N°2 | The Amazing Transformation of William Faulkner’s Quentin Compson into Southern Poetry, Ineke Jolink

Conscient de la qualité du recueil de poèmes Mississippi Vistas de Louis Daniel Brodsky, écrivain du Missouri (Etats-Unis), le Professeur James W. Silver l’a défini comme l’hommage intellectuel le plus approprié au créateur du Yoknapatawpha. Dans ces poèmes, des personnages bien connus des romans et des nouvelles de William Faulkner sont évoqués, notamment Addie Bundren, le prêtre Whitfield, Gowan Stevens, Miss Temple Drake, Miss Emily Grierson, Quentin et Caddy Compson, ainsi que, dans la quatrième partie “Rowan Oak et les fantômes de Yoknapatawpha”, l’auteur lui-même accompagné de sa femme—le somnolant William et la douce Estelle. Cet article se concentre sur l’un de ces poèmes, “Triangle Eternel” ; j’analyserai les moyens narratologiques, poétiques et linguistiques mis en œuvre par Brodsky pour évoquer le moment précis de l’apparition du fantôme d’un personnage sudiste que le lecteur ne peut oublier.

In the collection Mississippi Vistas by the Missouri poet Louis Daniel Brodsky, of which James W. Silver said that they “may well comprise the most appropriate intellectual tribute ever made to the creator of Yoknapatawpha,” such well-known characters from William Faulkner’s novels and short stories as Addie Bundren, the Reverend Whitfield, Gowan Stevens, Miss Temple Drake, Miss Emily Grierson and Quentin and Caddy Compson are called up, in addition to the author himself and his wife—“sleepy William, sweet Estelle”—in the fourth part of the collection : “Rowan Oaks and the Ghosts of Yoknapatawpha.” This article focuses on one of these poems, “Eternal Triangle,” discussing the different narratological, poetic and linguistic devises that Brodsky uses to evoke the precise moment of apparition of the ghost of this Southern character we cannot forget.

The writer William Faulkner himself, as many critics portray him, could at times be a pretty “spooky” character. In their little-known book Our Neighbor, William Faulkner, for instance, two aspiring writers from Faulkner’s home town of Oxford Mississippi, Charles Nelson and David Goforth observe: “he [Faulkner] has almost completely cut himself off from any normal trafficking with the town, a fact which indicates that he is not an integral part of it and never has been. Even if he let down his drawbridge he would still be an abnormality” (8). They continue by presenting the figure of the writer in terms of gothic apparition and evanescence: “We have seen him walking late at night through unlighted alleys . . . We have seen him appear suddenly on the street in the middle of the day, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead, then walk unnoticed by all he passes out of sight” (12). What is more, being “afraid to get too near the ante-bellum home of the writer in Oxford, Mississippi,” Faulkner’s young neighbors recognize in themselves the “strange fascination of a moth for a light, yet witnessing the fear the insect lacks” (15). This way the young men clearly identify their sensibilities as gothic, positioning themselves within the most gothic of liminalities, on the threshold between fascination and fear.

As I have argued elsewhere (“Haunted Borderlands”), to me the Gothic is above all a genre of the in-between, a genre exploiting different types of liminality. Indeed, one may mention as typical gothic characters the ghost, who is between life and death; the werewolf, between man and animal; Frankenstein’s monster, between animal and machine, but also the mulatto, between black and white, in what is known as the “southern gothic”; the cross-dresser or the trans-sexual, between male and female, as well as the adolescent, between child and adult, the source of the “délire de toucher” that Freud mentions in “Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence.” Then there is, of course, the liminal setting of the Gothic. First of all, as far as time is concerned: the gothic story tends to take place at dusk, between day and night, at mid-night or “late at night”—in the quote about Faulkner—in any case, between one day and the next; or at the winter solstice, between the disappearance of the sun and its re-appearance. Secondly, as regards place, the gothic story tends to take place in hallways or on thresholds, that is, between one room and another; or on porches, balconies or verandas, in other words, between inside and outside, between private and public. Finally, there is also the affect of the Gothic: liminal states of being and sentiments that are aroused in characters and that are, more often than not, communicated in some way to the reader: the in-between of the real and the unreal, of reality and dream, of consciousness and unconsciousness, of madness and sanity, and always, of fascination and fear, again as in the Faulkner example above.

