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Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

by William Faulkner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,4501071,154 (4.12)366
Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:ABSALOM, ABSALOM! tells the story of Thomas Sutpen, the enigmatic stranger who came to Jefferson township in the early 1830s. With a French architect and a band of wild Haitians, he wrung a fabulous plantation out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness.
Sutpen was a man, Faulker said, "who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him." His tragedy left its impress not only on his contemporaries but also on men who came after, men like Quentin Compson, haunted even into the 20th century by Sutpen's legacy of ruthlessness and singleminded disregard for the human community.
… (more)
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  5. 25
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    WSB7: Contrasting tragedies of brothers "bonding" with unknown half-brothers.

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Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
A classic first published in 1936 - We have a winner here. This is absolutely my TOP WORST READ EVER!!! It ranks above “The Stand” by Stephen King, and above “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

I'm not sure what the hell I have just read? He’s missing a lot of periods. Every sentence seem to run on for one…two pages...sometimes longer, paragraphs running several pages long. In chapter seven, one paragraph was actually ten pages long. This writing style makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever! He rambles on and on and on, repeating words, phrases, scenarios in different ways. It's all over the damn place. I need a cup of coffee, I have housework to do, I have to head outdoors to get work done, I have to take a poop but there's no place to stop, to break, to catch a breath. Not only that, I can't understand his story or what he’s trying to say. Who's talking and telling the story to Quentin? I thought it was some old lady sitting in a chair in a dark room, then suddenly it was some letter that was being read, then it was Quentin's grandfather...then all of a sudden it would be Quentin talking to Shreve who pops into the story unexpectedly. Who the hell is Shreve???...and I still don't know who Quentin is and why he cares to even listen to all this crap. And I have yet to figure out how the title, Absalom, Absalom!, factors into the story.

Through all of the above, here is what I gather the story is about: Thomas Sutpen, a mysterious stranger who shows up out of nowhere with nothing but a horse, his two pistols and the shirt on his back, and makes his home in Jefferson, Mississippi, in early 1830's. He rents a room, and daily, locking it, leaves on his horse before sunrise and returns for dinner, eats and retreats to his room. The rumors abound about him. Then one day he returns with a Spanish gold coin and purchases a hundred acres and calls it Sutpen's Hundred, then disappears again for a while. The next time he is seen coming through town on a wagon driven by a wild, naked negro, filled with wild stinking naked negroes inside.

He used them like animals to build the largest plantation around. They slept and covered themselves in mud for protection against the mosquitoes. The townsmen, curious, would sneak around and hide to watch what was going on. He and the twenty slaves built with a fury for two years, his house 12 miles from town, then rested. No doors, no locks, no window panes, no furnishings, just a shell inside, but grandiose and "respectable" looking from the outside. All that cost money, which he did not have. The next respectable thing he needed now was a wife...with money.

He began to socialize with the men of the town, throwing hunting parties at his place. They drank, played cards, hunted, and he even began pitting his wild, naked black negroes against each other. Fighting bets. Later, his future son, Henry, couldn't hardly bare to watch, but his daughter Judith watched. He was loaned cotton seeds, which he planted, then was done. He sat and did nothing for two years. His plan was to marry money to furnish and finish the inside. His end goal was "respectability" in the eyes of others.

Sutpen disappeared for a while once again and returned with four wagon loads of fancy home furnishings he had robbed off a steamboat. Rumors were running wild. He returned now an enemy of the people. They viewed him now very suspiciously.

He built up all these walls of protection: claimed a hundred acres of land and called it Sutpen's Hundred, he built the largest plantation home in the area, he owned slaves…not just any slaves, but wild French slaves. He married Ellen Coldfield, the daughter of the most respected man in town. She even coaxes him to attend church a few times. It all looked good from the outside. But, Thomas is caught by his wife, sparring with his slaves...and was forcing his son Henry to watch and learn. Ellen is completely distraught.

