Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Faulkner and Gender: An Annotated Select Bibliography, 1982-1994

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Faulkner and Gender: An Annotated Select Bibliography, 1982-1994

Article excerpt

This bibliography contains abbreviated descriptions of the subject matter and theoretical substance of select journal articles, essay collections and books that concern Faulkner and gender, most published and available in the United States, since approximately 1982, the date of Judith Bryant Wittenberg's important review article entitled "William Faulkner: A Feminist Consideration" in American Novelists Revisited (see #101 below). In it Wittenberg summarized the work of literary critics in the late 1960s and 1970s who wished to refute the charge of Faulkner-as-misogynist and re-envision Faulkner's women characters as something other than stereotypes, archetypes, goddesses or cows. Moreover, she suggested that attitudes toward Faulkner's male characters might change if we reexamined them as well. Wittenberg told us where we were and where she thought we were headed.

Wittenberg pointed out that Faulkner studies had been dominated by male scholars, noted the critical opinion that this was responsible for certain standard interpretations of Faulkner's women characters, and discussed the emerging view that some male critics' circumscribed characterizations of these fictional women were "biological put-down[s]" not intended by Faulkner himself. According to some critics, such constrained views operated as a "recurrent violation of Faulkner's fictional context. . ." (p. 326). Declaring him to be "an absorbed student of the endlessly variegated human scene" (p. 327), Wittenberg hoped that we would abandon attempts to label Faulkner as either misogynist or proto-feminist. She believed he defied such neat categorization. Most scholars represented in this bibliography would wholeheartedly agree.

This bibliography includes selections from a number of theoretical approaches to William Faulkner's fiction, e.g. psychoanalytical, feminist, postmodern, semiotic, reader-response, and film/visual art, and, therefore, represents extremely varied interpretations of the "question" of gender that exemplify not one, but many, ways to re-read Faulkner's novels and short stories. The entries range from critical inquiries that find value in identifying women characters who are unable to circumnavigate the patriarchal codes which construct them, e.g. Andre Bleikasten's discussion of the South as a closed society (#7), to those who insist on questioning "incontrovertible" information about plot and theme, e.g. John Duvall's reservations about labeling Joe Christmas as a murderer (#28). The selections here make clear that critical inquiry into "Faulkner and Gender" now includes studies of female characters and femininity, mothers, and daughters; re-examinations of male characters and masculinity, fathers, and sons; and an understanding that "gender" as a category cannot be separated from issues of race, class, and sexuality. In many ways, the selections summarized here fulfill Wittenberg's predictions about trends in Faulkner studies and, in some ways, move beyond them.

Wittenberg's article presaged a major shift in the focus of Faulkner scholarship when she noted that Faulkner tended to assign similar traits to both male and female characters, making it difficult to "read any [consistent] gender-based 'message' into the presentation" (p. 327). This bibliography includes the work of several critics who investigate the implications of Faulkner's "masculinized" women and "feminized" men, who reveal the gendered "cross-dressing" of some of Faulkner's characters rather than simply take stock of the traits that mark them as "essentially" masculine or feminine. Regarding gender as "permeable" is a mode of current critical inquiry that may have exceeded Wittenberg's expectations. If this is, in part, due to the theoretical work currently being produced by Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Marjorie Garber, and Donna Haraway, then we have only begun to mine the potential "new knowledge" about Faulkner's texts suggested by their theories of subjectivity, identity, and the performative aspects of gentler. …

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