Faulkner and Mystery

Faulkner and Mystery

Annette Trefzer
Ann J. Abadie
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Faulkner and Mystery
    Book Description:

    Faulkner and Mysterypresents a wide spectrum of compelling arguments about the role and function of mystery in William Faulkner's fiction. Twelve new essays approach the question of what can be known and what remains a secret in the narratives of the Nobel laureate. Scholars debate whether or not Faulkner's work attempts to solve mysteries or celebrate the enigmas of life and the elusiveness of truth.

    Scholars scrutinize Faulkner's use of the contemporary crime and detection genre as well as novels that deepen a plot rather than solve it. Several essays are dedicated to exploring the narrative strategies and ideological functions of Faulkner's take on the detective story, the classic "whodunit." Among Faulkner's novels most interested in the format of detection isIntruder in the Dust, which assumes a central role in this essay collection.

    Other contributors explore the thickening mysteries of racial and sexual identity, particularly the enigmatic nature of his female and African American characters. Questions of insight, cognition, and judgment in Faulkner's work are also at the center of essays that explore his storytelling techniques, plot development, and the inscrutability of language itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-046-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XXII)

    Few readers might dispute the claim that Faulkner’s fiction is filled with mystery. Even after turning the last page of his novels, there is something that stubbornly remains unexplained. This puzzling “something” needs clarification, demands explanation, and calls for interpretation. Some mysteries in Faulkner’s texts refer most obviously to anything that is cleverly kept secret from the reader. Such a mystery might arise as a result of Faulkner’s calculated attempt at hiding a secret. In “A Rose for Emily,” for instance, Faulkner conceals Homer Barron’s corpse and the iron-gray hair on the pillow next to him until the shocking moment...

  4. Note on the Conference
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  5. “And you are —?”: Faulkner’s Mysteries of Race and Identity
    (pp. 3-18)
    Philip Weinstein

    What is mystery? Long before detective fiction, long before fiction itself, the term was operative, deriving apparently from Latinmysterium, which comes from Greekmysterion, meaning “secret rite or doctrine.” Someone participating in such a “Mystery” was amystes, “one who has been initiated.”¹ The earliest and most important ceremonies seem to have been the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, centered on the cult of Demeter and Persephone.² These secret ceremonies endured for some two millennia, and subsequent mystery “cults” have flourished throughout Western history: often in opposition to hegemonic Christianity, but also—ever since the rise of science in the sixteenth...

  6. The Blackness of Absalom, Absalom!
    (pp. 19-48)
    Donald M. Kartiganer

    The great mystery ofAbsalom, Absalom!is not why Thomas Sutpen rejected Charles Bon as a husband for his daughter Judith, but why it takes the four internal narrators of the story—these extraordinarily gifted prose artists and analysts of character—so incredibly long to answer that question. The motive for murder turns out to be what they have always known but dare not consciously acknowledge: the power of the African life that emerges as the inescapable core of the Southern history Thomas Sutpen enacts and represents. Racial and cultural blackness is the repressed reality the narrators dwell in and...

  7. Reading “Red Leaves”: Mouths, Labor Power, and Revolutions
    (pp. 49-66)
    Richard Godden

    Not knowing where to begin, I shall begin in a mysterious place: in a barn loft contemplating a lactating breast. As Issetibbeha’s body servant, hidden, waits for the death of his master (his waiting itself a mystery), he hears drumming from the creek bottom near the slave quarters: “The only fire there would be the smudge against mosquitoes where the women with nursing children crouched, their heavy sluggish breasts nippled full and smooth into the mouths of men children; contemplative, oblivious of the drumming, since a fire would signify life.”¹ Mouths, full, empty, closed, open abound in Faulkner’s “Red Leaves”...

  8. “Nice Believing”: Mystery and Mysteries in Light in August
    (pp. 67-89)
    Sean McCann

    Midway throughLight in Augustin one of his conversations with Byron Bunch, the Reverend Gail Hightower delivers a passing remark about the distance between his home and the area surrounding Joanna Burden’s now destroyed mansion. “I used to walk it myself now and then,” Hightower remarks. “It must be about three miles.”¹ Though nothing further is said to suggest that the comment is especially significant, the passage might be taken for a characteristically Faulknerian provocation. For, it seems to be one of the devices of Faulkner’s characterization to present, without any particular notice, apparent incongruities that bear the potential...

