The Snopes Trilogy Group Read: The Hamlet

TalkClub Read 2023

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The Snopes Trilogy Group Read: The Hamlet

May 20, 2023, 8:16 pm

Our group read of the Snopes Trilogy is starting June 1 with The Hamlet, Volume 1. Please feel free to start posting whenever you like. I will try to come back with some introductory remarks shortly.
When you post, please preface your post with the chapters you are referencing so that those who wish to avoid spoilers can wait to read those comments after they have completed those chapters. Of course, if your comments are general with no spoilers this is not necessary.

Looking forward to everyone's comments, and to finally getting to this Faulkner work!

May 21, 2023, 12:40 am

Thanks Deborah. I’m traveling with my family may 30-june 9, which probably means I won’t get much reading time in. But i’ll do what i can, and catch up when i have time.

May 21, 2023, 9:56 am

Looking forward to this! I own all three of the books and will read The Hamlet in June.

May 21, 2023, 10:14 am

I'm in! I have all five volumes of The Library of America's collection of William Faulkner: Novels, so I'll also start reading The Hamlet early next month.

May 21, 2023, 3:36 pm

I’ll also be out of town the first week of June, so may start The Hamlet a little early.

May 23, 2023, 10:47 am

Have fun, everybody. I read this trilogy recently and loved the whole set.

May 23, 2023, 6:18 pm

Was away this past weekend and found all three volumes of the trilogy in one of my favourite second hand bookstores, all inscribed by someone in Montreal. I'm really happy to have found them so that I can now join in.

>6 rocketjk: Will you be jumping in from time to time?

May 23, 2023, 8:05 pm

>7 SassyLassy: I'll be following along but I'm not sure my memory of particulars & details are strong enough for me to offer cogent comments.

May 26, 2023, 3:29 pm

I'm just going to provide a very brief intro for our group read. The Snopes Trilogy consists of The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959). Together the novels follow the history of the Snopes family beginning with the arrival of Ab Snopes with his wife, daughter and son, Flem as tenant farmers in Frenchman's Bend Mississippi on land owned by the wealthy Varner family.

Frenchman's Bend is located in fictional Yoknapatawpha County (county seat Jefferson), where after Sartoris (1929) Faulkner set all but three of his novels, as well as 50 or so of his short stories. In an interview in The Paris Review, Faulkner stated:

"...I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and that by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

Faulkner was born in 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi. His first novel, Soldier's Pay was published in 1926. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died in 1962.

Looking forward to reading these novels, and hearing everyone's comments and thoughts on these books, and on Faulkner in general.

Jun 2, 2023, 12:12 pm

I’ve finished the first two chapters of the Flem section of The Hamlet and am loving the feel of being back with Faulker and his stories. I love his style, those beautiful long sentences with detailed description of place and interrupting clauses that may appear at first off topic, but aren’t. I often read F aloud to myself, I find him so rhythmical. Then being re-introduced to familiar characters, the Snopes family, Ratliff, the itinerant sewing machine salesman who is narrating much of the story so far, and meeting the Varners and the other inhabitants of Frenchman’s Bend.

Some of the things mentioned so far have background in two short stories and one novel. The reference to Granny Millard and her partnership with Ab Snopes in swindling the Yankee army out of their horses is fully told in the short novel The Unvanquished; the story of Sarty Snopes, also mentioned, is told in the short story Barn Burning; and chapter two’s story of Ab’s horse and mule trading on his own was first published as a short story called A Fool About Horses. Pretty much the whole story is retold in Chapter 2, though.

I’m so glad to be reading this with all of you, and look forward to hearing your thoughts about the opening.

Edited: Jun 3, 2023, 8:11 am


We are vacationing on Sugar Mountain in N.C., and yesterday we drove north from Grandfather Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway and spent some time in Blowing Rock and at Moses Cone Park which is gorgeous. The dominant color right now is green with sprinkles of pink. The Catawba rhododendrons are coming into bloom and a few mountain laurels are still blooming. Today we’ll drive south on the Parkway in search of flame azaleas and more blooming rhododendrons. This area has so much beauty and peace to offer, even in the summer crowds. Our first visit in 2 years.

