William Faulkner and the Tangible Past Essay - Critical Essays

William Faulkner and the Tangible Past

Anyone familiar with the fiction of William Faulkner is sure to recall a number of the Southern plantations, distinguished mansions, or nondescript farm homes and slave shacks which stand upon the variegated landscape of the novelist’s mythical Yoknapatawpha County. Surprisingly, few of Faulkner’s critics have written extensively about the significance of architecture to the creation of atmosphere or the definition of character and conflict in his works. In WILLIAM FAULKNER AND THE TANGIBLE PAST: THE ARCHITECTURE OF YOKNAPATAWPHA, Thomas Hines, a historian of American architecture and native of Faulkner’s hometown, Oxford, Mississippi, fills this lacuna admirably.

Arguing that Faulkner used architecture as a bridge between the real world and the world of fiction, Hines takes readers on a tour of Oxford, Mississippi, and the surrounding countryside, juxtaposing descriptions of the homes and businesses of the region with passages from Faulkner’s novels and stories in which these structures are re-created. Accenting his account with more than a hundred photos, Hines examines city buildings, public sculpture, “folk architecture” of the simple farming communities, as well as the Greek Revival, Victorian, Gothic Revival and Modernist styles which co-exist in the region.

Although quite capable of providing extensive specialized analysis of the architecture he describes, Hines is careful to write for a general audience whose primary interest lies not in the technical, engineering details but rather in the ways the buildings of northern Mississippi figure in Faulkner’s fiction. As a result, he is able to provide readers useful insights into the significance these structures have for a novelist who saw in the architecture of his homeland the persistent reminders of a past both more glorious and more shameful than the turbulent present.