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The Hamlet (1940)

by William Faulkner

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1,687158,868 (3.86)198
The Hamlet, the first novel of Faulkner's Snopes trilogy, is both an ironic take on classical tragedy and a mordant commentary on the grand pretensions of the antebellum South and the depths of its decay in the aftermath of war and Reconstruction. It tells of the advent and the rise of the Snopes family in Frenchman's Bend, a small town built on the ruins of a once-stately plantation. Flem Snopes -- wily, energetic, a man of shady origins -- quickly comes to dominate the town and its people with his cunning and guile.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
If you are planning to read Faulkner, you must be prepared to take your meat raw. It has been decades since I initially read The Hamlet, and I had forgotten how coarse and unrestrained the writing could be at times. It was as if Faulkner wanted you to never mistake this world for one in which there was any refinement or justice or sanity, as if he meant to reveal how unendurable a life could really be.

The story, or stories if you will, since there are several told here, with only the barest thread to hold them together, is violent and intense, with a broodiness that sometimes makes it difficult to turn the page and continue, but which makes it equally impossible to stop reading.

I’m not sure there is a single character within these pages that is likeable enough to even elicit a sustained feeling of sympathy, let alone affinity. It is a dirty, hot, sticky world, in which the sweat-stained shirts cling to dirty backs, the children run bare-footed, the women are beaten or bartered by their husbands or fathers, and tobacco juice drips from nasty, uncombed beards. There is a cow and an imbecile, and I am not even going there. Life is cheap and entertainment comes in the form of misery and murder.

I hate the south of Faulkner’s novels, and yet I love it as well. It is gritty and blank and a law unto itself. Even the people at the top of this crumbling society seem trapped. They are more survivors than rulers and they must be wary every moment so as not to be usurped or displaced. No villainy is intolerable and, in such a climate, no villainy is unpracticed. Your only chance is to be a Snopes and a have clan at your back, but then be careful, because the man at your back, Snopes are not, might be carrying a knife.

No one would accuse Faulkner of being easy or fun to read, but after you have parsed a sentence and gleaned the meaning, there is so much to admire.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
8481302104
  archivomorero | Jun 27, 2022 |
At once a sampling of Faulkner's greatest skills and worst habits.

An example:

The first section is a glorious depiction of a living, swirling community, that, when read, feels like having witnessed 50 years of life condensed into a dream. The Snopes invasion from the opening, and the violence around Mink, are highlights.

Still, where Faulkner can write passages of timeless beauty, he also tends to get overwrought in his chronicling of Yoknapatawpha county. There are dozens of overwrought sections of mule trading, dull marriages, dull scandals, and otherwise beautifully written gossip that, while always beautiful, never amount to a cohesive whole.

So, more or less, the novel is great in parts but a mixed bag of longwinded domestic chronicling and passages of immeasurable beauty and depth. ( )
1 vote blanderson | Mar 4, 2014 |
"Will Varner, the present owner of the Old Frenchman place, was the chief man of the country. He was the largest landholder and and beat supervisor in one county and Justice of the Peace in the next and election commissioner in both, and hence the fountainhead if not of law at least of advice and suggestion to a countryside which would have repudiated the term constituency if they had ever heard it, which came to him, not in the attitude of What must I do but What do you think you like like for me to do if you was able to make me do it…. Judge Benbow of Jefferson once said of him that a milder mannered man never bled a mule or stuffed a ballot box." (Pp. 5, 6)

Will Varner may have been the richest man in Frenchman's Bend, but Faulkner centers this collection of tales around the Snopes family who first finagled their way into the store, then gained control of the mill, cotton gin, and the blacksmith shop. Abner Snopes begins by renting one of Varner's properties. His reputation of being a barn burner allows his son Flem to wiggle into the storekeeper's position as a unique kind of fire insurance. It is just a matter of time before Flem becomes indispensable to Mr. Varner to the point where he lives in the house and is the one chosen to marry the lovely but incredibly lazy youngest daughter Eula.

This is a fine example of rural life in pre-depression Mississippi. There is much to ponder about the shenanigans of the Snopes. Some of it is harmless and a source of humor, while some of it is tragic. The men who linger on the porch of the town store with nothing to do but note the comings and goings of townspeople are avid listeners of the town gossip, much of which comes from the frequent visitor and peddler of sewing machines, V. K. Ratliff. He acts as the moral voice of the community as he stops the peepshows of the mentally challenged Ike Snopes and the cow that he loves. He is also a friend of Will and tries to warn him in his charming manner of what he sees happening in the community. The horse swapping and pony antics are amusing, but there is a darker side that he can see as someone who is not part of the events.

This is part one of a trilogy. I look forward to seeing what else Faulkner has in store for us as he continues his clever yarns about the people and animals of Frenchman's Bend. ( )
1 vote Donna828 | Feb 17, 2014 |
For years I procrastinated about reading Faulkner. I was intimidated, I guess, by what I'd heard about the difficulty of the language, although generally I'm not put off by such things. And it just so happened that through high school, undergrad and even an English Lit MA, I syllabus containing Faulkner never crossed my path. At any rate, at age 56 I finally decided to start with the Snopes Trilogy, of which The Hamlet is the first novel. And, wow, am I sorry I waited so long.

Not really novel in the classic sense, The Hamlet, rather tells a series of interweaving stories with a core set of characters moving throughout and an interchanging series of part-time players revolving around them. This is life in small town deep South in the late 19th/early 20th centuries: grim, ruthless and hard, with a few hesitant glimmers of grace woven in. The writing hurtles headlong with with dense, flowing language, memorable characters and beautiful, lush descriptions of nature and location that serve as much to set the tone of the characters' actions and frames of mind as it does to offer an acute sense of place and time.

Obviously, many others have written at greater length and with greater scholarship about Faulkner. I'm just saying I loved this, and if there were dense spots at times, I learned to let the language loft me floating over them rather than trying to hack my way through them. I'm looking forward, at the very least, to the rest of this trilogy. ( )
  rocketjk | May 7, 2012 |
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"Frenchman's Bend was a section of rich river-bottom country lying twenty miles southeast of Jefferson."
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The Hamlet, the first novel of Faulkner's Snopes trilogy, is both an ironic take on classical tragedy and a mordant commentary on the grand pretensions of the antebellum South and the depths of its decay in the aftermath of war and Reconstruction. It tells of the advent and the rise of the Snopes family in Frenchman's Bend, a small town built on the ruins of a once-stately plantation. Flem Snopes -- wily, energetic, a man of shady origins -- quickly comes to dominate the town and its people with his cunning and guile.

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