No time for further reading yesterday, but I did think occasionally about the first two chapters, in particular about Ab Snopes and his son Flem and Will Varner and his son Jody. Clear contrasts between the families, of course, but even more striking to me is the contrast between the fathers and the sons. I was also struck by the fact that Faulkner spends a lot of Chapter 2 giving us Ab Snopes’s history through the eyes of Ratliff, who as a child had been Snopes’ s neighbor and who seems to be the only one so far to have a kind word to say about Ab. I’m curious about others’ observations about these first chapters.

Edited: Jun 3, 2023, 6:41 am

>10 dianelouise100: >11 dianelouise100:

I’ve been following this thread without meaning to read along, but you’re really making me want to pick up the book now. Dare I confess that I have never read Faulkner? I’ve been meaning to read As I Lay Dying for a long time…

Jun 3, 2023, 8:29 am

I'll be starting this weekend - thanks for the observations so far!

Side note - my husband and I are doing 2 night in Blowing Rock this August as a short getaway while our kids stay with the grandparents near Roanoke. I had never heard of it until recently - excited to check it out!

Jun 3, 2023, 8:40 am

>13 japaul22: Moses Cone Park, which is right at Blowing Rock, offers a lot, excellent hiking trails, which used to be Mr. Cone’s carriage trails, horseback riding, and I think some part of the Manor House, at least the Craft Center, should be open. Hope you have a great time!

Jun 3, 2023, 11:20 am

>14 dianelouise100: thanks for the suggestions!

Jun 6, 2023, 2:38 pm

Chapter 1 and 2

I've read the first two chapters, and want to second the comments in >10 dianelouise100: about Faulkner's style--the long meandering sentences. The comment about reading Faulkner aloud also resonated. Years ago, when I commuted to work, I listened to one or two Faulkner novels on tape, read by excellent reader with an authentic southern accent, and they were mesmerizing. There is a quality of the southern oral tradition in his writing. I spent a fair amount of time as a child visiting my grandparents in the rural south, and I (a little pitcher with big ears) tried not to be noticed as the grownups (many elderly) spun their tales.

I'm reading the Kindle version, with all three novels on it, and it has a very good introduction. I thought I'd quote a few of the points it made, as a way to direct my reading. The intro noted Faulkner's "habitual conservation of literary material," his "habit of returning to old stories and reclaiming them for a new look." And that seems to be the case here, as again noted by Diane, as it seems some of the material in the first two chapters has reference to other stories/novels by Faulkner. (And I think this will prove true of the entire trilogy). The introduction notes Faulkner's practice "to review and renew events, characters, places and things--the whole experience of a story from a variety of angles and points of view."

In this case, I haven't read the stories or the novel referenced in >10 dianelouise100:, so I don't know how they are the same or different or what angles they explore in each iteration. That would be interesting to explore.

I love the way Faulkner uses various characters to narrate large portions of the story/back story. Here in Chapter 2 Ratliff fills us in on some of Ab Snope's background. The majority of Ratliff's narration relates to Ab's horse trading misadventure with Pat Stamper. However, Ratliff referenced, seemingly only in passing, Ab's relation with Colonel Sartoris and Miz Rosa Millard. I was puzzled by this, didn't really understand what this was about, and wonder if we will get more of this story in the coming pages, though now I see (>10 dianelouise100: again) this may have been told in The Unvanquished, so perhaps we will hear no more of it.

I was somewhat surprised by Ab's lack of enthusiasm when Ratliff pays him a visit. In the story Ratliff told, he and Ab seemed to be quite buddies 8 years ago. I guess we'll learn more. Also interested to find out how Ab ended up with 2 of Will Varner's mules. Perhaps, like Flem's job in Varner's store, they are just part of the "fire insurance policy."

Jun 6, 2023, 2:46 pm

Also the introduction points out that the three novels will move us forward from the late 19th/early 20th century in which The Hamlet is set, to end in 1948 in The Mansion: "The automobile replaces the mule and wagon, and yet the past, the world of The Hamlet, vividly endures, linked by characters and by stories about them, stories the tell. The past persists and is forever modified by the memories and myths...."

