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Light in August ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (54)

As a general rule, I'm not big on Faulkner, but this one is reasonably decent.  Faulkner was basically schizophrenic, attracted by Modernist techniques and attitudes, which necessitated condemning the South and lading his novels with themes of sex and violence, yet clinging to a conservative and romantic love of the region, it's people and it's history.  These conflicting impulses are on display here.  The story revolves around Lena--a single mother who trudges through the novel looking for the father of her baby like an unstoppable force of nature, Gail Hightower--a well intentioned white minister and Joe Christmas--a man whose ambiguous racial heritage fosters a self destructive sense of self-loathing.  Christmas is the most important character as he plays out a thinly veiled Christ allegory, from his initials and last name to his death, shot five times (stigmata) through a wooden table (his cross).

There is something fundamentally weird about the way these Southern gothic novelists (Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers, etc.) came to be so central to the American canon in the first half of the century.  After all, the winners usually write the history books, so why were the losers ceded the field in literature?  Whatever the reason, their product is unsurprisingly just the type of morose scab picking that you would expect from a defeated society.  In some basic sense, Southern literature of this period is so regional that it is hard to think of it as truly American.  But as race obsessed tales of dysfunctional inbred crackers go, this is one of the best of the lot.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B-)


Websites:

William Faulkner Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: William Faulkner
    -FILMOGRAPHY: William Faulkner (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: William Failkner (Mississippi Writers Page)
    -William Faulkner (Poetry Foundation)
    -BIO: William Faulkner (Nobel Prize)
    -Faulkner at Virginia
    -The Center for Faulkner Studies
    -LECTURE: "I decline to accept the end of man." (William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950)
    -INTERVIEW: William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12 (Interviewed by Jean Stein, SPRING 1956, Paris Review)
    -VIDEO: Writings of William Faulkner: From Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, the guests talked about his life and his writings, focusing on the Yoknapatawpha County novels (C-SPAN, MAY 5, 2002)
    -VIDEO: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: The panel talked about the works of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Southern writer William Faulkner. (C-SPAN, DECEMBER 9, 2001)
    -VIDEO: Shelby Foote on Faulkner: Mr. Foote talked about the writings of William Faulkner and his view of the South (C-SPAN, MAY 2, 2002)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Absalom, Absalom!
    -ENTRY: William Faulkner American author (Michael Millgate, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! novel by Faulkner (Richard Godden, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! (Encyclopedia.com)
    -AUDIO BOOK: W. Kandinsky reads 'Absalom, Absalom!' (You Tube)
    -INTERACTIVE CHRONOLOGY: Absalom, Absalom! (STEPHEN RAILTON & WILL ROURK, UNIV OF VIRGINIA)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Study.com)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Cliff Notes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Spark Notes)
    -ESSAY: American myths: Demystifying William Faulkner Paul Giles, December 2020, Australian Book Review)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Demons: In his own life, the novelist failed to truly acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation. But he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction. (Casey Cep, November 23, 2020, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Understanding William Faulkner (Mark Royden Winchell, September 24th, 2020, Imaginative Conservatism)
    -ESSAY: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: American Ulysses: A perfect novel and distinctive, masterful version of the stream-of-consciousness style (Lucy Sweeney Byrne, 8/15/20, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: The Many Guises of William Faulkner: As 'The Sound and the Fury' celebrates its 90th anniversary, read about two-time Fiction winner William Faulkner's varied career (Sean Murphy, The Pulitzer Prizes)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey: The biggest name in Southern lit didn’t spend his whole life in Mississippi (JOHN MERONEY, April/May 2014, Garden & Gun)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: How William Faulkner Tackled Race — and Freed the South From Itself (John Jeremiah Sullivan, June 28, 2012, NY Times)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: What to Do About William Faulkner: A white man of the Jim Crow South, he couldn’t escape the burden of race, yet derived creative force from it. (DREW GILPIN FAUST, SEPTEMBER 2020, The Atlantic)
Perhaps the most powerful of Faulkner’s tellings of the Civil War story is Absalom, Absalom! (1936), a novel structured around Quentin Compson’s own refusal to look away. Although Faulkner insisted that Quentin did not speak for him, Gorra has “never quite believed him.” Quentin’s search to understand why Charles Bon was murdered during the very last days of the war unfolds through his elaboration of successive narratives in a manner not unlike Faulkner’s own. Unsatisfied with each version of the story he uncovers, Quentin looks again, arriving through ever more disturbing revelations at the South’s original sin: the distorting and dehumanizing power of race. It is race that pulls the trigger. “So it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear,” Bon says just before Henry, at once his brother and his fiancée’s brother, shoots him.