The “spookiness” that was attributed to Faulkner himself rubs off, we could say, on his characters. To understand this, we have to remember first of all how important his characters were to the writer. In fact, he saw them as real, as real as his fellow Oxfordians; to quote Faulkner himself, as “people I had known all my life in the country I was born in” (Faulkner at Westpoint 96f). This goes as far as fellow Oxfordians feeling implicated and annoyed, recognizing themselves or their families in stories that were often far from flattering, having such themes as mental retardation, incest and suicide. Nelson and Goforth write, in any case: “you can still see the Vardamans and the Bilbos and the Dewey Dells—if you look hard enough on a Saturday afternoon” (10). Indeed, Faulkner saw his characters as “flesh and blood people that will stand up and cast a shadow” (Faulkner in the University 47). For all the reality that these words are meant to convey, a certain gloominess—a “gothic spookiness”—nevertheless creeps in with this predicate: “cast a shadow.” And, of course, we are instantly reminded of Quentin Compson’s struggle with his shadow in The Sound and the Fury, the shadow that he tries to trample “into the concrete” (109); to tread “into the pavement” (115) or to trample “into the dust” (128). Indeed, Quentin wants to turn himself into a ghost, a phantom, by eliminating his shadow. This symbolic act, on the day of his suicide, places him clearly within the gothic liminality of life and death. But that is not all, the disturbing fact that, as a first-year student at Harvard, he is still a virgin places him in the interspace between child and adult, while his untruthful confession to his father that he committed incest with his sister Caddy positions him on the border between guilt and innocence. And then there is, of course, what we remember from Absalom, Absalom!: Quentin’s gothic relationship to time, his very body “a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts,”; an “empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names” (9)

The fact that we have moved here from the novel The Sound and the Fury of 1929 to the novel Absalom, Absalom! of 1936 brings me to a last point with regard to Faulkner’s assessment of his characters: their existence independent from the author and the text that created them. As the writer puts it, “there is always a point in the book where the characters themselves rise up and take charge and finish the job” (Lion 244). Again, a certain “spookiness” is introduced, in this case through the phrasal verb “rise up.” Indeed, becoming independent of the writer, the character, like a ghost as it were, crosses the borders between text and life, between fiction and reality, leaving the writer, as Faulkner said, “to trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does” (Faulkner at Westpoint 111). That this can go beyond the borders of the particular book is clear when on another occasion Faulkner argues: “when the book is finished, that character is not done, he still is going on at some new devilment that sooner or later I will find out about and write about” (Faulkner in the University 78). Quentin Compson is, indeed, a good example of such a character.

First of all, a Quentin-like character—a sort of proto-Quentin—appears in a small handwritten booklet, beautifully illustrated, called Mayday[1] that Faulkner presented in 1926 to the young woman he was in love with at the time, Helen Baird. Indeed, this Quentin avant-la-lettre by the name of Sir Galwyn, is, like Quentin in The Sound and the Fury, mesmerized by a girl “with shining hair,” like Quentin passes a last solitary day “travelling restlessly” (27) and also drowns himself in a river. Then, the character appears, of course, under his own name, Quentin, in the novels The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929, and Absalom, Absalom!, of 1937, as well as in the short story “That Evening Sun,” published in 1931. Taking these Quentins as one and the same figure presents both a challenge and an opportunity, and most critics who have pondered the issue seem to agree that our interpretation gains in complexity and richness if we do so. Of these Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, in his article “The Resurrection of Characters,” discusses Quentin Compson as an example of the character who remains alive between different works by the same author (309), while Estella Schoenberg’s Old Tales and Talking: Quentin Compson in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Related Work, provides a time-table that convincingly shows, at least, the interlocking of history in the two novels. As we know, Faulkner started the whole history of the Compson family, known from The Sound and the Fury and later work, with an image that had haunted him and would continue to do so: that of a little girl climbing a pear tree, showing her brothers below the bottom of her muddy drawers.[2] It is this obsessive image, fraught with gothic notions of purity and sin, innocence and guilt, that links the character and the author. Faulkner, in any case, says that Quentin committed suicide because of his sister’s pregnancy.[3]

Faulkner’s characters, then, have certainly haunted other writers, as cases of pastiche and several accusations of plagiarism show.[4] Here I have chosen to pinpoint and discuss the moment of Quentin’s apparition in a poem from 1975 from the collection Mississippi Vistas by the Missouri poet Louis Daniel Brodsky. James W. Silver said of the poems collected here that they “may well comprise the most appropriate intellectual tribute ever made to the creator of Yoknapatawpha,” William Faulkner.[5] In these poems, such well-known characters from Faulkner’s novels and short stories as Addie Bundren, the Reverend Whitfield, Gowan Stevens, Miss Temple Drake, Miss Emily Grierson and Quentin and Caddy Compson are called up, in addition to the author himself and his wife—“sleepy William, sweet Estelle”—in the fourth part of the collection “Rowan Oaks and the Ghosts of Yoknapatawpha.” The poem that I will focus on is called “Eternal Triangle” (51), and consists of 4 stanzas of 9 lines each:

