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Kirkus ReviewsIn this persuasive intellectual biography, Singal makes sense of Faulkner's thought by viewing him as caught between the cultures of the Victorian and Modernist eras.
In the centennial year of Faulkner's birth, Singal (History/Hobart and William Smith Colleges), opens with a subject he calls largely unexplored—"the structure and nature" of Faulkner's thought. Singal believes the key to understanding lies in the ongoing "conflict of cultures" in which Faulkner lived—the morally absolutist Victorianism of his rural gentry youth and the more fluid concepts of the Modernism of his adulthood. After examining the persuasive influence of Faulkner's proper Victorian mother and Civil War hero great-grandfather, Col. William C. Falkner, he turns to the novelist's early encounters with Modernism, beginning with Mosquitoes, with which the writer entered "the darkened rooms and houses of southern history." Analyses of other novels follow, including Absalom, Absalom!, Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury, the latter representing Faulkner's "Modernist authorial self" taking hold (though, Singal believes, he never felt entirely at ease with Modernism), notably in the character of Benjy Compson, who repudiates the entire Victorian value system. While the book centers on textual analysis, Singal's forays into Faulkner's life ground the book and reveal the biographer's humanism and restraint. On the fact that Faulkner did not divorce wife Estelle to wed lover Meta Carpenter, Singal indicates an understanding of human connections, observing that "despite mental and sometimes physical warfare, genuine bonds of loyalty and even affection still united the Faulkners, who after all had been tight childhood friends." Singal also chronicles Faulkner's lifelong excessive drinking with a refreshing mix of largesse and scientific fact, admitting the possibility of alcohol's early benefits in liberating Faulkner's artistic inhibitions but detailing the effects of alcohol misuse, giving credence to his claim that alcohol eventually diminished his talents.
Written with calm authority and offering a plausible new thesis, this is a worthwhile introduction to the next century of Faulkner.