Absalom, Absalom

Faulkner’s dizzying style of talking around and about and underneath a subject makes it a slow march to the end of the story. However, I’m hanging on to the end, halfway through and trudging onward. This kind of writing is good for the brain; I need to be slowed in my consumption of words and Faulkner throws up roadblocks that have me reading and re-reading paragraphs.
The story so far, as told from various perspectives (Quentin, his dad Mr. Compson, Miss Rosa, college-pal Shreve) is the Civil War-era family tragedy of Sutpen (the demon), his wife Ellen, her sister Miss Rosa (who marries Sutpen when Ellen dies? I can’t quite figure out that narrative thread), the daughter Judith & son Henry who kills Judith’s finance Charles Bon because Bon is already married to an “octoroon” (1/8th black blood) with a son in New Orleans. Clytie is Sutpen’s other daughter, sired by a black mother, who shadows Judith to the end of her days. Bon’s son appears white, but he rejects his white blood and courts a black wife, causing all sorts of chaos by being the white man in the black hangouts.
There is much discussion on female nature– how women rise up for occasions like death, are capable of handling pain beyond imagine. “They lead beautiful lives–women. Lives not only divorced from, but irrevocably excommunicated from, all reality. That’s why although their deaths… are of no importance to them… yet to them their funerals and graves… are of incalcuable importance.” (p156)
I’m also intrigued by the idea that Bon & Henry had the closer, more passionate, connection, and used Judith as the safe vessel through which to consummate that relationship.
I am constantly confused by who the narrator is– I don’t know if that Faulkner’s intended effect, but it’s a whirl of narration and words words words and it slips very easily between Mr. Compson (who I have no idea what his relation to the story is) and Shreve and Miss Rosa. Quentin does no narration, but is simply the listener, the recipient of the story who will later transcribe it?
*** Update– Quentin is now narrating the story of Sutpen’s youth, coming down from the mountains of West Virginia to the flatlands of the South, seeing blacks for the first time, as slaves who were better fed and clothed than his free family. Faulkner dives headfirst into racial interactions:
“But you did not want to, because they (the niggers) were not it, not what you wanted to hit; that when you hit them you would just be hitting a child’s toy balloon with a face painted on it, a face slick and smooth and distended and about to burst into laughing and so you did not dare strike it because it would merely burst and you would rather let it walk on out of your sight than to have stood there in the loud laughing.” p 186
*** Finished, finally.
Not the most pleasing reading experience, but the dizzying, sultry atmosphere of the South comes through his words and drives you to gasp for breath and push onward. Bizarre interactions between Shreve and Quentin– how was the Canadian Shreve able to tell the story better than hometown boy Quentin?
“That was why it did not matter to either of them which one did the talking, since it was not the talking alone which did it, performed and accomplished the overpassing, but some happy marriage of speaking and hearing wherein each before the demand, the requirement, forgave condoned and forgot the faulting of the other…”
The story took a twist in the 2nd half– the reason for Bon not being able to marry Judith was actually due to the fact that Bon’s father was Sutpen (from his first wife).
Faulkner provides a genealogy of the characters at the end, wherein he has Quentin die in Cambridge, MA in 1910, the same year that Shreve & he are telling this story. But no other details about Q’s death. The last lines of the text have Q reiterating that he doesn’t hate the South, “I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”


auth=Faulkner, William
pub=1936