Light in August: The Corrected Text (Modern Library Series)

( 39 )

Overview

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

From the Modern Library’s new set of beautifully repackaged hardcover classics by William Faulkner—also available are Snopes, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, and Selected Short Stories

One of William Faulkner’s most admired and accessible novels, Light in August reveals the great American author at the height of his powers. Lena Grove’s resolute ...

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Light in August

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Overview

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

From the Modern Library’s new set of beautifully repackaged hardcover classics by William Faulkner—also available are Snopes, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, and Selected Short Stories

One of William Faulkner’s most admired and accessible novels, Light in August reveals the great American author at the height of his powers. Lena Grove’s resolute search for the father of her unborn child begets a rich, poignant, and ultimately hopeful story of perseverance in the face of mortality. It also acquaints us with several of Faulkner’s most unforgettable characters, including the Reverend Gail Hightower, plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen, and Joe Christmas, a ragged, itinerant soul obsessed with his mixed-race ancestry. Powerfully entwining these characters’ stories, Light in August brings to life Faulkner’s imaginary South, one of literature’s great invented landscapes, in all of its unerringly fascinating glory. Along with a new Foreword by C. E. Morgan, this edition reproduces the corrected text of Light in August as established in 1985 by Faulkner expert Noel Polk.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.” —Ralph Ellison
Donald Adams
With this new novel, Mr. Faulkner has taken a tremendous stride forward. . . . Light in August is a powerful novel, a book which secures Mr. Faulkner's place in the very front rank of American writers of fiction. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, October 1932
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679642480
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/2/2002
  • Series: Modern Library Series
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 381,330
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

William Faulkner
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. He published his first book, The Marble Faun (a collection of poems), in 1924, and his first novel, Soldier's Pay, in 1926. In 1949, having written such works as Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also received the Pulitzer Prize for two other novels, A Fable (1954) and The Reivers (1962). From 1957 to 1958 he was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. He died on July 6, 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi.

Biography

William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His family was rooted in local history: his great-grandfather, a Confederate colonel and state politician, was assassinated by a former partner in 1889, and his grandfather was a wealth lawyer who owned a railroad. When Faulkner was five his parents moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he received a desultory education in local schools, dropping out of high school in 1915. Rejected for pilot training in the U.S. Army, he passed himself off as British and joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1918, but the war ended before he saw any service. After the war, he took some classes at the University of Mississippi and worked for a time at the university post office. Mostly, however, he educated himself by reading promiscuously.

Faulkner had begun writing poems when he was a schoolboy, and in 1924 he published a poetry collection, The Marble Faun, at his own expense. His literary aspirations were fueled by his close friendship with Sherwood Anderson, whom he met during a stay in New Orleans. Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay, was published in 1926, followed a year later by Mosquitoes, a literary satire. His next book, Flags in the Dust, was heavily cut and rearranged at the publisher's insistence and appeared finally as Sartoris in 1929. In the meantime he had completed The Sound and the Fury, and when it appeared at the end of 1929 he had finished Sanctuary and was ready to begin writing As I Lay Dying. That same year he married Estelle Oldham, whom he had courted a decade earlier.

Although Faulkner gained literary acclaim from these and subsequent novels -- Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses (1942) -- and continued to publish stories regularly in magazines, he was unable to support himself solely by writing fiction. he worked as a screenwriter for MGM, Twentieth Century-Fox, and Warner Brothers, forming a close relationship with director Howard Hawks, with whom he worked on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Land of the Pharaohs, among other films. In 1944 all but one of Faulkner's novels were out of print, and his personal life was at low ebb due in part to his chronic heavy drinking. During the war he had been discovered by Sartre and Camus and others in the French literary world. In the postwar period his reputation rebounded, as Malcolm Cowley's anthology The Portable Faulkner brought him fresh attention in America, and the immense esteem in which he was held in Europe consolidated his worldwide stature.