Which brings to mind Faulkner's most famous quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

So as I'm reading the trilogy, that's one thing I will be considering--how the past is ever present.

Another thing to think about from the introduction is this statement:

"...{O}ne of the things the whole Snopes Trilogy is "about" is story-telling, how stories come to be and come to us and how the sum and substance of them become our history; how history is made."

The introduction also recommends Joseph Blotner's biography of Faulkner, which apparently has an extended section on the creation of the Snopes Trilogy and its public reception when it appeared. Diane read this biography recently, and discussion of it is what got this whole idea for a group read started.

Jun 6, 2023, 8:10 pm

>16 arubabookwoman: Ratliff mentions the episode of Ab Snopes’ involvement with Rosa Mallard, the mother-in-law of Col. John Sartoris, when he’s trying to soften Varner’s impression of Snopes, saying he’s not so bad ,he’s “just soured.” Ratliff tells how Ab has been subjected to terrible treatment himself. The Unvanquished develops the whole story of Rosa Millard, an elderly woman at the time, the mule stealing, what happens to her, Snopes’ part in it, etc. Ab Snopes is not the focus ot the later novel, the Sartorises are. I don’t know when or in what form this story about the mule swindling during the Civil War originated with Faulkner, but I’m guessing it was originally a short story, published or unpublished. I’m going to check Blottner’s biography when we get home for any light it might shed about when Faulkner created the story.

I too love the way in The Hamlet that we see the men in Frenchman’s Bend sitting around on the gallery outside Varner’s store, exchanging news, gossiping, and telling stories. They’re always men, who, in the course of the farming cycle, would get some leisure time after the cultivation of the corn and cotton was finished (the crops “laid by’) up until harvest time. The absence of women on the galleries to me is explained by the fact that women, of course, always had work to do. Much of what we learn about the Snopes family is either in stories about them told by Ratliff, or in stories of the latest developments told to him by others living in Frenchman’s Bend, sitting around on the front porch, catching him up on the latest. The rise of Flem Snopes seems to be the news of most interest to all the neighborhood.

I love the tone in which these stories are told; even when they are not exactly funny, they come across in a voice so filled with irony and fatalistic acceptance, that I’m often chuckling, then laughing aloud. Two that come to mind: Jody Varner and his fire insurance—and I do think Ab’s use of Varner’s pair of mules was a part of that fire insurance, and the story of Ab’s trading with Pat Stamper and losing his wife’s new cream separator and then the outcome of that story, with the cow being traded by Miz Snopes to get her separator back—with the young Ratliff bringing a gallon of milk to the Snopeses so that she’ll have something to separate.
And back to Jody and his problems, the irony of his planning to cheat Ab out of his share of the proceeds from any crops he might make and then learning that it’s not just one barn that Ab has burnt and Jody’s subsequent terror really struck me.

I like the contrast between the educated, more formal voice of the narrator, full of the need to convey this particular place and its people to us; and the folksy colloquial language of the townspeople and farmers, caught in the act of conveying place and time. The mention of the St. Louis World’s Fair (1904) soon to occur, is the only definitive hint so far in the novel itself of specific time setting (and I’m sorry, that reference may be in Chapter 3, but not really a spoiler). I’ve finished the third chapter, which ends the “Flem” section, and look forward to hearing about others’ reactions to the rapid explosion of Snopes in the area of Frenchman’s Bend, Flem’s rise to power, and the methods he uses. And other things you are struck by.

Jun 7, 2023, 6:37 am

I'm reading - about a third of the way in. I love Faulkner. It's interesting for me to start this trilogy, because I've mainly read his books about the fading upper class stuck in the past (Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom are my favorites). So it's fun to think of this all going on down the road from Jefferson.

I'm going through an incredibly stressful time at work, so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to be able to contribute to meaningful discussion, but I'm loving all the detailed posts and they are really enhancing my reading of this.

Jun 7, 2023, 7:49 am

>19 japaul22: Sorry to hear about those stresses at work, Jennifer, and hoping your reading provides you a bit of distraction. It’s certainly entering a different world.