    -ESSAY: Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" and the Mysterious Rosa Coldfield (Alicia D. Costello, 2010, Inquiries)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom! as a Hardboiled Detective Novel: Faulkner's Rereading of The Sound and the Fury (SUWABE Koichi, THE FAULKNER JOURNAL OF JAPAN)
    -ESSAY: From Genesis to Revelation: The Grand Design of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Maxine Rose, Autumn 1980, Studies in American Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Poetic Justice in William Faulkner's "Absalom Absalom" (MANUELA GERTZ)
    -ESSAY: Reading Bon's Letter and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (David Krause, March 1984, PMLA)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Map of Yoknapatawpha: The End of Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Hamblin, Center for Faulkner Studies)
    -ESSAY: "ABSALOM, ABSALOM!" AND THE NEGRO QUESTION (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, Summer 1973, Modern Fiction Studies)
    -ESSAY: The Biblical Background Of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, January 1974, CEA Critic)
    -ESSAY: An Archetypal Study on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Haihui Chen, Theory and Practice in Language Studies)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Me (Ed Protzel, 6/27/2016)
    -ESSAY: Symposium on Absalom, Absalom! (Richard Ford, Spring 2013, Three Penny Review)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!: A Narrative of Inexhaustible Word and Unfathomable Past (Djamila Houamdi, IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship)
    -THESIS: Impressions of morality in Absalom, Absalom! (Eric G. R. Stephenson, University of Colorado)
    -ESSAY: The Postmodernist Features In Absalom Absalom English Literature (UK Essays, 1st Jan 1970)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom!: Story-telling as a mode of transcendence (Richard Forrer, Fall 1976, The Southern Literary Journal)
    -ETEXT: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom: A Case book (Fred Hobson, editor)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Indeterminate: Shreve McCannon in Absalom, Absalom! (Jo Alyson Parker)
    -ESSAY: Postmodern Truth in William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" (Nahid Sharifi, H. R. Rezayee and *Kh. Mohamadpour, Life Sciences Journal)
    -ESSAY: Narrative Voice in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom (Literature Essay Samples, March 1, 2019)
    -ESSAY: Reflection of History in Absalom, Absalom!
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Stylistic Difficulty: A Formal Analysis of Absalom, Absalom! (Eric Sandarg, 12-14-2017, Georgia State University)
    -ESSAY: As I Lay Trying: How to read William Faulkner: Advice for reading William Faulkner (Christopher Rieger, 4/26/16, MPR)
    -ESSAY: Ragged, Unkempt, Strange: On William Faulkner: For all the ways it is rife with tenderness, fury and ugliness, William Faulkner’s fiction is stubbornly persistent in its artistry. (Joanna Scott, NOVEMBER 20, 2012, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Sutpen's Delay in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Yarup, 07 Aug 2010, The Explicator)
    -ESSAY: Nic Pizzolatto on 'Absalom, Absalom!' (To the Best of Our Knowledge: Bookmarks)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce and His Influences: William Faulkner and Anthony Burgess (An abstract of a Dissertation by Maxine i!3urke, July, Ll.981, Drake University)
    -ESSAY: Joyce and Faulkner (Thomas E. Connolly, Summer, 1979, James Joyce Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: The Jim Crow South in Faulkner’s Fiction (Michael Gorra, NYRB)
    -ESSAY: Down Through the Faulkner Bloodline, Pride and Racial Guilt Commingled: Michael Gorra on William Faulkner's Great-Grandfather (Michael Gorra, August 24, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: You Need to Read Faulkner Right Now but You Might Need a Map: No white American author has ever written so well about the racial complexities of his country, but no author poses more challenges to unsuspecting readers. Here’s a guide (Michael Gorra, Sep. 13, 2020, daily Beast)
    -ARCHIVES: The Faulkner Journal of Japan
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (Dave Nash, Medium)
This novel requires time and attention, it’s not something to read in two minute intervals, it’s not for scanning or skimming, its paragraphs go for pages; its longest sentence is 1292 words. Faulkner’s flowing style, long sentences, stream of consciousness writing conveys all the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of a single moment. It enables Faulkner to throw everything he has into each page, put his heart in every paragraph, and make each sentence piece of his soul.

