Sunday, January 15, 2012
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
A sister gets pregnant, ruining her three brother’s lives.
This classic was number five in my Re-reading the classics. Once again, I’m wondering why I waited thirty years to reread this book. It’s so much better than I remembered. Faulkner had stuck in my memory for his run on sentences, and hysterical obscurity, but now I see that his primary gift was dialogue. He’s a master. The Benjy section is composed in large part of dialogue, and comprehensively sets up the story. The writing is beautiful and emotional and I cried. I cried at: You mustn’t cry. Caddy’s not going away. The betrayal of children is tragic.
The four Compson children inherited a grand name, a great history and they degraded it. I told someone from Mississippi that I was reading this book and he said he lasted about three pages himself but that the first thing I needed to know about Mississippi is that the white man runs everything. And that fact does seem to explain a lot of the internal dynamics of the plot. Many of the plot obstacles in the novel would be completely dissolved by inevitable social advancement. Nowadays Caddy would be an Ole Miss freshman lifting her tee shirt at Mardi Gras; Dilsey would be a municipal bus driver or the Mayor. It’s almost like the pivot of the whole novel is based upon a mistaken Victorian idea about female sexuality.
Not sending Benjy to Jackson becomes the essential moral core of the book. Are you working for or against that? The characters almost all fail that test, lost in their own selfishness, especially Caddy and Quentin. Jason actually turns out to be the one who is at least “not sending him to Jackson”. Not yet anyway. In many ways, the characters are sentimentalized and the plot melodramatic, but highly gripping.
Faulkner is such a good writer. The walk with the little Italian girl in the Quentin section is vividly rendered. And the Jason section is really funny. He’s like one of the Three Stooges, chasing Miss Quentin all over town. I wasn’t that crazy about the Dilsey part because I didn’t like the run on sentences much. It felt too monumental. His real strength were the voices.
And the appendix. Huh? Are we actually supposed to read that?