William Faulkner Faulkner, William (Vol. 18)

William Faulkner book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download William Faulkner Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Faulkner, William 1897–1962

See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, 28.

Faulkner, an American novelist, short story writer, and poet, is considered one of this century's most influential and highly regarded novelists. Derived from the southern oral tradition and existing somewhere between storyteller and listener, Faulkner's novels together form one larger work, the saga of a single imaginary world in which the characters are both sustained and contained by the region—more philosophical than geographical—that is Faulkner's deep South. Time, remembered but unrecorded, merges with what William Barrett calls "that peculiar fullness of time that is found in myth …, the time of the land itself—of the rhythm of the seasons, death and renewal, sowing and reaping," at the center of Faulkner's saga. Twice the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in 1950.

Claude-Edmonde Magny

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It may seem an exaggeration to look for [the] theological substructures in Faulkner's work, yet the critics have all been struck by his "puritanism," meaning by that term both his visible disgust before the mystery of sex and his deep-seated misogyny—quite natural in a world in which the Immaculate Virgin has not yet come to reestablish the order of things altered by Eve. Faulkner has at least once expressly referred to the Bible in one of his titles (Absalom, Absalom!)—precisely the one that most evokes the Hebraic ritual of meditation on the past. In addition, I do not see how—except by this perpetual referral of contemporary events to a sacred context that gives them their full meaning—one can explain the extravagant title of Sanctuary given to a story that is sordid to an extreme…. We are all familiar with the suggestion that Sanctuary marks the appearance of Greek tragedy in the mystery novel, but the tragedy, with its cruelty to which even death cannot put an end, is much more of a biblical nature.

It is thus a sacred spell Faulkner wants to cast over us, and the methods—or, if you prefer, the tricks—by which he exercises his magnetic power deserve a closer scrutiny. The most common one consists in having the real order of events reconstituted by (that is, in having the story told by) a spectator of the drama who is at first external and indifferent to it but who quickly becomes immersed—and by the end of a few pages, implicated—in these affairs that do not in any way concern him.

This is what happens to Horace Benbow in Sanctuary (he becomes Goodwin's lawyer and is involuntarily responsible for the latter's conviction and lynching), and to the nameless reporter of Pylon, who is fascinated by the strange ménage à trois of Roger, Laverne, and the parachutist and becomes so involved with them that he finally borrows the money with which to buy Schumann the defective "crate" in which he will ultimately go to his death. Such is also the fate of Shreve and Quentin in Absalom, Absalom! Caught up in events they necessarily learn about differently (they cannot intervene in the action since everything has already irrevocably happened and all the dramatis personae are dead), they are nevertheless far removed from the cold objectivity of the perfect journalist, since (for Quentin, at least) it is to some extent their own futures that they are reading in the tragic fates of Sutpen, Henry, or Charles Bon.

We are also reminded of those innocents peacefully fishing at the lake of Galilee, Thomas Didymus and Simon Peter, or the sons of Zebadiah, who almost despite themselves become the witnesses, the martyrs, of an extraordinary Event. In nearly all of Faulkner's stories one finds (sometimes modestly hidden in a corner) a Witness, making things happen (like Horace Benbow) or conducting an investigation (like Quentin), involved in but not necessarily understanding much about these affairs that do not concern him but from which he is incapable of freeing himself. (pp. 192-94)

[If] the situation of the...

(The entire section is 7,665 words.)