel Spark.  I've only read two of her stories: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which didn't captivate me as it has some, and Memento Mori, a story of dying geriatrics, which I did enjoy.  Anyone have other recommendations?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Funny Facebook Page

The Tennessee Williams Literary fest has a facebook page, and I made it into the archives!

And really, the only reason I'm posting this is because while reading Faulkner, I have recalled again and again the paintings on the walls behind me. The dashing man over the fireplace, the family patriarch, nearby, his daughter, and a servant, about the same age as the daughter who bears a very strong family resemblance.

And this guy is Mr. Eyebrows documented here:

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, 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).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Absalom, Absalom!

I think that's my final answer.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Reading

I realize this isn't as glorious as it could be, but I think I need to read Faulkner. AS I Lay Dying? Go Down Moses? A Light In August? Any of those jump out at you?