Jun 12, 2023, 5:06 pm

Started reading The Hamlet this weekend, and have finished Book 1. It took me a bit to get back into the rhythms of Faulkner's writing, having just been reading nonfiction, but now it's really immersive. I love the way Faulkner describes Ratliff's mien as he speaks. Also, as >18 dianelouise100: says the contrast between the educated, more formal voice of the narrator, full of the need to convey this particular place and its people to us; and the folksy colloquial language of the townspeople and farmers..., which really makes us believe that Faulkner truly is an omniscient narrator.

Jun 12, 2023, 6:39 pm

Chapter 3, Flem
By the end of Flem’s section, faulkner has introduced and characterized numerous of Flem’s relatives who have descended on Frenchman’s Bend and displaced the locals in their jobs or off their land. The names he chooses and the Snopes physical characteristics are so descriptive. The most interesting newcomer to me is Mink Snopes. A mink is known as one of the meanest animals there is and Mink Snopes with his one eyebrow going all the way across his face promises to live up to his name. He intimidates Ratliff and we see that Flem is unwilling to cross Mink, either. I’m keeping in mind the message that Ratliff is to give Flem if he has trouble getting Flem to pay for the sewing machine: “Just hamd them (the promissory notes) to him. Then you give him a message from me. Say ‘From one cousin that’s still scratching dirt to keep alive, to another cousin that’s risen from scratching dirt to owning a herd of cattle and a hay barn. To owning cattle and a hay barn.’ Just say that to him.” Once he knows about the message, Flem doesn’t even need to hear it. This makes me wonder how many barn burners may be in this family. Clearly Mink is not laughable as some of the others are, or pitiful, but I feel sure he’ll prove a very ugly character.

I’m really enjoying the book a lot so far.

Jun 13, 2023, 7:50 am

A lively thread. I’m home, still adjusting and finally checking in here, and feeling rewarded.

Just getting going, halfway through chapter 2. I’m still adapting to the language and how to puzzle out some of the subtexts. (And I’m trying to manage my response to the references to faceless “negroes”. I believe Faulkner had serious race issues.)

>10 dianelouise100: this was a lovely kickoff post

You all make Blowing Rock sound lovely

Jun 18, 2023, 12:47 pm

Slowly picking up momentum. I finished book one this morning. I’m enjoying Ratliff. Terrific character and talker. I see him as a kind scam artist, who doesn’t really hurt anyone. But maybe i just don’t exactly understand his business. I’m haven’t been able to follow all the details of these contracts and IOU’s, or even really make send of them. I just trust Faulkner that Flem was worked everyone over, even Ratliff. And that there are a lot of Snopeses about.

Jun 18, 2023, 3:53 pm

>24 dchaikin: Glad the book is going better!

Ratliff is an itinerant sewing machine salesman, traveling over at least two counties and picking up a lot of news, selling a few machines, and trading this and that. He will sell a machine to a country family for a down payment of $10 and a promissory note for the $20 balance. I’m wondering why you see him as a scam artist?

Jun 18, 2023, 7:17 pm

>25 dianelouise100: yeah, fair question. I might be off base, but really it over simplifies. He has a poker face, a kind one, but still unreadable. And he is sneaky about what he's doing and what his strategies are. He was very sneaky with Flem at the end of book one. Also, selling an expensive piece of equipment for a small amount down, full amount due later, is a sales trick or tactic. It makes the machine seem more affordable than it actually is. This is a stretch, but in a way, sales people are con artists that leave their customers/victims happy.

Jun 18, 2023, 9:14 pm

>26 dchaikin: I hadn’t thought of that, the seeming “affordability” of the machines. I have to admit though, that it really makes me cheer when someone even tries to get the better of Flem Snopes and Flem does wind up paying for at least part of Mrs. Mink’s machine when he honors the note Mink signed his (Flem’s) name to. I really enjoyed the business about the goats and the great hilarity the citizens of Frenchman’s Bend got from the idea of a goat farm. And Ratliff’s sad and sympathetic reaction to Ike’s being taken advantage of by his own kinsman and repaying the $10 plus interest to Mrs. Littlejohn to keep for Ike’s use certainly does show his considerable kindness.