Eternal Triangle

Louis Daniel Brodsky, 1975

         1.      Lilac heather, oleander, crepe myrtle

         2.      Decorate this lost day

         3.      Disappearing through magnoliaed twilight

         4.      Into an ante-bellum evening

         5.      Draped with wisteria and honeysuckle vines.

         6.      Their sweet lingering scents

         7.      Mingle with whiskey sours

         8.      That transport my mind

         9.      Towards a timeless watery vortex.

         10.    Through a carnival glass snifter

         11.    I witness Quentin pass

         12.    Down murky fathoms of the Charles River

         13.    Weighted with six-pound flat irons

         14.    Tied to ideas of pride

         15.    Conceived in shame

         16.    Obsolescent, obsessive, and incestuous

         17.    His drowning confounds me;

         18.    I see his pain in my ears

         19.    Rising inside tiny gurgling bubbles

         20.    Ballooning to the surface

         21.    Like off-key carillon bells

         22.    Transposing old tunes to cacophonies.

         23.    As they go further out

         24.    Their overtones diminish to kisses

         25.    Dripping from his wizened lips

         26.    Reaching to touch his sister

         27.    Before she races from his bursting veins.

         28.    She withstands the pressure;

         29.    His empty admission,

         30.    Conceived to vindicate her unblessed soul,

         31.    Is swallowed whole by a trout

         32.    Skimming for flies in a near-by stream.

         33.    Now I alone exist

         34.    To interpret the persistent echo

         35.    Of the feisty little girl in muddy drawers

         36.    Begging me to take her home

We see that, in the first stanza, an atmosphere is created which contains many gothic elements. Indeed, the poem is set in the classical gothic in-between of “twilight” (line 3), of not quite day and not quite night. At this moment, the day is “lost” (line 2), that is, it has somehow entered a no-man’s land between existing and not existing, disappearing into the liminality of present and past. Situated between the now of the poetic utterance and the then of “an ante-bellum evening” (line 4), it echoes the famous phrase that Faulkner put in the mouth of Judge Stevens, in Requiem for a Nun: “the past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”

Flowers and their scents play an essential role here, as there are heather, oleander, myrtle, wisteria and finally honeysuckle. This last flower is, of course, one of the central symbols of the novel The Sound and the Fury, connecting the “curling flower spaces” through which Benjy laments the disappearance of the sister Caddy, on the first page of his section, to the smell of Caddy’s awakened sexuality, which precedes her disappearance, as reported in Quentin’s section. The “sweet lingering scents” (line 6) of these flowers next create an olfactory borderland of past and present, their then mingling with the now of whiskey sours being drunk on a summer’s night in Oxford Mississippi. Thus, at the same time, a liminal space between Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha county, and Oxford, Lafayette county, is created; in other words, a borderland between fiction and reality. The liminality of doubled intoxication—that of flower scent and alcohol—creates, in the last line of the first stanza, the dizzying effect of a “vortex” (line 9). The adjective “watery” attributed to the noun is, of course, rich in associations: from Benjy’s tears to Caddy’s muddy drawers in The Sound and The Fury, and to her being “wet to the waist” in the short story “A Justice.” Having his mind transported towards this vortex, the poet himself is being dragged down into this complex of liminalities: between here and there, between then and now, and between fiction and reality, claustrophobically, as in a whirlpool, without being able to escape.

The whiskey glass working as a lens, the poet now focuses on the essential scene, while creating a tripling of spatial in-betweens: that of the cities of Oxford, Jefferson, and Boston. It is in this atmosphere, bursting with gothic liminalities, that the apparition of Quentin takes place. Not only his appearance but also his evanescence, as it is clear that the drowning Quentin Compson floats by in the Charles River, that is, he passes. I propose that we look a little closer at the way in which this apparition and evanescence is created linguistically in the second line of the second stanza (line 11): “I witness Quentin pass.” This linguistic structure is a type of attributive clause that is called a small-clause. It can be seen to consist of a verb of perception, here the verb witness, and a complement in the form of a bare infinitive, here the verb pass, or a progressive, as in “I witness Quentin passing.” Here the more ceremonial simple present tense seems, in fact, appropriate.