Faulkner wrote seventeen books set in the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, home of the Compson family in The Sound and the Fury. "No land in all fiction lives more vividly in its physical presence than this county of Faulkner's imagination," Robert Penn Warren wrote in an essay on Cowley's anthology. "The descendants of the old families, the descendants of bushwhackers and carpetbaggers, the swamp rats, the Negro cooks and farm hands, the bootleggers and gangsters, tenant farmers, college boys, county-seat lawyers, country storekeepers, peddlers--all are here in their fullness of life and their complicated interrelations." In 1950, Faulkner traveled to Sweden to accept the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. In later books--Intruder in the Dust (1948), Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962) -- he continued to explore what he had called "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself," but did so in the context of Yoknapatawpha's increasing connection with the modern world. He died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

Good To Know

William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text

The publisher, Harrison Smith, received Faulkner's typescript for As I Lay Dying in January 1930 and published it with very few editorial changes on October 6, 1930. That text remained the same through various reprints until 1964 when Random House brought out a new edition that was corrected in accordance with the original manuscript and typescript. For the "corrected text" shown here, scholar Noel Polk used Faulkner's own ribbon typescript setting copy, corrected to account for his revisions in proof, his typing errors, and other clear inconsistencies and mistakes.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Cuthbert Falkner (real name)
      William Faulkner
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 25, 1897
    2. Place of Birth:
      New Albany, Mississippi
    1. Date of Death:
      July 6, 1962
    2. Place of Death:
      Byhalia, Mississippi

Reading Group Guide

"For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics." --Ralph Ellison

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Light in August, one of William Faulkner's most important and memorable novels. We hope they will provide you with new ways of thinking and talking about a work that exemplifies Faulkner's bold stylistic innovations, his creation of unforgettably powerful voices and characters, and his precise depiction of the social and psychological traumas of life in the South during the Jim Crow era.

1. The opening chapter belongs to Lena Grove as she arrives in Jefferson. What are the core elements of Lena's character? Does she change during the course of the novel? If Lena has a symbolic function, what is it? What, if anything, does Lena's background explain about her character, motivations, and desires?

2. The story contains many flashbacks, shifts in temporal sequence, and shifts in the narrative point of view. How does the book's structure affect the reading experience? In terms of prose style, what is most striking about Faulkner's use of language and imagery?

3. Byron Bunch is a man who has tried to live in such a way that "the chance to do harm could not have found him" [p. 77]. He says to Hightower, early in the story, "a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he's already got. He'll cling to trouble he's used to before he'll risk a change" [p. 75]. Yet Byronchanges more than any other character. He falls in love and, in pursuit of Lena, completely alters his life. Is Byron an admirable character, and if so, how and why?

4. The critic Malcolm Cowley felt that the novel "dissolved too much into the three separate stories" [The Faulkner-Cowley File, p. 28] of Lena, Gail Hightower, and Joe Christmas. Would you agree or disagree? Do their stories come together, and if so, how? Do these characters belong in the same novel?

5. Byron says, "A man will talk about how he'd like to escape from living folks. But it's the dead folks that do him the damage. It's the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don't try to hold him, that he cant escape from" [p. 75]. How does this statement relate to Joe Christmas, Joanna Burden, and Reverend Hightower? What are the various ways in which their enslavement to "dead folks" and past history determines their lives?

6. Before he kills Joanna Burden, Joe thinks, "Something is going to happen to me. I am going to do something" [p. 104]. Notice the passive and active modes of those two juxtaposed thoughts. Does Joe actively seek the fulfillment of "something awful" that he believes to be his fate? The narrator tells us, "He believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe" [p. 280]. Faulkner seems to be interested in the relationship between volition and passivity in the novel; how do you understand the "paradox" of will and fate as it embraced by Joe Christmas? Are other characters similarly caught between will and fate?

7. One of Faulkner's central preoccupations in Light in August is the legacy of Calvinism in the American psyche. In which characters is this stringent, unforgiving strain of thinking most apparent, and what are its effects? How are guilt and Calvinism linked?

8. In Light in August, womanhood and female sexuality are often described with a combination of fascination, desire, and loathing. Does this psychological attitude originate in certain characters, or does it seem to emanate from the author? Consider this question in the context of the following quotes: "He began to look about the womanroom as if he had never seen one before: the close room, warm, littered, womanpinksmelling" [Doc Hines, p. 132]; "the bodiless fecundmellow voice of negro women murmured. It was as though he and all other manshaped life about him had been returned to the lightless hot wet primogenitive Female" [Joe Christmas, p. 115]; and "Now and then she appointed trysts beneath certain shrubs about the grounds, where he would find her naked, or with her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her, in the wild throes of nymphomania" [Joanna Burden, p. 259].