Jun 19, 2023, 11:45 am

I’ve finished The Hamlet now, but will continue following the thread and comment as more comments come from others. Won’t post a review till the end of the month.

Jun 20, 2023, 12:53 pm

“At night passers would see the fierce dead glare of the patent lamp beyond the lean-to window where he would be sitting over the books which he did not love so much as he believed that he must read, compass and absorb and wring dry with something of that same contemptuous intensity with which he chopped firewood, measuring the turned pages against the fleeing seconds of irrevocable time like the implacable inching of a leaf worm.”

That’s Labove (should I accept his name as meaning he thinks he’s a little above the rest?)

Jun 20, 2023, 2:28 pm

>29 dchaikin: Nice quote!

Edited: Jun 20, 2023, 5:47 pm

>29 dchaikin: I wouldn’t see that as a stretch! Faulkner’s names are wonderful, I think. I know Labove is studying, trying to get himself away from Frenchman’s Bend, but what a sad approach to reading. And to life.

Jun 22, 2023, 3:33 pm

>31 dianelouise100: he’s so self tortured. I do wonder what happens to him (even if he doesn’t return to our story)

Jun 22, 2023, 3:46 pm

I finished book 2 - Eula.

Faulkner is, I think, having fun. He’s being sorta pornographic without taking any credit for it. Eula is, on one hand, I think an impossible character. As a male-created feminine idea, she’s very entertaining. But she’s not really real, more a bored divinity. (Flem isn’t entirely real either, so there’s a match.)

No clue how this will play our for Flem. Ratcliff only comes in at the end, and it feels very funereal in his eyes. But we really don’t know her take. We can maybe assume she’ll handle whatever her own way, doing what she wants, as any divine goddess might manage it. But if Flem, whose marrying local nobility might be enough for him, tries to manage her, then Ratcliff’s tragic take might be the most perceptive one.

I sense that Faulkner went on writing binges. That when he liked how things sounded, he could just go on and on. Long parts of this chapter, on Labove and all the sections on Eula’s hopeless admirers, really don’t go anywhere. They circle back on themselves. Every time Eula had another village audience described, i thought, “oh, we’re still there”.

Jun 22, 2023, 5:38 pm

>33 dchaikin: I agree about Faulkner’s binges, I think the fact that he began his writing career as a poet tells us a lot about his love for words, imagery, and mythic archetype. Many aspects of the binges are so poetic and powerful in themselves, image by image, but he doesn’t know when he might be getting tedious. And I think there’s intentional irony too, using all this elevated, mythologic language to describe the overindulged “princess” of … Frenchman’s Bend. Just as Frenchman’s Bend seems quite a grand, romantic name for what we know about the little village..

Edited: Jun 22, 2023, 6:36 pm

>34 dianelouise100: interesting about the elevated language elevating the story. (The poor white trash princes and princesses, and their high drama internal lives.)

Reading the beginning of Book 3, it seems Ratcliff was mourning Will Varner, not Eula, at the end of Book 2.

Jun 22, 2023, 7:28 pm

I guess I meant that the elevated language by its unsuitability pokes fun at the reality. And I also believe as you say, that Ratliff mourns for Will’s diminishment—most seem to presume, as you also said, that Eula will take care of herself. What I see here is a willful teenager about to become an unwed mother, and the only way her father can preserve the family honor is by marrying her to the frog-faced, unscrupulous, blackmailing Flem, at great cost, which included a prized possession, the old Frenchman place, which is supposed to have buried treasure on it. So who knows why either Flem or Varner wants it? Much sneakiness…

Jun 25, 2023, 6:20 pm

So, I finished book 3 - The Long Summer. Phew. Poetic formal prose that keeps us sustained within the minds of these deranged, but not always bad, men, page after page. Strangely readable.

- Cormac McCarthy must have loved this section.
- I feel terrible for Jack Houston.
- Mink Snopes is so messed up.
- There is a mythic aspect to bestiality, at least here there is. A reverse minotaur? Isaac as Pasiphaë? It’s weirdly not really condemned by the author, who is remarkably sympathetic. Only by Ratcliff seems really bothered.

