Three Faulkner Studies

By Capps, Jack L. | The Southern Literary Journal, Fall 1973 | Go to article overview

Three Faulkner Studies


Capps, Jack L., The Southern Literary Journal


Few resumes of Faulkner studies in the last decade have failed to call attention to the complicated state of the Faulkner canon and to the impressive potential of extant Faulkner manuscripts, typescripts, interviews, and correspondence. This body of material promises insights into the creative processes of the author and the interlocking complexities of his works, envoking the shade of John Livingston Lowes's The Road to Xanadu. The decades of Faulkner criticism have already filled our shelves with ranks of broad general studies, narrowly focussed articles, handbooks, catalogues, notes and queries, all of which we hoped were preludes to the detailed major studies certain to come. But James Early reminds us in his Preface to The Making of Go Down, Moses that "there are a great number of encyclopedic accounts of Faulkner's writings but very few book-length studies of individual novels, no really comprehensive investigations of the genesis of any of his works." Certainly the temptations to publish are great, and though the deterrents in this field are legion, few can resist advertising their accomplishments, partial though they may be. Some, insisting on completeness, quality, and accuracy, have successfully resisted--often to the agonized frustration of their fellows. The compilation of the "Approved Textual Apparatus" for Faulkner's text is at last beginning to take form under the aegis of the Center for Editions of American Authors, and at this writing, Joseph Blotner's years of painstaking research are climaxing in the authorized biography. Other projects--the computer-based concordances, for example-are blessed with interim forms that allow them to progress usefully without premature commitment to the printed page. Portions of the canon, however, have histories that seem absolutely irresistible, and it will be the misfortune of future Faulkner students to be saddled with a number of jejune studies resulting from this fatal fascination. We are concerned here with a trio of such works. But before addressing this task, I should in fairness say that Faulkner scholars of repute must in many cases share the blame for the ill-advised works that will beset us, works which they gleefully incinerate in between their own efforts, but which their Olympian attitudes have to some degree induced.

The problems and implications of Faulkner's revisions of Absalom, Absalom! and Sanctuary, and his alteration of the separate stories that he amalgamated into Go Down, Moses are no recent discoveries. They have been addressed with sufficient frequency and their magnitude outlined with sufficient clarity that one could rightly anticipate the appearance of these three among the first book-length studies of individual Faulkner novels. Nor should it be surprising that the work on Absalom, Absalom! and Sanctuary should come from the University of Texas, which holds the manuscript of one and a copy of the unrevised galleys of the other. Professor Gerald Langford has prepared a study of each for the University of Texas Press; the volumes are handsome indeed, and appropriately priced for the format. He has in both cases brought together the two most significant versions of the novels. The first of his books to appear was Faulkner's Revision of Absalom, Absalom! (1971), which reproduces, with a lengthy introductory essay, the parallel text of the revised (1935-1936) manuscript and the published version of the novel (Random House, Modern Library Edition, 1951). The texts reconfirm the long established fact that the revision of the initial manuscript was major, but the juxtaposed texts immediately raise the question of the intermediate stages between the revised manuscript and the published version, which differ with disturbing frequency. Professor Langford senses this in the opening paragraph of his introduction as he takes to task the inadequacy of critical analysis that assumes the errors and inconsistencies in the novel are deliberate, yet he does not address his own analysis to the effects of editorial hands other than Faulkner's. …

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