When I began this little project, I was just wondering if reading everything Faulkner wrote in the order he wrote it would give a little insight into how he wrote. What I didn’t expect was for Faulkner himself to weigh in on the discussion. The Mansion opens with this statement:
This book is the final chapter of, and the summation of, a work conceived and begun in 1925. Since the author likes to believe, hopes that his entire life’s work is a part of a living literature, and since “living” is motion, and “motion” is change and alteration and therefore the only alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death, there will be found discrepancies and contradictions in the thirty-four year progress of this particular chronicle; the purpose of this note is simply to notify the reader that the author has already found more discrepancies and contradictions than he hopes the reader will—contradictions and discrepancies due to the fact that the author has learned, he believes, more about the human heart and its dilemma than he knew thirty-four years ago; and is sure that, having lived with them that long time, he knows the characters in this chronicle better than he did then. — W.F.
I don’t know that I can add much to that.
I read the Snopes trilogy years ago, and I remembered it as something of a trudge. I must have gotten bogged down in The Town, because I greatly enjoyed this conclusion to the Flem Snopes saga.
In short, The Hamlet tells the story of how Flem Snopes moved to Jefferson as a tenant farmer, and ends up a shopkeep. Rising above the shop owner’s own son, he eventually marries the shop owner’s daughter. By the end of the book, he’s swindled three townsfolk into buying a mansion for much more money than it’s worth. The Town continues the story, with Flem rising up to running the town’s power plant and eventually he takes over as president of the bank. At this point, he has completely supplanted the town’s established hierarchy.
The Mansion finishes the story. Flem has risen to a place of prestige high enough to have no real worries, except that one day his cousin Mink will be released from prison. In The Hamlet, Mink Snopes was sent to prison and felt betrayed by Flem. In The Mansion Mink is released, and indeed seeks revenge. The conclusion of The Mansion story ends the way you’d expect. Flem pretty much sees it coming.
In the preamble, Faulkner admits to “discrepancies and contradictions”. And he concludes this is because over the course of thirty-four years, authors learn new things and minds and hearts change. The Snopes Trilogy paints a vivid picture of a fictional town dealing with change. And here, at the penultimate book that Faulkner wrote, he has indeed created a living literature that is still relevant with a story that is still in motion.