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Faulkner and Religion

Faulkner and Religion

Doreen Fowler
Ann J. Abadie
Copyright Date: 1991
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  • Book Info
    Faulkner and Religion
    Book Description:

    These ten essays from the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, held in 1989 at the University of Mississippi, explore the religious themes in William Faulkner's fiction. The papers published here conclude that the key to religious meaning in Faulkner may be that his texts focus not so much on God but on a human aspiration of the divine.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-616-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Doreen Fowler

    Does a coherent system of religious values and thought inform Faulkner’s novels? An answer, especially an affirmative one, is not immediately apparent. In fact, in Faulkner’s fiction the very existence of God sometimes seems doubtful. What is never doubted, however, is humankind’s consuming yearning for God. And perhaps this may be the key to religious meaning in Faulkner, that his texts focus not so much on God, but on a human aspiration to the divine. This aspiration is possibly nowhere more poignantly evoked than at the close of Faulkner’s first novel,Soldiers’ Pay, as two white men stand outside a...

  4. A Note on the Conference
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. William Faulkner and Religion: Determinism, Compassion, and the God of Defeat
    (pp. 3-20)
    Alfred Kazin

    William Faulkner is the greatest writer the South has produced. In twentieth-century American fiction, in capturing the rich variety and disorder of American life, no one else has come anywhere close to the depth of intensity and comprehensiveness of Faulkner’s imagination. But if ever an American writer took on a subject filled to overflowing with war, violence, pain, cruelty, exclusion, servitude, impoverishment, racial pride, hatred and resentment of the rest of the country, defeat, deceit, and delusions of everlasting power over others, it was Faulkner. A great writer and, as Estelle Faulkner said, in their many troubles, a man of...

  6. William Faulkner and the Southern Religious Culture
    (pp. 21-43)
    Charles Reagan Wilson

    H. L. Mencken would probably snicker if he knew we were going to discuss the “Southern religious culture.” Mencken, of course, was the premier critic of the South in the early twentieth century, and few have had more fun with that position than he. He took a special glee in lampooning Southern religion. The root of the problem with the South, as Mencken had it, was the tyranny of the “Baptist and Methodist barbarism” below the Mason-Dixon line. He described the South as a “cesspool of Baptists, a miasma of Methodists, snake charmers, phony real estate operators, and syphilitic evangelists.”...

  7. Faulkner’s Heterodoxy: Faith and Family in The Sound and the Fury
    (pp. 44-64)
    Giles Gunn

    In the United States the religious imagination is too often, and often too glibly, identified with the Christian imagination, and particularly with the loosely evangelical wing of its Protestant variant. Yet to judge from the way until very recently we have interpreted them, American literary classics, except in relation to its derivative, and usually dangerous, moral Manicheanism, have not been profoundly shaped by such an imagination. With the exception of Fireside poets like John Greenleaf Whittier and James Russell Lowell, and Genteel critics like Thomas Bailey Aldridge and Edmund Clarence Stedman, together with their descendants Barrett Wendell, William Crary Brownell,...

  8. World-Rejection in Faulkner’s Fiction
    (pp. 65-84)
    Richard H. King

    In considering the theme of this conference—Faulkner and religion—I was driven back to the Faulkner novel,Light in August, which I had most recently taught. For what had struck me most forcibly upon rereading it was its unsettling effect. Though the term is inadequate, the only adjective I can think of to describe its overall effect was “creepy.”

    Light in Augustis a veritable repository of misogynist and racist views and it contains perhaps Faulkner’s most bitter denunciation of Southern Protestantism as life-denying and hostile to the human spirit. Joe Christmas is presented as a lethal combination of...

  9. Order as Disorder: Absalom, Absalom!’s Inversion of the Judaeo-Christian Creation Myth
    (pp. 85-102)
    William D. Lindsey

    As William Hubbard’s 1676 Massachusetts election sermonThe Happiness of a Peoplesuggests, order was a significant preoccupation of colonial American Puritan divines. Persuaded as they were of the first settlers’ divine commission to tame a new land, they envisaged the disorder of the wilderness as a figure of the dark satanic presence that continuously disturbs and subverts the divine order established at creation.¹ The mandate to tame the wilderness was for the Puritans areligiousmandate: the act of wresting land from its aboriginal inhabitants, clearing and planting it, was not merely secular; it was also a means of...

  10. Quentin as Redactor: Biblical Analogy in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!
    (pp. 103-126)
    Glenn Meeter

    In 1974 Ralph Behrens set out the parallels between Faulkner’s story of Thomas Sutpen inAbsalom, Absalom!and the Biblical account of the house of David in Second Samuel.¹ It is these parallels, Behrens says, that provide a historical critique of the concept of dynasty that Sutpen’s “design” assumes and, in so doing, provide the book with its thematic center.

    Behrens’s argument rests in part on Faulkner’s comment at the Nagano conference that he read the Old Testament “once every ten or fifteen years” and his comment at the University of Virginia that the idea of the novel and the...

  11. The Crucifixion in Light in August: Suspending Rules at the Post
    (pp. 127-139)
    Virginia V. Hlavsa

    Some five years ago, this conference discussed my findings that Faulkner paralleled the twenty-one chapters ofLight in Augustwith the twenty-one chapters of the St. John Gospel. To give a small example, in John’s chapter 5, the halt man is cured when Jesus says, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” Now unlike those marvelously concrete medieval representations of this scene, the “bed” would have been the simple pallet of a poor man. Thus, in Faulkner’s chapter 5, we read that Joe “was in the act of reclining when he stopped, halted.” If we allow the pun, it simply...

  12. The Ravished Daughter: Eleusinian Mysteries in The Sound and the Fury
    (pp. 140-156)
    Doreen Fowler

    The first gods were not transcendent, but immanent; they existed not above, but in the natural world. And these first gods were female. In the beginning, what inspired worship was that there was food, and because women’s bodies, like the earth, produced food and new life, the feminine principle was venerated as a source of primal power.

    To ancient people, what was most holy and mysterious was the annual disappearance of the food supply in winter and its reappearance in spring. Because their lives were intimately bound up with seasonal rhythms and because they understood their own lives not as...

  13. “A Passion Week of the Heart”: Religion and Faulkner’s Art
    (pp. 157-176)
    Evans Harrington

    My purpose in this paper is to examine a statement concerning genius which occurs in one of Faulkner’s novels, to throw as much light on that statement as possible, and to argue that religion, which is strongly suggested in the language of the statement, played a stronger and somewhat different role in Faulkner’s artistic practice than has usually been understood. As is well known, the phrase “A Passion Week of the heart” occurs in a drunken monologue delivered by Dawson Fairchild, a character based on Sherwood Anderson, toward the end of Faulkner’s second novel,Mosquitoes, and it can be argued...

  14. The Dream Deferred: William Faulkner’s Metaphysics of Absence
    (pp. 177-192)
    Alexander J. Marshall III

    Over the years, critics such as André Bleikasten, John T. Matthews, and Gail L. Mortimer have cited loss as a central thematic and rhetorical concern of William Faulkner.¹ Indeed, Faulkner’s major novels often develop around the loss or absence of a major character or event: Caddy Compson (not) inThe Sound and the Fury;Addie Bundren (not) inAs I Lay Dying;the rape of Temple Drake (not) inSanctuary;Thomas Sutpen and “the shot heard only by its echo” (not) inAbsalom, Absalom!As these critics have been quick to note, this decentering has a direct corollary in language...

  15. Contributors
    (pp. 193-196)
  16. Index
    (pp. 197-198)