Chapter 7 explains more of Thomas Sutpen's life growing up secluded in the mountains. His father, a drunk, decided to one day head down and into civilization. Here's where poor Thomas, at around age 15, learned of slavery, and of racism between rich white men and poor white men. One day, during their travels, his father sent him to deliver a note to a very wealthy owner of a plantation just down the road. Here he saw the owner had a slave taking care of his every whim. He didn't even have to remove his own shoes. Young, ragged Thomas knocked on the front door. A black slave answered and he was turned away and told he had to use the back door. Didn't even bother to inquire of his business. This very instant changed Thomas for life. His whole plan in life was carried forward with careful planning. He would not just never be turned away again, but he would have a better life, a better plantation, better pure bread slaves, a better family than what he saw that day. But, even in all the planning, obstacles, such Thomas Sutpen's two sons, one from his secret marriage years ago, Charles Bon, and Henry, his son with his second marriage to Ellen Coldfield, would wreck his plan of dying a highly respectable man.

Henry began bringing Charles around as a friend, when arrangements and rumors began transpiring that Charles and Henry's sister, Judith, were planning to be married...although they had never, ever seen each other face to face. It was all in the letters back and forth to each other. Thomas told the unknowing Henry that Charles was his son (Henry and Judith's brother). After some time and consideration, Henry was okay with the idea of an incestual relationship between Charles and Judith. It was when he found out that Charles was part negro, and not part Spanish as presumed, then Henry had it out for him. Thomas counted on Henry to take the matters into his own hands, which he did. Henry killed Charles, then left the homestead for good!

So, Thomas continued to plan and, at age 60, he then married Ellen's youngest sister, Rosa Coldfield, in hopes of obtaining one more son to right things and be able to die a "respectable" man in the eyes of society. But, the story never reconnected here to let us know if Rosa had a child by Thomas.

On the back cover of the book, William Faulkner is quoted, speaking of Thomas Sutpen: "He was a man who wanted sons, and the sons destroyed him." But, from what I read and can understand through all that horrible writing, Thomas Sutpen came into town and swindled everyone. He was nothing but a con-man and set his own life up to fail all in the name of appearing to be a "respectable" man.
( )
  MissysBookshelf | Aug 27, 2023 |
Along with The Brothers Karamazov, this is my favorite novel. What I love about Faulkner is his modernism, his total lack of sentimentality. Nothing or nobody is idealized. There are no Atticus Finches or Slims or Sonias here. Everyone is a fallen sinner in a fallen world. Even the character with the strongest morals, Goodhue Coldfield, is myopic and unloving to his daughters.

There is so much to say about Absalom, Absalom! that I don't know where to start. Another reviewer made a comparison to Picasso. I think this is apt. Faulkner's fracturing of the narrative is similar to Picasso's attempt in his Cubist paintings to capture multiple perspectives of his subject. We are not too sure how much to believe Quentin's retelling of the Sutpen story to his Harvard roommate - it is hearsay two generations removed from the events. And then Shreve, the roommate, hijacks the narrative and begins filling in details. How much of this is conjecture? There is the sense of a Romantic and mythical South, a shattered land that fascinates these young men, especially the Canadian Shreve.

There is a key moment when we hear about Thomas Sutpen's quelling of the slave uprising in Haiti:

". . . he just put the musket down and had someone unbar the door and then bar it behind him, and walked out into the darkness and subdued them, maybe by yelling louder, maybe by standing, bearing more than they believed any bones and flesh could or should (should, yes; that would be the terrible thing: to find flesh to stand more than flesh should be asked to stand); maybe at last they themselves turning in horror and fleeing from the white arms and legs shaped like theirs and from which blood could be made to spurt and flow as it could from theirs and containing and indomitable spirit which should have come from the same primary fire which theirs came from but which could not have, could not possibly have (he showed Grandfather the scars, one of which, Grandfather said, came pretty near leaving him a virgin for the rest of his life too) and then daylight came with no drums in it for the first time in eight days, and they emerged (probably the man and the daughter) and walked across the burned land with the bright sun shining down on it as if had happened, walking now in what must have been an incredible desolate solitude and peaceful quiet, and found him and brought him to the house: and when he recovered he and the girl were engaged. Then he stopped."

So we can discuss at length Faulkner's language and his cadence and his eternal sentences, but I just want to say that I think he is imitating / emulating / parodying the Southern loquacious voice, the incessant talking without speaking truth. Recounting events and details without reflection, without comment. The tendency of language to obfuscate and not illuminate.

