Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

Faulkner is now regarded by most critics as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. However, ‘‘A Rose for Emily,’’ written in 1929, was actually rejected by Scribner’s and other magazines before Forum published it in 1930. Although one of his greatest novels, The Sound and the Fury, was published just before ‘‘A Rose for Emily’’ in 1929, many American critics did not immediately recognize Faulkner as a ground-breaking writer. As is often the case with many challenging American authors, Faulkner was identified as a unique American voice in Europe long before he gained respect at home. In fact, as late as 1950, after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the New York Times (quoted in Robert Penn Warren’s introduction to Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays) published an editorial claiming that his work was ‘‘too often vicious, depraved, decadent, [and] corrupt.’’ ‘‘Americans most fervently hope,’’ the Times continued, that neither the award given by Sweden nor the ‘‘enormous vogue of Faulkner’s works’’ among foreigners meant that they associated American life with his fiction.

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Interestingly enough, it is in the New York Times twenty years earlier that one can read an extremely favorable review of These 13, the first collection of Faulkner’s short stories. ‘‘A Rose for Emily’’ is published in this edition. The reviewer notes that Faulkner was ‘‘hailed in England, before he was known here except to a small circle, as the latest star in the American literary firmament.’’ He writes that ‘‘A Rose for Emily’’ is ‘‘one of the strongest, as it is certainly the most gruesome, tales in the volume.’’ The story was also published in Collected Stories in 1950. The reviews for this volume were even more laudatory. In the New York Herald Tribune, Horace Gregory compares Faulkner to influential and brilliant writers such as Dostoevsky, Melville, James, and Joyce.

Presently, critics continue to write about ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ The subjects of the story are timeless: love, death, community vs. individuality, and the nature of time. Some of the criticism written recently concentrates on possible literary references within the story. For example, Peter L. Hays, in an article published in Studies in American Fiction, suggests that Faulkner may have used Emily Dickinson as a model for Emily Grierson. In Studies in Short Fiction, John F. Birk draws analogies between the structure, theme, and imagery in ‘‘A Rose for Emily” to the poem ‘‘Ode on a Grecian Urn” by Keats. The story continues to resonate even after seventy years because so many of the story’s themes are a part of everyone’s experience.

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A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner

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