9. As he takes a whipping from his foster father, Joe's body "might have been wood or stone; a post or a tower upon which the sentient part of him mused like a hermit, contemplative and remote with ecstasy and selfcrucifixion" [pp. 159--60]. Why does Joe seek punishment from McEachern and reject the love offered by McEachern's wife [pp. 166--69)]? Why are the fanatical and sadistic patriarchs of the novel, like Simon McEachern, Calvin Burden, and Doc Hines, so powerful?

10. What are the most startling and memorable scenes in the novel? Are these scenes extremely visual in their effects? Do they seem appropriate to, or influenced by, the genre of film?

11. Chapter 5 is told from Joe's point of view; what insight does the reader gain into Joe's reason for killing Joanna Burden? Does he have a clear motive? Joanna is depicted as a masculine woman, a spinster, a Northerner and a nymphomaniac. What is at the heart of Joanna's desire for Joe, and of his desire for her?

12. Critic Eric Sundquist has remarked that "violence and sexuality determine the contours of the South's romance of blood" and that Joe is "a character whose very physical and emotional self embodies the sexual violence of racial conflict" [William Faulkner: The House Divided, pp. 89--90]. Discuss this yoking of violence, race, and sexual thinking in the novel, particularly as it is reflected in Joe's relationship with Joanna Burden and in Percy Grimm's murder and castration of Joe [pp. 464--65].

13. With Percy Grimm, Faulkner himself said that he had "created a Nazi," a "Fascist galahad who saved the white race by murdering Christmas" [qtd. in William Faulkner: The House Divided, p. 93]. "I wrote [Light in August] in 1932 before I'd ever heard of Hitler's Storm Troopers" [Faulkner in the University, p. 41]. Discuss the ways in which Chapter 19 explores the fantasies and fanaticism of both the individual and the group. Does Grimm intend to lead a lynching or to prevent one? Does Grimm function as the executioner whose fantasy is merely an exaggerated version of what the community also believes?

14. Joe's life is figured repeatedly as a journey along a road; returning to Mottstown, Joe feels that "he is entering it again, the street which ran for thirty years. . . . It had made a circle and he is still inside of it" [p. 339]. Should we see a thematic link between Lena's journey and Joe's? How do their wanderings differ in spirit and in function?

15. Light in August is primarily a book about racial identity, race hatred, and hysteria. Faulkner commented later that Joe "didn't know what he was, and so he was nothing. He deliberately evicted himself from the human race because he didn't know which he was . . . which to me is the most tragic condition a man could find himself in--not to know what he is and to know that he will never know" (qtd. in Light in August and the Critical Spectrum, p. 1). Are the coldness and violence in Joe's character explained by Faulkner's statement? How does the reader react to Joe Christmas--with empathy, with distaste, with bewilderment?

16. In The Sound and the Fury Quentin Compson says, "a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among" [p. 86]. Discuss the ways in which Joe Christmas functions among the white community as an idea, a symbol, a negative image of their own ideal selves, and not as a person. What is the effect of this function on Joe's own subjectivity?

17. Chapter 19, which tells of Joe Christmas's death and castration, is followed by a chapter narrated from the perspective of Gail Hightower which tells the story of his past life and his failures, ending in the present moment. What might Faulkner have meant to do by juxtaposing Hightower's meditation with the horror that has come just before? What role does Hightower play in the novel?

18. A furniture dealer who gave Lena and Byron a lift in his wagon is the narrator of the final chapter, and their courtship is the subject of the comical tale he is telling his wife. Lena's pursuit of the feckless Lucas Burch has also been a source of comedy. Why might Faulkner have chosen to end the novel on this note of optimism and good-humored comedy?

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2010

    Wonderful book!

    My first time reading a Faulkner novel but it will not be the last. This book is just so wonderful. Lots of symbolism. I would say this book is not for the impatient reader, but it makes you realize how some author's
    are really light weights. I would most surely recommend this for book discussions. I really enjoyed being in the old South!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    I made it out alive

    I picked this book out to read for a term paper because I'd heard many positive things about Faulkner and how enduring and amazing his writing was. We had months to read the book, so I didn't rush through it. I tried to enjoy the novel. Note the key word of 'tried.' There is nothing to this book but Faulkner making up adjectives and turning the book's most violent figure into a victim, at some points seeming to beg for pity for his character. A lot of points seem kind of random. The book itself isn't hard to follow, but either Faulkner shouldn't be hailed as a master or this book should not be hailed as a masterpiece. Given the choice I would avoid this book at all costs, and when I finally finished the novel I felt as though I'd been saved from drowning. The rest of my class seemed to enjoy their books and even their papers thoroughly. I will not be reading anything written by Faulkner for at least many, many years.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2005

