Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Reading Faulkner - vol. 1

Scarlet, whose locks are no longer eponymous, and I will be Humanities Seminarians again this semester.  For two hours every Monday afternoon for the next five weeks, we'll do close readings of William Faulkner's first three novels - The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom! (the only book I know of with an exclamation point in its title).

It seemed like a worthwhile plan at the time.  An author we'd be unlikely to pick up on our own, one we might have read long ago but have long since forgotten, and one that Little Cuter, the English major, had well represented on her bookshelves.

I remembered her saying that she loved that course.  After spending an hour with the first 15 pages of The Sound and the Fury, I wondered why.

"Mom, I said I loved the course.  I hated the books.  Hated them.  But the teacher was interesting and young and cool and invited us to his house.  I loved that course."

Well, that leaves Scarlet and me in a pickle.  Neither of us like the book. She's plowing through the study guide before tackling the tome itself.  I am plunging bravely onward, aided by the copious notes my darling daughter took from that delightful professor. 
There are tiny post-it notes and penciled words and circles and underlining and stars... some pages have stars.  I think I'm well on my way to a close reading of the texts.

I just hope no one asks me what's going on.

I read another dozen or so pages this afternoon.  The point of view jumps around without warning.  This is problem. There is no description, no exposition, just random dialog, with nary a he said or she said in sight.  Some parts are in italics; I'm not sure why. 

The only easily identifiable train of thought I can discern are the inner ramblings of a damaged 30-something human.  He seems to have a caretaker who carries him hither and yon.  Why?  I don't really know.  He seems to have a young woman whose presence comforts him, and I think she's his sister.  It's not been explicitly stated.

Quentin seems to be female.  Versh has arthritis.  Mama is a less likable Mrs. Bennett (cf Pride and Prejudice). 

I have a feeling there are serious financial problems in the offing.  But I'm not sure.  The prose is oblique to the point of deliberate obfuscation.

I had the same reaction when I tried to read Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49: I read a lot.  I have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League Institution and a masters degree from the University of Chicago, not known for admitting dummies.  I am not stupid.  Yet I cannot understand this.  For whom, exactly, is he writing????????

All is not lost, though.  I have a vague yet warm memory of reading Absalom, Absalom! in college; I think I really liked it.  I'm not running away from the adventure before me; I'm glad to have a challenge in my life.

This is not going to be easy.  Perhaps thinking about all those new wrinkles I'll be creating in my aging brain will provide the motivation I'm currently lacking.

I'll keep you posted.


  1. I found Faulkner to be as impenetrable as Chaucer. Good luck with this.

    1. But Chaucer is written in another language! This purports to be English!


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