The small-clause is special because it includes no truth judgment on the part of the speaker (van der Leek). That is to say, it conveys the experience of witnessing “raw,” without any intellectual mediation. This becomes clear if we compare the linguistic form chosen here with those using the other forms of attributive clause: the toinfinitive clause, the howclause and the thatclause respectively. Indeed, the poet might have said:

I witness Quentin pass. (this is the smallclause chosen here)

I witness Quentin to pass / or I witness Quentin to be passing. (the toinfinitive)

I witness how Quentin passes / or how Quentin is passing. (the howclause)

I witness that Quentin passes / or that Quentin is passing (the thatclause)

In this order, the utterances convey an increasing sense of intellectual mediation or epistemic evaluation. That is to say, the different options, here, run from no use of independently existing knowledge whatsoever, in the smallclause, to the full inclusion of it in the thatclause.

The semantics of the specific mental activity verb must, of course, allow for this “sliding.” This is why the smallclause cannot be used with a mental activity verb like know, conclude or understand, which are intellectual activity verbs including a truth judgment. Indeed, one agrees on the ungrammaticality of the sentences

I know Quentin pass.

I conclude Quentin pass.

I understand Quentin pass.

In fact, it seems that the verb witness focuses more on a direct experience than on an intellectual, reflective one. In other words, its semantics are not in accordance with the semantics of the that-clause, which are steeped in intellectual mediation. It is this kind of contradiction that makes the phrase combining them—the verb witness and the attributive that-clause—ungrammatical.

The smallclause, because it focuses exclusively on “raw” experience, is used with great effect by writers to depict states of limited, disturbed or altered consciousness—when intellectual mediation is underdeveloped, degenerated or temporarily dysfunctional—such as those connected with mental retardation, mental illness, situations of extreme mental stress and dreamlike, hypnotic and hallucinatory states, as well as alcoholic intoxication. As I have shown elsewhere (see works cited), great writers, such as Henry James and James Joyce and also Faulkner, use the smallclause this way. Faulkner uses the linguistic structure, for instance, to depict Joe Christmas’s state of mind when he tries to flee the mob that wants to lynch him in Light in August, as well as, in a most complex way, to make clear Rider’s grief after the death of his wife in the story “Pantaloon in Black,” in the collection of stories, Go Down, Moses. But it is especially Quentin Compson’s hallucinatory state of mind on the last day of his life that is conveyed through smallclauses. It seems only right, then, that the poet, who had his mind transported towards the gothic border-space of the “watery vortex,” is seen to inflict a hallucinatory state upon himself, a state in which, indeed, his ghost can appear by means of the small-clause.

The whole second stanza fleshes out this hallucination, attributing to the passing ghost of Quentin the qualities that we recognize from The Sound and the Fury—the “obsolescent, obsessive, and incestuous” sense of pride that covers up the shame over his sister. And, carrying the story beyond the situation of the novel, the flat-irons Quentin was still carrying around there are now finally put to use to help him drown. The poet’s hallucinatory state is next expanded through a complex smallclause construction beginning in the last line of the second stanza and continuing through enjambment into the whole of the third stanza. This begins with the extraordinary sentence “I see his pain in my ears” (line 18), in which the poet does not just identify with Quentin’s ghost but does so in a clear case of what I would like to call compassionate synesthesia. Synesthesia, the perception of one sensory organ by means of another, is characteristic of new-born babies. It can continue to exist in mentally retarded people, as Oliver Sachs has so beautifully shown it in his book The Man Who Took His Wife for a Hat, and as Faulkner showed it so beautifully in Benjy’s section of The Sound and the Fury, or it can re-appear in cases of mental aberration, psychosis especially, such as in Quentin’s section in the same novel.  

This astonishing expression of compassionate synesthesia—“I can see his pain in my ears”—is then used in a series of small-clauses that sustain the hallucination and therefore the continuing presence of Quentin’s ghost.

I can see his pain… rising…

I can see it ….. inside bubbles ballooning…

I can see them … like carillon bells transposing…

After this, the complex of smallclauses with their triple raw perception is finished. This is the moment of the fully established hallucination, where the hallucinated subject is accepted as real, where he is allowed a presence independent of any observer and where simple present tenses are therefore used. Psychiatrists refer to this stage as psychosis-peace, where the hallucinating subject is no longer between two worlds—the real and the unreal—but has fully entered what the outside world calls unreal, but which he experiences as real.

