Reading William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!”

Faulkner statue in Oxford, Mississippi

To my knowledge, nobody has toppled the William Faulkner statue in Oxford, Mississippi, but residents, including Faulkner’s nephew, protested in 1997 when the Mayor ordered a magnolia tree to be cut down and replaced by the  statue. But there is certainly much in his grotesque, gorgeously-written novels to offend ultra-sensitive people.  In the comically grotesque short novel, As I Lay Dying,  Addie Bundren’s coffin falls off a wagon into a river. There is a one-sentence chapter:  “My mother is a fish.”  In The Hamlet, a mentally retarded man has an affair with a cow.  I stopped reading at that point.

Many of Faulkner’s  characters are poor white trash, like the unforgettable Snopeses, whom I sometimes wish I could forget, or the crafty, intelligent, immoral poor white, Thomas Sutpen, one of the main characters in Absalom, Absalom!, a man who claws his way to the top.  And of course the white characters of the Old South use the “n” word.

On this Fourth of July, I am reading Absalom, Absalom!, a  shocking but lyrical and brutal novel in which, as usual, Faulkner plays with narrative and point-of-view.   A wan old spinster, Miss Rosa, summons Quentin Compson, a young man about to go to Harvard, and recounts her grotesque family history. Then his father tells Quentin more of the grisly details.   Miss Rosa’s family is essentially destroyed by Thomas Sutpen, an ambitious outsider who arrives in Mississippi, builds a mansion with funds gotten who knows where, and then marries Miss Rosa’s older sister, Ellen, who is very keen until she gets to know him, and eventually takes to her bed and dies. Miss Rosa is left to look after her niece, Judith, who is older than she is. And her nephew, Henry, ruins Judith’s life.  The cycle never ends.

I was admiring it, and then I got to a 50-page section in Italics–and the print was almost too small for me to read.

I do hate Italics, if they go on for more than a paragraph. And did the Italics  really have to be that small?  I soldiered on.

I need new glasses. But really, why so small?

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