    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Arthur Hirsch, Baltimore Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (KC Public Library)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Rose Reads Novels)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (J. A. Bryant, Jr., Twentieth-Century Southern Literature)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Michael A. Khan)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Literary Corner Cafe)
    -REVIEW: of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Orlo Williams, September 26, 1935, Times Literary Supplement)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Yoknapatawpha County: William Faulkner on the Web
    -William Faulkner: Life and Works (includes synopsis of Light in August)
    -THE WILLIAM FAULKNER FOUNDATION, FRANCE
    -The William Faulkner Society
    -Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Faulkner Studies
    -Faulkner's Page: Tour of Oxford
    -William Faulkner: The Myth Of The South (from Let's Find Out)
    -Faulkner and Racism (ARTHUR F. KINNEY, Connotations)
    -ESSAY : Light In August (Elizabeth Ashley, Blue Lawn)
    -Frederick Crews: The Strange Fate of William Faulkner (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER: AMERICAN WRITER A Biography. By Frederick R. Karl (John W. Aldridge, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of William Faulkner: American Writer A Biography By Frederick R. Karl )(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER The Man and the Artist. By Stephen B. Oates (Louis D. Rubin Jr, NY Times Book Review)
     -REVIEW: of William Faulkner and the Tangible Past The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha. By Thomas S. Hines (Henry Taylor, NY Times Book Review)
    -William H. Gass: Mr. Blotner, Mr. Feaster, and Mr. Faulkner Faulkner: A Biography by Joseph Blotner (NY Review of Books)
    -Marvin Mudrick: The Over-Wrought Urn REVIEW of William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country by Cleanth Brooks (NY Review of Books)
   -Terry Southern: Just Folks  REVIEW: of Faulkner's People: A Complete Guide and Index to the Characters in Faulkner by Robert W. Kirk and Marvin Klotz (NY Review of Books)

Comments:

Add me to the growing list of readers who love this novel. Faulkner ties psychological depth to sociological depth when he depicts how broken people project their brokenness and build a broken society. Anybody out there think ours isn't broken today? Plus his language in the novel is breathtaking in places.

- TT

- Dec-10-2005, 15:48

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Wow. I'm impressed with Kristofer's statement. I agree- Though Light In August is the first Faulkner novel I've ever read. He is great at weaving the past and present with very little ( if any ) confusion-- quite hard to do. He pulls the reader into the story, acquaints the reader with the character and evokes an emotion for them, and tells a story containing complex motifs and themes that connect the book to reality and the past/present day. Thank you, Kristofer, for defending and supporting one of the greatest American writers ( right up there with Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.)

- Kristin

- May-16-2005, 21:07

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As a Yankee from Ohio and having lived in the South for my college years I am going to agree with the person who wrote the review. Faulkner had to have some sort of mental incapacity in order to create such characters like Joe Christmas who was schizophrenic. Knowing Faulkners background, we can assume that through this book he wanted everyone to know he's a liberal who is a racist and hates God for some reason...and the South too beacuse he really trashes it indirectly through his characters and townspeople.

- Chris

- Mar-01-2005, 22:44

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This review doesn't even say anything. It just recites a bunch of unfounded stereotypes about the south and gives a jerkjob summary of the plot.

I am glad you thought this novel was "reasonably decent" though, it being one of the best novels by an American author and all.

- Joseph

- Oct-18-2004, 01:46

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Thank you, Kristofer, for setting the record straight on William Faulkner. I live in New England, have never been to the deep South, and could not be more fascinated and moved by Faulkner's brilliant writing--especially his creation of vivid, complex characters whose psychological life is reflected in the intense, masterful prose. Only Shakespeare and a few other select authors have created such layered, rich works of fiction.

- Ben

- Sep-07-2004, 13:59

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Faulkner was no schizo. Nor was he obsessed with modernism, although he was a fan of Joyce, Dos Passos, and Hemingway. He cited four major influences on his work: Melville, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, and the Old Testament. He was friends with Sherwood Anderson and Dashiell Hammett, but whatever, how many more misconceptions can hurt you? It took real balls to write the way Faulkner did. His own parents refused to read his books and he was basically looked down on by his home town.

Faulkner is beyond any doubt the greatest writer America has ever produced (in my humble opinion anyway). I live in a mid-Western blue state (Minnesota) and I'm in awe of his work. He can really speak to anyone who is open-minded enough to listen - which apparently doesn't include you.

- kristofer

- Aug-06-2004, 14:59

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