Absalom, Absalom!

by William Faulkner
List(s):"Racine Library List"
Category: "Fiction - General"
Year of Publication:1936
Date Added:08/08/2006
Date Read:02/20/2006
Notes:The story of Thomas Sutpen, an enigmatic stranger who came to Jefferson in the early 1830s to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness. He was a man, Faulkner said, "who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him."
My Rating: 5

Reviews for Absalom, Absalom!

Review - Absalom, Absalom!

What the book was about: Thomas Sutpen wanted respectability. He bought 100 acres outside Jefferson, built a large house and married Ellen Coldfield. They had two children, Henry and Judith. When Henry went off to college, he met and become friends with Charles Bon. He introduced Charles to Judith, and the two become engaged. Then Thomas told Henry that not only was Charles already married but that he was Thomas’s son from an earlier marriage. The Civil War came along and the two friends went off to fight. At the end, Charles informed Henry that he still planned to marry their sister, Judith. This was OK with Henry until Thomas also informed him that Charles had a bit of Black blood. This Henry couldn’t take — and when the two got back to Jefferson, Henry shot and killed Charles.

There was a lot more to the story — how Thomas proposed to Ellen’s sister after she died, then broke off the engagement; how 60-year-old Thomas had a child by the granddaughter of his friend Wash and how Wash killed him for it; how Ellen’s kid sister Rosa told the family’s story to a young man named Quentin who went off to Harvard and told it to Shrevlin, his roommate from Canada; how Clytemnestra, a Black woman who was yet another daughter of Thomas’s by yet another woman, killed herself and Henry years later in a fire.

What I liked about the book: It isn’t Faulkner’s stories — they’re all about sick, twisted, unhappy people. It isn’t his writing style — I defy anyone to prove they can understand what’s going on more than half the time. But I think it might be the way Faulkner unwraps a story that makes him interesting to a lot of people. He hints and reveals, then retreats, then surprises, all of which makes for a mystery and a feeling that you’re accomplishing something as you go along and figure things out.

What I didn’t like about the book: The Sutpen’s are a depressing family whose story did nothing for me. There wasn’t a character to root for or an uplifting moment to be found. And there were way too many sentences like this: He knows that I shall never make any claim upon any part of what he now possesses, gained at the price of what sacrifice and endurance and scorn (so they told me; not he: they) only he knows; knows that so well that it would never have occurred to him just as he knows it would never occur to me that this might be his reason, who is not only generous but ruthless, who must have surrendered everything he and mother owned to her and to me as the price of repudiating her, not because the doing it this way hurt him, flouted him and kept him in suspense that much unnecessary longer, because he didn’t matter; whether he was irked or even crucified didn’t matter: it was the fact that he had to be kept constantly reminded that he would not have done it this way himself, yet he had stemmed from the blood after whatever it was his mother had been or done had tainted and corrupted it.

The most interesting quotes: “… this man of whom it was said that he not only went out to meet his troubles, he sometimes went out and manufactured them.”

And the one that ended the book: “Why do you hate the South?”
“I dont hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I dont hate it,” he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!

Recommendation: This is the third Faulkner book I’ve read. I gave The Sound and the Fury a 1 and The Bear a 5. I also give this one a 5. If you wanted to read just one, I’d recommend this one of the three I’ve read because of the interesting way the story unfolds.

Back to the list