Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Faulkner's narrators - Absalom, Absalom!
Obviously we're not expected to take literally the voice of Quentin Compson's father (?) who narrates for him in an uninterrupted 40-page stream of pure Faulknerian ornamentation what he knows or thinks he knows about why and how Henry Sutpen killed his sister Judith's fiance, Bon, who was also his best friend, on the eve of their intended wedding - and why Henry and Judith's father, Thomas Sutpen, opposed the intended marriage - you could probably tell "just the facts" as Quentin knows or hears them in a few sentences - but of course that's not how Faulkner tells a story, so the story meanders and jumps around in time and explores every nuance of feeling and insight - in a way it's like Proust, I'm pretty sure Faulkner must have read some or all of Proust by the time he was writing "Absalom, Absalom!," but in tone it's very different: not precious and introspective but voluble and tart. So why does Faulkner tell the story this way, other than that it's his style as much as his fingerprints and DNA were his own? First, I think, it establishes the tone of Southern narration, that this is a society and culture in which everyone knows all about his neighbors and his or her community and history going back a century or more - they all have massive and extensive tales to tell, and the time in which to unfold these stories. Second, it's a narrative strategy to give a layer of credibility to the story, much as Conrad's narrators do: it's not just an author telling a story from his own imagination, it's a character relating what he knows. But at the same time this creates and opportunity for doubt - it's only one character and he may not know everything - and in this case he doesn't, as we can see if we've looked ahead at the brief character bios - I suspect that Q's father doesn't know the true reason why the Sutpen men opposed the marriage: Bon is Judith's half-brother. Faulkner will reveal that to us in some other manner at a later point in this very complex and challenging novel. BTW, it seems to me - maybe I'm wrong - that we know virtually nothing (from this novel) about Q's father, not his name, what he looks like, who he is, etc. He's just a voice, full of information.