    OVERRATTED

    I thought this book sucked. It is 507 pages long and on one short paragraph on page 471 you find out what the light in August is. Also he constantly uses the 'N' word!This was one of the most boring books I have ever read. Faulkner went on and on talking about nothing! Except a girl and her baby's daddy. This is the worst classic I have ever read. It was just four good short stories combined together in one uninteresting book.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2014

    not his finest, but still excellent

    Though complex, this is a very approachable book, far from the modernist experimentation on books lik As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury. A book about race but the character has so little black blood that he can easily pass. Yet his profound secret makes him restless and violent accepted by neither blacks nor whites. The other story in this novel is that of a strong young Alabama woman pregnant and abandoned by her one night stand. Faulkner creates a strong female heroine unencumbered by either the social dogma of unwed pregnancy or her gender in a time when society would assign her the role ou outcast. Although their stories overlap only in the father of the baby, their stories combine to show a changing South the violence to come from those who hold to the established structure of Southern culture and the forces that will destroy this culture quiet soon. Well worth reading both for those well acquainted with Faulkner and for those waiting to fall in love with his page-long sentences, his profound descriptions, and his heartbreaking picture of a flawed yet beautiful time that will soon end.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    Not so horribly bad

    To be honest, when I entered into my sophomore year at High School I didn't understand the meaning of a "difficult read" until I met Hawthorne and Faulkner. This book is definitely not for the "faint at heart" because it is a difficult read. What I liked about it was that it actually made me think and the complexity of the characters

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2006

    Light in August: Hardly a 'light' summer read

    Light in August is in no way for the faint at heart. It is threaded with very deep characters and often the direct themes can be hard to see. For all of its complexity, it recounts a thought provoking tale of a deep southern society scandalous, racist, yet full of austerity. Anyway, as a student, I would highly recommend reading this with editorial notes.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    Long-winded

    For all his genius and skill, Faulkner's prose in _Light_ is largely repetitive and tiresome. The flashes of insight and beauty that occur in this book are astonishing, but too few and far between, with a great deal of padding filling out most of the book. The characters are memorable and well-rounded, and Faulkner tells a good story, but I was skimming over many of his (purposefully?) convoluted, inscrutable sentences.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2004

    Equal opportunity Faulkner

    The first Faulkner book I ever read was The Sound and the Fury. The cover said he was brilliant, and my creative writing teacher at that time argued much to the same. That book confused the bejeezus out of me, and I had to read a review, mch like this one, to find out what the book was actually about. Light in August is such a delight, in that it is easy to follow (for a Faulkner novel, anyway) and expresses so well, and so cosmically the inner workings of the human psyche, from abuse and religious zeal, to naivete and the kind of hope that drags one pregant woman across countless miles to find the man responsible. Full of murder, comedy (slight, anyway) and pitch perfect illuminating prose, Light in August is probably one of the most approachable Faulkner books, and certainly one of the most redeeming. It'l break your heart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2003

    Great Work

    This is my first Faulkner book that I have ever read. I really enjoyed this book. I feel that it teaches you alot about what the times were like when this book was written. Many people that I know who have read this book told me that I would really enjoy it. I did not beleive them at first, but after I got into that book I really could not put it down. Best work that I have read in a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2002

    GOOD BOOK BAD BINDING

    Faulkner captures the isolation, lonliness, and confusion of the south, post civil, war by embodying them in each of his main characters. I STRONGLY recommend this enlightening book. My only complaint was the binding of the book fell apart within a two months of purchase.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2002

    Best Faulkner Novel

    I have just finished the Light in August and I felt this is the best Faulkner novel that I have read. This is a great book for someone that likes to read and not stop. I felt that you were always waiting for what would happen next. I will warn you that be aware of the chapters about a quarter of the way through where you go back to Joe Christmas as a child. I got a little confused but it will only take you a few pages to get back on track.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2000

    ugh!

    Okay, maybe the symbolism escapes me or something, but this book isn't that good!! I read it for a class over the summer and it really isn't good!! sorry if you like it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 1999

    Faulkner nails it

    This is the Faulkner for anyone who threw The Sound and the Fury across the room in disgust. What a genuine creation this novel is -- its bluntness would shock and astonish modern readers if they would only read it. Joe Christmas is one of the most subtly wrought Christ figures in literature. A must read.

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    Posted April 1, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2011

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