It is this moment that turns Quentin from a ghost into a presence, a presence whose lips, wrinkled from being in the water, drip with kisses that are the final result of the bubbles in which his pain was contained. We have here, by the way, a distinct reference to the novel again, to Dilsey’s section, where the black priest calls up the presence of Jesus as well as “still another, without words, like bubbles rising in water” (296). Likewise, in the next image, the sister resisting the pressure—bursting from Quentin’s veins just before his kisses can reach her—is a ghostly echo from The Sound and the Fury, a moment in which the symbolic merging of Quentin and Caddy’s blood takes place. Indeed, this occurs when Quentin is hit in the face by a friend at Harvard and suffers a nose-bleed. In a fully realized hallucination, Quentin’s blood, here, merges with that of Caddy at a remembered moment when she had lost her virginity to her boyfriend and the highly disturbed brother devised a suicide pact as the only way out, applying pressure to her throat with a knife. Resisting him, Caddy then put his hand against her throat. Quentin relives the situation:

I felt the first surge of blood there it surged in strong accelerated beats

. . .

her blood surged steadily beating and beating against my hand

It kept on running for a long time, but my face felt cold and dead… (162)

Obviously, the pronoun it in the last sentence does not refer to Caddy’s blood, as it should grammatically speaking, but to Quentin’s. In this hallucinatory scene, then, some kind of incest occurs; in other words, in Quentin’s delusion his sister’s blood, pulsing under his hand, flows together with his own blood as it runs down his face.

The image in this last stanza is the poet’s hallucinated superposition of little Caddy’s muddy drawers in The Sound and the Fury, of Caddy’s being “wet to the waist” in “A Justice,” of the wetness of Caddy’s first sexual experience, again in the novel, and of her bursting from Quentin’s dying veins, while he drowns in the Charles River, in the poem. As in The Sound and the Fury, the last thing left of the young man is his “empty admission” (line 29) that he committed incest with his sister, which is insubstantial and useless, “swallowed whole” by a trout (line 31), again a reference to Quentin’s last day in The Sound and the Fury. With this, the presence is gone.

I hope that I have been able to show that, initiated by the intoxicating atmosphere of flowers and whiskey—and flooded by images of Faulkner’s little girl—the poet has intuitively known to use a series of smallclauses to call up the hero that he could merge with. But neither Faulkner himself nor his alter-ego Quentin Compson any longer being there, it is the poet himself, merged with the ghostly Quentin in the watery vortex of romantic intoxication, who must bear the “persisting echo” (line 34) of “that doomed little girl,” as Faulkner called her (Blotner 211): “the feisty little girl in muddy drawers / begging me to take her home” (35-36). This, of course, is the eternal triangle that the title talks about. The image will stay with the poet, like it stayed with Quentin, like it stayed with Faulkner himself, and, we should ass, like it will stay with all readers of Faulkner’s masterpiece.

Works Cited

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.

Bockting, Ineke. Character and Personality in the Novels of William Faulkner: A Study in Psychostylistics. Lanham, Maryland: UP of America, 1995. Print.

—. “Mind Style as an Interdisciplinary Approach to Characterisation in Faulkner.” Language and Literature 3.2 (Spring 1994): 157-74. Print.

—. “Haunted Borderlands: Gothic Liminality in Texts of the American South.” Dynamics of the Threshold: Essays in Liminal Negotiations. Eds. Jesús Benito and Ana Manzanas. Studies in Liminality and Literature 5. Madrid: The Gateway Press, 2006. 39-54. Print.

—. “Linguistic Aspects of Theory of Mind: The Example of William Faulkner’s Disturbed Characters.” Theory of Mind and Literature. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2011. 175-87. Print.

Brodsky, Louis Daniel. Mississippi Vistas. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1983. Print.

Claus, Hugo De Metsiers. Brussel: Manteau, 1950. Print.

Faulkner, William. Absalom! Absalom! 1936. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.

—. As I Lay Dying. 1930. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.

—. Faulkner at West Point. Eds. Joseph L. Fant and Robert Ashley. New York: Random House, 1964. Print.

—. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia 1957-1958. Eds. Frederick L. Gwyn and Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville: The U of Virginia P, 1959. Print.

—. Go Down, Moses. 1942. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.

—. Light in August. 1932. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.

—. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. Eds. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate. Lincoln: The U of Nebraska P, 1980. Print.

