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The Hamlet (1940)

by William Faulkner

Series: The Snopes Trilogy (1)

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1,838199,323 (3.85)1 / 219
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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Includes 4 books
  JimandMary69 | Apr 22, 2024 |
Set in the small village of Frenchman’s Bend, this novel tells the story of the rise of Flem Snopes, son of sharecropper and barn burner, Ab Snopes, to a position of wealth and power. Flem begins realizing his ambition to leave the country behind him when he secures a position as clerk in Will Varner’s general store; by the end of the story he marries Varner’s daughter and is driving off to “bigger pastures” in the city of Jefferson. All of his advances are secured by underhanded methods, the two just named by blackmail of Will Varner, the largest landowner in the area. For me, the greatest pleasure in this novel was living for a while in a world of Faulkner’s creation, enjoying his landscape, his characters, and his wonderful style. There’s a fine example of his “world building” in the novel’s first paragraph:

“Frenchman’s Bend was a section of rich river-bottom country lying twenty miles southeast of Jefferson. Hill-cradled and remote, definite yet without boundaries, straddling two counties and owning allegiance to neither, it had been the original grant and site of a tremendous pre-Civil War plantation, the ruins of which—the gutted shell of an enormous house with its fallen stables and slave quarters and overgrown gardens and brick terraces and promenades—were still known as the Old Frenchman’s place, although the original boundaries now existed only on old faded records in the Chancery Clerk’s office in the county courthouse in Jefferson, and even some of the once-fertile fields had long since reverted to the cane-and-cypress jungle from which their first master had hewed them.”

Setting is always important in a Faulkner story and we will learn much more about the world of Frenchman’s Bend through the course of the novel.

Ultimately, though, for me, The Hamlet was a disappointment, mainly because of plot deficiencies. Its first two sections, “Flem” and then “Eula,” are unified around the theme of Flem’s rise, which culminates in his marriage to Eula Varner. Unfortunately with the last two sections, dealing with the Snopeses migrating into Frenchman’s Bend and being placed by Flem in positions he has taken from inhabitants who have held them for years, the structure becomes episodic and rambling in nature, and not so clearly tied into the theme. Much of what happens in these last sections is the reworking of earlier short stories, and we lose the focus on Flem’s progress. For example, in the conflict between Mink and the hound belonging to Mink’s murder victim, the focus for me is on the intelligence and courageous actions of the dog in defeating his master’s murderer, as it was in an earlier short story entitled “The Hound.” I had read and loved all the short stories Faulkner reused in the novel and I would have not objected to his reusing old material, if I felt that he had carefully integrated it into this novel. But I didn’t see that he had—they made interesting reading, but distracted me from the overall interests of the novel.

In his best novels Faulkner’s plots are often complicated and difficult to work out, but they usually can be worked out (admittedly for me, only after multiple readings)—everything is tied in and works toward the climax. And it may be that I need to reread The Hamlet, which I probably will do eventually. ( )
  dianelouise100 | Aug 19, 2023 |
38. The Hamlet by William Faulkner
OPD: 1940
format: 344-pages within a Kindle ebook of the Snopes Trilogy (so random cover up there)
acquired: May read: Jun 10-29 time reading: 15:18, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4½
genre/style: Classic Fiction theme: group read
locations: Mississippi, ~1910s?
about the author: 1897-1962. American Noble Laureate who was born in New Albany, MS, and lived most of his life in Oxford, MS.

My first Faulkner. It took me a little time to find a way into this book. It's a collection of stories around Will Varner and Flem Snopes and the village of Frenchman's Bend. Varner owns the local plantation home, in ruins, and runs the town. But Flem Snopes works his way into taking over the village, installing various relatives in various jobs, seeming to conjure up weird relatives as needed. But Flem somehow never really makes much of an appearance. So we only get the periphery, and we spend a lot of time lost in this periphery.

This is Mississippi, after 1901, but not much after. No cars found. And not much money or hygiene. A dollar means a lot. What makes these run-on stories work, for me at least, is the rhythm Faulkner writes with. It's always there, rocking away, giving book a nice flow and I think it's this that gives the book most of its draw. The stories vary, but subtlety and complicated transactions where everyone is trying to make some money play a large role. Ultimately, I enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed the true main character, a sewing machine salesman, VK Ratcliff, who listens, seems to know everything, is game for any deal, and quiets everyone's' angst down with his charming responses, always involving his calming, "Sholy"

2023
https://www.librarything.com/topic/351556#8177893 ( )
  dchaikin | Jul 1, 2023 |
This is the first novel in Faulkner's trilogy centered on the Snopes family. I've read several of Faulkner's novels, some of which would appear on my all-time favorite list, but this one I had a hard time connecting with.

What I liked was, as always, Faulkner's way of writing and the language he uses. He hits a fascinating mix of colloquialism and high literary writing. He also always manages to come up with interesting characters. In this novel, Flem Snopes is the central character. The Snopes family is rising in Yoknapatawpha County, as the families descended from the pre-Civil War aristocracy are declining. Flem Snopes marries his way into some land that is rumored to have a buried Confederate treasure.

What I didn't like, is that there isn't much plot momentum or much of a trajectory towards a conclusion, and this bothered me. I also missed some of the vivid imagery and symbolism that I've found in other Faulkner novels.

Overall, I think Faulkner fans will want to read this, as it fills in a lot of back story that is important to understanding the complete world that Faulkner built, but I wouldn't recommend starting here. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 28, 2023 |
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 |
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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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