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Novels 1936-1940 : Absalom, Absalom! / The…

Novels 1936-1940 : Absalom, Absalom! / The Unvanquished / If I Forget…

by William Faulkner

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"Absalom, Absalom!", "The unvanquished", "If I forget thee, Jerusalem (The wild palms)", "The Hamlet"
  IICANA | Apr 19, 2016 |
Absalom, Absalom!

This is the tragic story of Thomas Sutpen’s attempt to establish a dynasty in the 1830s. He arrives in Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, MS as a strange outsider with wild slaves, a mysterious source of seemingly limitless income, and a rigid plan—establish an estate, find a wife, produce a male heir. While Sutpen does accomplish his life’s goals, his unwavering adherence to an ideal brings out the ruin of him and his family. The story of Sutpen and his various il/legitimate children is told primarily through the point of view of Quentin Compson (the same as in The Sound & the Fury). The book, however, is much more than a straightforward narrated life history. Absalom, Absalom! is layered through multiple points of view. It is a richly detailed story, but is also complex.

If you are not a fan of Faulkner’s writing style, I would not recommend this book. Other works by him, though still distinctly “Faulkner” in style, are much more accessible. Here Quentin and his roommate Shreve spend a cold winter night at university telling the Sutpen tale to one another. It is obvious that Shreve has heard much of the history before as he interrupts, embellishes, and at times takes over the narrative. The story is not only about Sutpen, but also about Quentin’s experiences in Jefferson, about the ways in which he learned bits and pieces of these events over time from a variety of characters such as Aunt Rosa (Sutpen’s wife’s sister) and his father – who himself is retelling it from Quentin’s grandfather. Other sections were experienced directly by Quentin.

The hearsay third-hand jumbled nature of the transmission is important because the reader experience the plot not as a straightforward narrative, but as a palimpsest of events across nearly a century. The reader learns details in waves; at the beginning of the book, you get the basic idea and then Faulkner builds upon that foundation by adding details or retelling a section through a different character’s point of view. Unfortunately, many characters are unreliable, so as they passed on their story to Quentin or his grandfather, they edited and/or omitted crucial information. “’Your father,’ Shreve said. ‘He seems to have got an awful lot of information awful quick, after having waited forty-five years.’… ‘Grandfather didn’t tell him all of it either, like Sutpen never told Grandfather quite all of it.’” (220).

I could go on for pages about the way the book is written, about foreshadowing (“The day after we—after that night when we—“), and flashbacks, and mind-numbingly long rambling sentences. I will not. However, I do think ultimately, Absalom, Absalom! is worth reading. First, you discover much more about Quentin’s personality and inner turmoil that I think helps clarify his actions in The Sound & The Fury. He is a fascinating character. Second, it is a powerful book about important issues—idealism, blind ambition, doomed Romanticism, and the end of an era. It is also about deep-seated racism, so unwavering that incest is preferred over relationships between people of different color. Finally, it is also about rigid class differences in the South. It is a hard read, but worth the effort. ( )
1 vote brlb21 | May 30, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0940450550, Hardcover)

These four novels show one of America's greatest writers at the height of his powers. Presented in authoritative new texts, they explore the struggles of characters in a South caught between a romantic and a tragic past and the corrupting enticements of the present. Quentin Compson and his Harvard roomate re-create the story of the insanely ambitious patriarch Thomas Sutpen--and discover that his grief, pride, and doom are the inescapable legacy of a past that is not dead. "The Unvanquished" recounts the ordeals and triumphs of the Sartoris family during and after the Civil War. In "If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem" (first published as "The Wild Palms"), paired stories tell of desperate lovers and a fleeing convict. In "The Hamlet," the outrageous scheming energy of Flem Snopes and his clan is vividly and hilariously juxtaposed with the fragile community and customs of Frenchman's bend, Mississippi.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:13 -0400)

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