Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Reivers: Revision and Closure in Faulkner's Career

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Reivers: Revision and Closure in Faulkner's Career

Article excerpt

While writing The Reivers Faulkner had no certainty that it would be his final novel. He could not anticipate his own death, and he was not yet even sixty-five years old. Yet in his final years he occasionally spoke as if he were finished writing, as if he were ready to break his pencil; and there is an appropriate finality to The Reivers that makes it seem a book intended to round things off, to be a coda to a grandly orchestrated symphony. Books on Faulkner's career address it as a farewell, tying up matters by means of a grandfather's reminiscence to his grandchildren on all that has gone before. One wonders how critics might discuss The Reivers had Faulkner lived to write three more novels, and it were simply another late comic novel like Intruder in the Dust. Like other ifs, of course, the question has no pragmatic value except as a reminder that the critic always views a writer's career backwards, that he cannot avoid reading earlier novels in light of what follows. There is no way for the scholar-critic, for example, to confront The Sound and the Fury as the latest book by Faulkner, as a reader would have in 1929, even though that would be the accurate way to perceive it within its original communicative context. The scholar-critic cannot avoid the teleology determined by his hindsight. Even the New Critic only fools himself into pretending a close autonomous reading, for the boundaries of his possible interpretations are governed by texts that follow. In another sense, of course, this is no problem, for a text's meanings are intertextual, related to texts that follow as well as those that precede.

An author's final book has no sequels, leads to nothing in his own career, can be misread as consequence but not cause. A reader may unavoidably perceive continuities and discontinuities from earlier novels as if they were parts of an author's last will and testament concerning his personal possessions. Since The Reivers is a Yoknapatawpha novel, it is read as Faulkner's final revision of his proprietary colony. In this final novel, curiously, he introduces a new family into the foreground, the Priests, and closely identifies himself with the member of that family at the center of the story. Like Faulkner, Lucius has three younger brothers, and a father named Maury, and he grows up in the first decade of the twentieth century. Lucius, moreover, tells the story as an old man to his grandchildren, like Faulkner in the early 1960s telling stories to his own grandchildren. In his final novel, that is, Faulkner creates a protagonist most closely identified with himself on the surface, with the least critical distance from himself, and yet presents him recalling, sentimentally, an event of his youth. The closest Faulkner comes to distance is in the rhetorical frame, "Grandfather said." Since no other signals in the book indicate irony between grandchildren and grandfather, or the reader and grandchildren, the narrative voice is fully reliable-without even the distancing in Huckleberry Finn governed by Huck's youth, for Lucius is a mature man not a teenager when speaking. Therefore The Reivers is the least ironic of Faulkner's novels, lacking even the dialectic of voices that complicates the Gavin Stevens novels.

In some ways, however, The Reivers is a revision of his earlier fiction. It does not, like The Mansion, update and reorder strands of Yoknapatawpha history, though it does refer to several parts of that history. Rather it is a paradigmatic revision of Go Down, Moses, the initiation story in which the youth misappropriates his education into irrelevancy and sterility. (1) All of Faulkner's late novels are revisionary, a pattern that dominates his career after the great creative burst of 1929 to 1942. It was partly a consequence of his own need to adapt to personal change: he was older--a father, not the betrayed son; an established writer, not a young innovative rebel. It was partly a way of grappling with the effects of creating Yoknapatawpha and reusing characters so often; they really did seem to have unfinished stories, loose ends, lives independent of their texts. …

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