More importantly, this passage is a clue to a central idea in the novel - Sutpen as Satan. I mean a Miltonian Satan, a Nietzschean Superman, a Dostoevskian Napoleon, not the boring old Biblical Satan. Sutpen seems to be able to overpower the rebelling slaves through sheer force of will, or will to power. The Haitian slaves employ voodoo to weaken their overlords, but something about Sutpen terrifies them.

There are other clues: the constant reference to Sutpen as an "ogre" (Rosa) or a "demon" (Shreve). Sutpen defies the rules of his society, while his one goal is to reach the pinnacle of the Southern class system as represented by the indolent plantation owner in Tidewater Virginia. Sutpen possesses a life force that is also destructive: his ambition, his envy, his will and strength are demonic in nature. We are reminded of Macbeth, Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. Sutpen employs the "forces of darkness" (his "wild niggers")to achieve his ends. The results are a curse placed on his offspring, the casual miscegenation and shunning of those with African blood, the Civil War as the hand of God that Sutpen both masters and is mastered by.

Faulkner is at the height of his powers here. His influence is clearly seen in Cormac McCarthy (especially Blood Meridian) and Robert Penn Warren. Even so, he stands alone as a singular and bloody voice from the deep South. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Faulkner shows you all the notes that are in the scale he'll be using, then builds them into chords, and transforms them into music. It doesn't follow a line to a point, it spins in circles around its object, capturing new shades each time the light hits differently. Or to steal Faulkner's metaphor: at the center is a rock striking a lake. The novel documents each ripple starting fresh from that center again. “That is the substance of remembering—sense, sight, smell: the muscles with which we see and hear and feel—not mind, not thought: there is no such thing as memory: the brain recalls just what the muscles grope for: no more, no less: and its resultant sum is usually incorrect and false and worthy only of the name of dream.”

Of course, this quote expresses a raison d'être for modernism itself, and so Absalom, Absalom! could be read as, not just an example of modernism, but presenting modernism as its thesis: where in life do any of us truly encounter linear plots? Experience goes frame by single frame, and whenever we tell a story we do so by reaching into the past: with all the groping and dreaming that this entails, all the contingencies of the present shaping the present moment and thus the dream itself. ( )
  thecrackstreetboys | Jan 21, 2023 |
Wow, what an incredible, though difficult, read. A convoluted tale of a tragic Southern family, told from multiple points of view, and shifting time periods. Faulkner’s prose can get very dense and difficult to follow, his sentences long in stream of consciousness mode, his paragraphs can run 3 pages long, but his use of language was absolutely enthralling, even if I didn’t quite get his drift at times. Will need to reread at some point. ( )
  luke66 | Oct 22, 2022 |
Well this book was difficult as faulk. Sure I questioned if there was a plot at times, but I loved Faulkner's writing style. I also picked up two things with this novel: one that is connects with his other novels, mostly Sound and the Fury, and this book is about having love for the South. This novels other claim to fame is having one of the longest sentences in literature (well this might be different now, but it's a long sentence still: 1,288 words). If you attempt to read this novel be warned the paragraphs, sentences and the 9 chapters are long. I would defiantly not recommend this to virgin Faulkner readers. However, if you're a fan of James Joyce's Ulysses this book will be right up you alley. ( )
  Ghost_Boy | Aug 25, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
A poll of well over a hundred writers and critics, taken a few years back by Oxford American magazine, named William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” the “greatest Southern novel ever written,” by a decisive margin

» Add other authors (108 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Faulkner, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kandinsky, WolframNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, John JeremiahForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that—a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.
"Why do you hate the South?"
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Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:ABSALOM, ABSALOM! tells the story of Thomas Sutpen, the enigmatic stranger who came to Jefferson township in the early 1830s. With a French architect and a band of wild Haitians, he wrung a fabulous plantation out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness.
Sutpen was a man, Faulker said, "who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him." His tragedy left its impress not only on his contemporaries but also on men who came after, men like Quentin Compson, haunted even into the 20th century by Sutpen's legacy of ruthlessness and singleminded disregard for the human community.

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