Jun 26, 2023, 7:48 am

>37 dchaikin: I think Bookwright is bothered too, though maybe what really bothers him is the voyeurism of the other men who pay Lump to be allowed to watch the spectacle. I agree about the sympathy from the author and the beauty of the language. One of my favorite passages is the description of what I guess is a typical day for Ike and his beloved during this pastoral interlude, as they move through the day from dawn to night.

Jun 26, 2023, 12:38 pm

I'm half way through The Long Summer section and honestly a little confused. I get what's happening with each individual story but not sure how it's all coming together or what the connection is to Flem and Eula.

Jun 26, 2023, 12:39 pm

>38 dianelouise100: i was a little too into the fast flow of text, and maybe too weirded out, to note any specific passages. But I did appreciate that Faulkner had his linguistic way. Ike’s section was oddly romantic, and perhaps meant to contrast Eula’s unromantic adolescence. Bookwright is just, you know, he has a restrained dignity and that Ike show was below it.

Edited: Jun 26, 2023, 12:41 pm

>39 japaul22: I don’t either and I imagine that comes later. But there are hints within the section.

Jun 26, 2023, 2:26 pm

>39 japaul22: >40 dchaikin:>41 For what it’s worth, my rating of this book begins its drop with this 3rd section. I agree with both of you about problems with “coming together.” Too episodic for my tastes, and not at all what you see in Faulkner’s best work.

Jun 26, 2023, 3:42 pm

>42 dianelouise100: I know Faulkner tended to write short stories and some of his novels are based on a previous short story that is expanded or short stories are worked into the larger novel text. But this second half isn’t feeling reworked - they feel like distinct short stories.
Curious to see how it plays out. So far this is no Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom, or As I Lay Dying - my favorites.

Jun 26, 2023, 4:59 pm

>43 japaul22: I agree, and one of my problems was the tedium of having read about all this before. The Snopes horse trading stories and the story of Mink and Jack Houston and the noble hound were very familiar…and drawn out.

Jun 26, 2023, 5:13 pm

So it’s a collage? This is my first Faulkner. Seems like a writer whose done pleasing his publisher and is writing what he wants to write. 🙂 anyway, I can forgive _some_ indulgence. So far I’m ok with that aspect. I think i really liked part 3. Part 4 has been slow. I’m a little tired of this horse trading.

Jun 26, 2023, 6:12 pm

>45 dchaikin: collage might be a good word for it. But, since I haven't finished yet (I think I will finish by tomorrow), I'm not totally convinced of that word either. I wonder - and I'm hoping - that over the three book set I see a little more of the development I'm looking for.

One of the things I love in Faulkner's other books are the themes and symbols and words that recur and are developed over time. I'm either not reading closely enough to get them here or they aren't there.

Jun 28, 2023, 12:01 pm

I finished this last night. Though it's not my favorite Faulkner, I'm glad I read it. I was a little annoyed in the third section where I think the book loses focus, but in the end I thought it was interesting that Faulkner is able to make Flem Snopes the central character and central to the action without having him present all that often. For a main character, I felt that I didn't really know him well by the end of the book. But I think that was intentional. Also, that this was presented as volume one in the three book set, rather than a distinct novel, has me interested in continuing with the trilogy.

It certainly portrays a different side of Yoknapatawpha county than the decaying aristocracy that I'm used to reading about in Faulkner's work.

Jun 28, 2023, 3:29 pm

I am still reading. Have had a lot going on in RL. When I finish I will be back to comment, but I did want to let everyone know I have set up the thread for the second volume, The Town.

Jun 28, 2023, 4:33 pm

>47 japaul22: Visited your thread to see your review, which was excellent, and I have come to very similar conclusions. I’m looking forward to The town.

Jun 28, 2023, 9:00 pm

>48 arubabookwoman: Thanks for setting that up. I'll be reading it, but will probably take a short break.

>49 dianelouise100: Thanks! Have you written a review yet? I've really enjoyed your commentary in this group.

