Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner

Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner

Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner

Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner

Synopsis

A close look at William Faulkner's strange ambivalence toward maternal figures in his novels.

Excerpt

If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.

Faulkner, Lion in the Garden

Coming from a man so devoted to his mother that he apparently visited her every day he spent in Oxford, this cavalier treatment of the mother's claims sounds suspiciously like the tongue-in-cheek statements so common in Faulkner's interviews. Humorously intended or not, Faulkner's remark about the devotion of a writer to "his" work also encapsulates many of his contradictory feelings about a figure he generally associates with creativity: woman. Much literary theory defines the process of writing as a kind of patricide--responding to and often silencing one's precursor/father figures. Faulkner, however, also identifies women as part of the struggle for literary creativity. If one has to outdo one's father, one also must essentially undo one's mother, whom Faulkner casts not as an opponent but as a source. Still, she too must die, or at least disappear. What she has, what she embodies, must be appropriated by any possible means; the writer lives off--and ultimately kills off--"his" mother, as the initial robbery rapidly becomes a murder, with the poem's "worth" displacing and replacing that of the women. The "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is "worth any number of old ladies" because those old ladies somehow origi-

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