Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996

Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996

Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996

Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996

Excerpt

The first paragraph of one of the more memorable essays written on Faulkner opens this way:

Light in August begins unforgettably with a pregnant young woman from Alabama sitting beside a road in Mississippi, her feet in a ditch, her shoes in her hand, watching a wagon that is mounting the hill toward her with a noise that carries for a half mile "across the hot still pinewiney silence of the August afternoon."

Exquisitely registering the power of Faulkner's evocative portrait of Lena Grove, Alfred Kazin sums up both her and the world she represents: "And it is this world of Lena Grove from Doane's Mill ...that becomes in the book not merely a world that Faulkner celebrates but a mythic source of strength." Contrasting Lena with Christmas in terms of "the natural and the urban," and building toward the larger conflict between "life and anti-life, between the spirit of birth and the murderous abstractions and obsessions which drive most of the characters," Kazin asserts that "Lena's world, Lena's patience...set the ideal behind the book -- that world of the permanent and the natural." "Natural" for Kazin refers less to rivers and soil and trees than to a deeper, less fragile realm, one that indeed speaks to a mythic rather than to a merely naturalist awareness.

When we begin to read Faulkner with some of the more common features of the natural world in mind, a rather startling shift in perspective arises, a good example of which occurred at the 1996 Faulkner Conference during the first moments of Lawrence Buell's opening lecture. Turning, like Kazin, to the first chapter of Light in August, Buell quoted and commented on a passage that does not mention Lena Grove at all, but focuses instead on the little town of Doane's Mill. The passage begins, "The brother . . .

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