  9. “To Survive What Looked Out”: The Forensic Trail and William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust
    (pp. 90-106)
    Rachel Watson

    Describing the role of DNA evidence in the O. J. Simpson case, science historians Anne Joseph and Alison Winter write:

    The various mechanical techniques which transformed the forensic traces in the Simpson case to the positive match had no social agendas or prejudices of their own. The fact that here, at least, one could imagine the evidence being treated in isolation of issues of racial prejudice conferred upon the technique an immense weight of trust and expectation. . . . By alluding to chemical structures, the police, public imagination, and courtroom can step around the troubling and pertinent social issues....

  10. The Mysterious Case of the Cold War Imaginary: Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky
    (pp. 107-122)
    Hosam Aboul-Ela

    Literary critics have often made the connection between detective fiction and the desire for social order. In such stories, regimes of policing are valorized as institutions that preserve and protect against threats of violence and anomie.¹ Recently, this observation has allowed us to see an intimate connection between the detective genre and colonialism. For example, the critic Yumna Siddiqi has written about what she calls “fictions of intrigue” as manifestations of anxieties that accompanied popular British attitudes toward their own imperial project in its later stages. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the British Empire had suffered but...

  11. Critical Intruders: Unraveling Race and Mystery in Intruder in the Dust
    (pp. 123-138)
    Esther Sánchez-Pardo

    William Faulkner opensIntruder in the Dust(1948)¹ by immediately undermining the certainty of the white racial knowledge that has just landed Lucas Beauchamp, his black protagonist, in jail: “It was just noon that Saturday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole country too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man” (3). As we soon discover, the sheriff, the town, and the country are in fact all wrong: what they think they “know” about Lucas’s apparent act of murder (he is accused...

  12. Reimagining the Femme Fatale: Requiem for a Nun and the Lessons of Film Noir
    (pp. 139-161)
    Susan V. Donaldson

    WhenRequiem for a Nunwas published in 1951, a year after William Faulkner had been awarded the Nobel Prize for 1949, critics and readers were hard-pressed to make sense of this curious half-novel, half-detective film screenplay that Faulkner himself described as “an interesting experiment in form.”¹ The book was structured, for one thing, by three acts of dialogue prefaced by historical prose sections recounting the founding and building of key Mississippi legal institutions—a courthouse, the state capitol, and a jail. For another, the storyline of the dialogue focused on the murder of an infant girl by a seemingly...

  13. Open Spaces, Open Secrets: Sanctuary’s Mysterious “Something”
    (pp. 162-177)
    Lisa Hinrichsen

    Faulkner’s work frequently articulates trauma through the rhetorical performance of its displacement. Temple Drake’s rape, the central moment of sexual violence at the core ofSanctuary, is not directly represented; rather, it is spoken about repeatedly, urgently reemerging in dislocated, disruptive images to haunt this hardboiled novel. In describing Temple’s rape as a moment when “sound and silence . . . become inverted,” Faulkner represents sexual violence as a blank “something” unnarratable and suspended between tenses: at the moment of her violation, Temple states “something is going to happen to me. . . . Somethingishappening to me!” ....

  14. Unvanquished Uncertainty
    (pp. 178-191)
    Sarah Mahurin

    In “Skirmish at Sartoris,” the second-to-last chapter ofThe Unvanquished, Bayard Sartoris’s Aunt Louisa sends an anxious, unwieldy letter to Mrs. Compson, seeking her aid and—more crucially—her understanding, since “Mrs. Compson was a woman too, Aunt Louisa believed, a Southern woman too, and had suffered too, Aunt Louisa didn’t doubt.”¹ But the more Aunt Louisa writes, the more convoluted her missive becomes: Bayard, who reads it secondhand, concludes, “I couldn’t make any sense out of that one too and I still dont know what Aunt Louisa was talking about and I didn’t believe that Mrs. Compson knew either”...

  15. Faulkner’s Plots
    (pp. 192-205)
    Michael Gorra

    “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” These are the opening words of Graham Greene’s 1951The End of the Affair: one of the few books for which William Faulkner ever provided a blurb, calling it “one of the best, most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language.”¹ Greene’s first-person narrator is a novelist named Maurice Bendrix, a writer known above all for the skill of his narrative joinery, and the moment he chooses is an encounter with the...

  16. “It Just Doesn’t Explain”: “The Leg,” “Mistral,” Evelyn Nesbit, and the Unreadable World
    (pp. 206-224)
    Noel Polk

    Edgar Allan Poe begins “The Man of the Crowd” this way:

    It was well said of a certain German book that . . . it does not permit itself to be read. There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors, and looking them piteously in the eyes—die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will notsuffer themselvesto be revealed. Now and then, alas, the conscience of man takes up a burthen so...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 225-228)
  18. Index
    (pp. 229-234)