FAULKNER: A Biography (2 Vol.) by Joseph Blotner

FAULKNER: A Biography (2 Vol.)

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Faulkner, like Joyce, is the last of the great literary figures who could still believe in the family, the permanence of the seasons, the recurring cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, in which the contingencies of existence -- joy, horror, degradation, faithlessness, love -- are not discordant and incongruous, not Eliot's ""bits of paper"" blown about on a dry wind, but the eternal pattern through which we discern the downward and upward turnings, the problematic deliverance of man and his kin. Though both are conservatives, with Joyce the touchstone is the archetypal stirrings of History, the nightmare which could be corrected either as myth in Ulysses or as philological parody in Finnegans Wake; with Faulkner, however, there is no panorama of symbolic consciousness, simply the irrefrangible donnee of a Christian heritage unfolding through the ages. Faulkner is more primitive than Joyce -- at times crude, folksy, passionately inept. And yet the shaping talent that Faulkner found lacking in his prose is one with Faulkner's documentary vision, his outlandish genealogy, the disordered, comic perseverance of his chronicle of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Faulkner is our true anthropologist of the South, past and present; even his iconoclastic characters are always in the grips of convention, for it is against the basics of earth and home, the sin of pride, that the drama of rebellion and regeneration in his fiction takes hold. Like Joyce, too, Faulkner could still envision Everyman: the doom-laden McCaslins, the gallant Sartoris clan, the parvenu destructiveness of the Snopeses. The battles between these families represent the varied defeats of nature, the aristocratic or crackerbarrel agrarian worlds engulfed beneath a tide of industrial encirclement. In Faulkner, of course, those who are plundered by change are nevertheless the unconquered: they endure. And it was Faulkner's genius to crystallize his sense of the indomitable energy of life in the ""lowliest"" of his people, his Negroes, especially Dilsey and her family in The Sound and the Fury. Joseph Blotner's rambling biography -- the chapters on his subject's forgettable career as a writer in Hollywood, for instance, are longer than The Great Gatsby -- is typical of the computerized academic monsters now the fashion in encompassing a ""definitive"" life. Still, the immense vitality of Faulkner miraculously absorbs the dullness and the trivia (including detailed accounts of his famous drinking), as the mysterious rectitude, unabashed contrariness, and pageantry of the man, his town of Oxford, and the America which engendered his sensibility and achievement, triumphantly emerge.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1974
Publisher: Random House