Monday, June 4, 2012
Incest, bigamy, miscegenation: Scenes from a Faulkner Marriage
In Chapter 4 of William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!," Quentin's father? grandfather?, in one of those really long and totally impossible Faulkner narrations, tells Q some of what the elderly Rosa Coldfield either didn't know or intentionally omitted in her account of the rise and fall of the Sutpen family - she'd told about the fact that her niece Judith Sutpen was engaged but that Judith's brother, Henry, killed the fiance on eve of the wedding day and then left Yoknapatawpha County never to be seen again. Now Quentin learns more about what led to this killing: we know that Henry had been close friends with the finace, Bon, and had served in the Confederate forces with him. We now learn other key points: Bon hardly new Judith at all, had only visited the Sutpen Hundred maybe twice? - he was a New Orleans guy, and so everyone, especially in small-town Jefferson, looked up to him as a dashing sophisticate. But one thing Henry discovers on a visit to New Orleaans is that Bon has a child there - and perhaps, it's not clear if Henry knows this or not, a wife as well. Making matters more complicated: the child is pat-black. Then, there's a third element that we know if we're smart enough to have looked ahead at the family tree or bios that appears at the end, at least of this 1986 edition (not clear if Faulkner wrote these, I think he did - as he later added a preface to Sound and Fury, I guess because early readers were so troubled by the challenge of that book which now seems relatively easy): Bon is actually H. and J.'s half-brother (and himself part black). Not totally clear, yet, if it ever will be, when the various Sutpen's become aware of Bon's provenance: is the, at first, just a mysterious stranger whom Henry brings into the family fold? Of to Thomas Sutpen (and maybe Thomas's wife, Ellen) know that he's Sutpen's son? They do oppose the marriage - but not clear why. There are 3 strikes against the marriage: incest, bigamy, and miscegenation. In their minds - and in Henry's, when he kills Bon - which is paramount? In fact, when Henry kills Bon, I suspect that the main thing on his mind is that good old Southern virtue: honor. We'll see.