—. Mayday. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978. Print.

—. Requiem for a Nun. 1950. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.

—. The Sound and the Fury. 1929. New York: Vintage, 1951. Print.

—. The Sound and the Fury. 1929. Ed. David Minter. New York: Norton Critical Editions, 1994. Print.

—. These 13. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1931. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement Between the Mental lives of Savages and Neurotics. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1989. Print.

Gorp van, Dorien. “A Comparative Study of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Graham Swift’s Last Orders.” Doctoral Dissertation defended at the University of Gent, Belgium, May 2007. Print.

Leek van der, Frederike C. “Significant Syntax: The Case of Exceptional Passives.” DWPELL 27 (1989): 1-28. Print.

Nelson, Charles and David Goforth. Our Neighbor, William Faulkner. Chicago: Adams Press, 1977. Print.

Sachs, Oliver. The Man Who Took His Wife for a Hat. London: Pan Books, 1986. Print.

Schoenberg, Estella. Old Tales and Talking: Quentin Compson in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Related Work. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1977. Print.

Zacharasiewicz, Waldemar. “The Resurrection of Characters: Aspects of Interconnected Narratives in North American Fiction.” Tales and Their Telling Difference: Zur Theorie und Geschichte der Narrativik: Festschrift für Franz K. Stanzel. Heidelberg: Winter 1993. 295-317. Print.

The Author

Ineke Jolink holds doctoral degrees from the Universities of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Montpellier (France). She has taught at universities in the Netherlands, Norway and France, and she was a full, tenured professor at the Catholic University of Paris, where she was Head of the English Department and Director of the Masters program “Textes, représentations et cultures anglo-saxonnes.” Her publications include articles on various aspects of the American South, ethnic literatures, travel-narrative, autobiography, literary stylistics and pragmatics, and cognitive science and literature, as well as a book-length study of the novels of William Faulkner, entitled Character and Personality in the Novels of William Faulkner: a Study in Psychostylistics.


[1] In his introduction to Mayday, Carvel Collins argues that although The Sound and the Fury was not published until 1929, Faulkner was already thinking of writing about a “formally well-to-do family” with “a daughter who got in trouble and left home, a mentally defective son, a son who committed suicide, and one who was ‘a sharper’ in Paris in 1925” (25), that is, some time before he wrote the nouvelle for Helen Baird.

[2] “The only thing in literature which would ever move me very much: Caddy climbing the pear tree to look in the window at her grandfather’s funeral while Quentin and Jason and Benjy and the negroes looked up at the muddy seat of her drawers” (227). Introduction to The Sound and the Fury. Reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition.

[3] This is a problem shared by another character who is very close to Faulkner’s heart, Darl Bundren, who, in As I Lay Dying, faces another type of death, being sent to the insane asylum at Whitfield.

[4] There are at least two clear cases of plagiarism connected with these two novels The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Indeed, the sixth novel of the British author Graham Swift, Last Orders, which won the Booker Prize in 1996, has been seen as a case of plagiarism of Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying. Darl Bundren is represented, here, by the character Ray “Lucky” Johnson. The question of plagiarism or pastiche is the subject of thesis called “A Comparative Study of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Graham Swift’s Last Orders” by Dorien Van Gorp defended at the University of Ghent, Belgium in May 2007. Van Gorp notices, apart from parallels in characterization and structure, the presence of three types of typical character in both novels: the chapter narrated by a deceased person, the chapter in which the lines are numbered and the one-sentence chapter. In addition to Swift’s Last Orders, there is the case of the Belgian writer Hugo Claus and his 1950s debut novel De Metsiers (translated into French by Marie Hooghe as La Chasse aux Canards (1953), into English as The Duck Hunt (1955), into Japanese as Kamo-ryo (1957) and later, in England, as Sister of Earth (1966). Claus’ editor had asked him to write an American-type book, which the author did in three weeks, calling it a “near-pastiche” without divulging what his model had been (even if he dropped the names of Faulkner and Coldwell). Critics have often argued its “closeness” to As I Lay Dying, but recently its great indebtedness to The Sound and the Fury has been demonstrated by the critic Hans van Straten, who calls it “plagiarism, but brilliantly done” (my translation).

[5] Malcolm Cowley, on the back-cover of the book, admires “their firm design as a whole,” while Lewis P. Simpson talks of “a passionate and revealing confrontation over a period of years between a Missourian of Jewish heritage […] and the past and present dominion of Mississippi, literary and actual.”

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