Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

After its publication in 1930, As I Lay Dying garnered several positive critical reviews in America and Britain. The American reviews were generally more favorable than the British, but this early critical commentary touched on issues that were to become pronounced in later, more substantial critiques of the book.

In those early reviews, critics recognized Faulkner's talent but remained suspicious of As I Lay Dying. Many commentators questioned the novel's controversial subject matter—such as abortion—and its emphasis on the grotesque and violent. Some critics derided As I Lay Dying as tasteless and immoral. Faulkner's style and narrative method, of course, received much critical attention. In general, his use of the vernacular was praised, but his more complicated and elusive passages were deemed confusing. Social-minded critics condemned Faulkner for his lack of overt social commentary.

Most of the early reviewers questioned both Faulkner's tone toward his characters and the genre of the work, issues that recur in later critical commentary. French critics provided Faulkner with his most enthusiastic early notices, although the novel was not translated and published in France until 1934.

After 1940, more substantive critiques of the novel began to appear. A major reason for the renewed interest in As I Lay Dying was the publication of The Portable Faulkner in 1946. The editor of the volume, Malcolm Cowley, was a seasoned literary editor who contended that Faulkner had successfully developed a distinctive Southern mythology based on his fiction set in and around Yoknapatawpha County. In his influential introduction to the book, Cowley advocated reading all of Faulkner's works as a collective project or, in his words, "part of the same living pattern." Cowley's opinions influenced Faulkner criticism in the following decades.

Critics began to take a more universalistic approach to Faulkner's fiction, viewing his Southern world as representative of the modern world and as a means of exploring timeless human dilemmas. Many commentators began to read As I Lay Dying as...

(The entire section is 899 words.)