Jun 28, 2023, 9:07 pm

>50 japaul22: I’ve not written it yet, but will do so. And I’ve enjoyed your comments too. My first group read on CR and I’m loving the experience.

Jun 28, 2023, 9:12 pm

>48 arubabookwoman: Thanks for setting up this thread, and looking forward to your further comments on The Hamlet.

Jun 29, 2023, 1:45 pm

So i just finished. I’ll have to think about it. It’s an oddball collection of impressions. Mostly I enjoyed Ratcliff’s navigation through all this. The more Ratcliff, and the more he said
“Sholy”, the better. And I think it’s odd how romantic Isaac’s pursuit of the cow was.

Jul 3, 2023, 1:36 pm

Well I did in fact finish The Hamlet before 6/30, but am just getting around to writing about it after thinking a bit (and doing a bit of recovering from covid, which I can't believe I finally caught after 3+ years of successfully avoiding it).

Like several of you I had a hard time getting into it, though I've loved most of the other works by Faulkner I've read (especially The Sound and the Fury, Absalom Absalom, Light in August and As I Lay Dying. I especially love his prose style--the meandering sentences, the "story-telling," the southern colloquialisms. I think it was because when I started the book, I was only able to read in short snatches of time, and I wasn't finding any continuity and was having to reread, and that made the first two books, "Flem" and "Eula" so much less enjoyable to me than the last two books, which I read over just a couple of days.

I'll just give my thoughts organized by the individual books in which they occurred:

"Flem"--The first book is about Flem, but we only see him from the outside, and to me, at least, he remained enigmatic at the end of book I as well as at the end of The Hamlet. We know he arrives in town, the son of a poor sharecropper, and by the end of Book I he (or relatives he's placed in position) is running the store, running the gin, lending money, wheeling and dealing, and the right-hand man for Will Varner, the richest man in town. I kind of enjoyed the barn-burning stories, but have to admit, perhaps the Snopeses are smarter than me because I had difficulty following the horse trading story.

Like many others here, I liked the character of Ratliff. In my experience, this is a common technique of Faulkner's: having one character, usually a "country folk." sometimes a minor character with no role to play other than as a storyteller, relate events about the main character or characters to advance the plot. Here I think we can say Ratliff is a fairly prominent character with a part to play other than as a storyteller. By the end of the whole book, I began to see Ratliff as a counter-ploy to Flem. He is a wheeler-dealer like Flem, but he is Nice, where Flem is downright Nasty. So in Book I, Ratliff tries to outsmart Flem in the matter of the goat farm and the notes signed in Flem's name he got from Mink, but ends up being outsmarted himself. He seems to take it all in good humor though (and even pays over some money to help feed Ike). Whereas, we have to think that had Flem gotten outsmarted, he would be seeking revenge. The maneuvering re the goat farm and the notes were again just beyond the range of my understanding of what was actually going on, but I got the gist.

Edited: Jul 3, 2023, 2:17 pm

Book II Eula

This for me was the most over-the-top section of the book. I found Eula on the one hand to be passive and apathetic, but on the other hand to be extremely strong-willed and opinionated, if that even makes sense. To me, Faulkner thoroughly succeeded in creating such a contradictory character as Eula and making her believable. And Eula can definitely take care of herself. We don't get to see much, if any of her interaction with Flem. I have to wonder what she really felt about marrying him. I am not sure what the timeline for the succeeding books are, but I am interested to see if we are ever going to get more of an inside look at the relationship between Eula and Flem in either of the future books. (Or even of either Flem or Eula individually).

I really didn't care much for the descriptions of Eula's extreme sexuality (even back into the womb!). I kept picturing her as a pint-size Dolly Parton. And I thought the bit about the school teacher Labove went on too long. Probably my least favorite part of the book.

Book III The Long Summer

The novel really picked up for me with this section, and I began reading it compulsively. Ike falling in love with the cow is over-the-top, but I believed it. It was also interesting to get to know more about all the various Snopes relations. And although in Book II, I thought the side-story about Labove went on too long, here, I enjoyed reading Houston's story.

With the story of Houston's murder, begin to see just how low these Snopes folks will stoop: once Mink learns he may have left $50 on Houston's body, he's going back after it, even if reexposing Houston's body may be what ultimately leads to his arrest. And if that's not enough, Mink takes even bigger chances because he doesn't want to share with Lump any part of the $50. And, am I correct in thinking that Mink ended up killing Houston over the $3 for pasturage he had to pay when he lost the suit regarding the cow? Mighty petty amount, even back then, to murder someone over.

There was a very Faulknerian quote I noted in this section:

"He fled to from the past but to escape the future. It took him twelve years to learn that you cannot escape either of them."

And the bit of humor in naming Eck's son "Wallstreet Panic."

Jul 3, 2023, 2:13 pm

Book IV The Peasants

This was my favorite part of the book. The whole long set piece about the Texan and the auction of the wild horses was so masterfully choreographed and written by Faulkner. Can't you just see the horses whizzing back and forth around the corral like a school of skittish fish? And Ratliff in his underwear jumping out the window when a wild horse appears in the doorway of his room at the boarding house?

I think it is in the section that we are introduced to the character of Henry (at least I don't remember him in any of the earlier sections). With just a few actions, his stealing his wife's money to buy a horse, his fear of getting cheated, his whining and sniveling, we get such a clear picture of his character.

And we get a little more insight into Flem's character. The Texan gives Henry's wife's $5 to Flem and tells her Flem will give her back her money tomorrow. For at least a few pages, we are left to wonder whether Flem will do the honorable thing, whether he will do at least one nice thing. We aren't left to wonder long, though.

Since I'm sure Ratliff and Bookwright were familiar with Henry's character, I'm wondering why they joined with him in the final scheme of the book to try to outwit Flem. But they did, and unfortunately it turned into another situation in which Flem outwitted Ratliff. Actually, I kind of was wondering as they began digging whether Flem had set them up. During the course of the book we've learned just enough about Flem that we should not have been surprised. You'd think Ratliff would have known better too. Greed blinds us all I guess, but Ratliff remains good natured.

And so although the book is complete, there's still a lot for us to find out. I'm looking forward to reading The Town.

Jul 22, 2023, 10:08 am

Just finished this book yesterday, which is why I've been absent from this thread. Reading from 34 onward today, there's a lot I would agree with, so I'll only go with where I might differ.

I felt the long portion devoted to Labove was done well, setting up his internal turmoil and rage through his background. His fall was inevitable given this, but I wonder if he will appear in future novels. I suspect so - Faulkner doesn't seem to use floating characters. I also wonder if this character's name, containing 'above' (l'above) could be a further indication of how hard he tried to escape sin and his destiny.

Regarding Eula, I think she is as withdrawn and narcissistic as presented, but that there is a crucial unawareness there too. Eula is presented as a human bovine parallel to Ike's cow. It is only when life is reduced to an animal level, as in the Labove scene, that she can act with any agency.

I really enjoyed the horse trading, both literal and metaphorical throughout the book, and the discussions and pondering around it. Anyone who has ever lived in a small rural area will recognize the information trading and dealing in these stories, and the sheer delight in the process, brought alive with the last actual real horse trading with the Texan.

>56 arubabookwoman: You'd think Ratliff would have known better too. Ratliff was definitely my favourite character too, but he did admit to himself that he was falling into the lure of money.

I was afraid at times that he would die, for instance during his illness, and again when the horse chased him, do I'm happy to see that he will continue on. After all, he's the closest thing to an impartial narrator there is, and I like the way Faulkner sets him up as such, but then disabuses us of any idea that he may be an omniscient narrator with the revelation of Grimm's lineage (another interesting choice of name).

Henry's poor grey wife was another recognizable character. Her initial belief, or her initial need to believe, that Flem would really give her the money was heartrending, and Faulkner's portrayal of the trajectory of her realisation that it would no be forthcoming is just one small example of his genius.

Looking forward to going along the road to The Town.

Jul 22, 2023, 12:29 pm

Great observations! I think you’ll really enjoy The Town.

Jul 23, 2023, 9:37 am

Great post, Sassy. I like the our Ratliff has his human limits and foibles.