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The Significance of Verbena in William Faulkner's "An Odor of Verbena".



THE FIRST MENTION OF VERBENA verbena, common name for some members of the Verbenaceae, a family of herbs, shrubs, and trees (often climbing forms) of warmer regions of the world. Well-known wild and cultivated members of the family include species of the shrubby Lantana and of  IN "An Odor of Verbena," the concluding story of William Faulkner's The Unvanquished, comes as Bayard and Ringo are riding back to the plantation for the funeral of Colonel John Sartoris. Contemplating the delayed equinox equinox (ē`kwĭnŏks), either of two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect. The vernal equinox, also known as "the first point of Aries," is the point at which the sun appears to cross the  and unseasonably warm weather, Bayard remembers that "... it was October; there was plenty of time still for verbena although I would have to reach home before I would realize there was a need for it; plenty of time for verbena yet from the garden...."(1) But for the title, it would seem a non sequitur non sequitur (nahn sek [as in heck]-kwit-her) n. Latin for "it does not follow." The term usually means that a conclusion does not logically follow from the facts or law, stated: "That's a non sequitur." . Why would Bayard, riding home for his father's funeral, resisting the bloody vengeance required by "blood and raising and background" (p. 217), need verbena, a fairly humble garden flower? That need, expressed so early in the story, makes verbena the symbolic center of the story, the image around which events unfold and meanings coalesce. The center is constantly shifting, though; as the odor of verbena builds and diffuses, it refuses to take on a single, coherent symbolic value. The symbology sym·bol·o·gy  
n.
1. The study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.

2. The use of symbols.


symbology
1. the study and interpretation of symbols. Also called symbolism.
 of verbena is, finally, as mutable and elusive as its scent.

The scent of verbena has been a major point in critical puzzles surrounding the story. Indeed, on the face of it, Faulkner's choice of verbena in such a central role is more than a little bewildering be·wil·der  
tr.v. be·wil·dered, be·wil·der·ing, be·wil·ders
1. To confuse or befuddle, especially with numerous conflicting situations, objects, or statements. See Synonyms at puzzle.

2.
; it is, after all, a small, old-fashioned flower with little intrinsic symbolic value. Even the literal sense of the title is a puzzle; verbena is scentless. Critics struggling to account for Faulkner's botanical choice have concluded that the author conflated two or more types of verbena--the flowering varieties and the powerfully scented but flowerless lemon verbena--either, as Winifred Frazer argues, to suit his ends,(2) or, according to according to
prep.
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3.
 Jane Isbell Haynes, simply in error.(3) This last seems particularly unlikely, given Faulkner's evident familiarity with Southern plant life and meticulous attention to detail. As James Hinkle and Robert McCoy This article is about the Pennsylvania Congressman. For the American bluesman, see Robert Lee McCollum.

Robert McCoy (Died June 7, 1849) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
 comment, "At times Faulkner seems to have known everything."(4) As an alternative to her composite theory, Haynes points out that Faulkner may well have known that modern flowering verbena is scentless as a result of hybridization hybridization /hy·brid·iza·tion/ (hi?brid-i-za´shun)
1. crossbreeding; the act or process of producing hybrids.

2. molecular hybridization

3.
 and that the verbena Drusilla would have picked from the Civil War battlefields would have had an odor, perhaps even a strong one, depending upon the specific variety (p. 360). Neither of these conclusions, however, accounts for Faulkner's choice in terms of aesthetic or literary necessity.

Thomas McHaney suggests that Faulkner's use of verbena in this story is an echo of the "odor like verbena" in Ernest Hemingway's story about courage, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," which appeared in Cosmopolitan while Faulkner was working on "An Odor of Verbena."(5) The parallel is intriguing, as the two stories both explore different possibilities for courage within the context of a stressed man-woman relationship. However, such a comparative analysis would necessarily take a substantially different direction than this one, which seeks to explore the symbolic complexities of the humble flower at the heart of Faulkner's story.

Haynes suggests that the choice of verbena is driven by Drusilla's character. While a more obviously scented flower--a rose or gardenia, for instance--might seem a more logical choice for a story where the flower's odor has such a strong symbolic function, the conventional femininity of these flowers is, as Haynes points out, unsuited to Drusilla's "post-war personality" (p. 359). Nor, I would add, does the strong young woman who defies the Yankees to rescue her favorite horse (Unvanquished, p. 90) seem likely to favor the sweetly pervasive aura of gardenia. Verbena, while it may have a heavy scent, does not carry the connotations of ladylike la·dy·like  
adj.
1. Characteristic of a lady; well-bred.

2. Appropriate for or becoming to a lady. See Synonyms at female.

3. Unduly sensitive to matters of propriety or decorum.

4.
 gentility or sheltered femininity recalled by more traditional flowers. Indeed, not to push a Freudian metaphor too far, the spiky spik·y  
adj. spik·i·er, spik·i·est
1. Having one or more projecting sharp points.

2. Grouchy or cross in temperament.



spik
 shape of the flowers themselves could be seen to reflect Drusilla's androgynous an·drog·y·nous  
adj.
1. Biology Having both female and male characteristics; hermaphroditic.

2. Being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine, as in dress, appearance, or behavior.
 tendencies. In any case, verbena, free of the widely recognized symbolic freight of the more aristocratic and heavily scented flowers, certainly shapes itself more easily to the character Faulkner is creating.

Robert Witt Robert Witt is the name of two academics:
  • Sir Robert Witt (art historian) (1872-1952), British art historian
  • Robert Witt (American academic), president of the University of Alabama
, on the other hand, contends that Faulkner deliberately chose verbena "because it has no odor. The reader, thus, is forced to realize that the odor is symbolic rather than literal."(6) Witt goes on to note briefly some of the symbolism associated with verbena in classical mythology, but immediately dismisses these as a resource for reading Faulkner's story; since Faulkner "could not rely on readers' knowledge of such folklore, ... it seems safer to define the symbolism by noting those qualities with which Faulkner associates the verbena" (p. 74). Witt's "safer" reading equates verbena directly with courage and Drusilla's gifts of verbena sprigs with the conferral and recognition of courage, as well as with the seductive power of violence.

In fact, the language of the story does not equate verbena with courage, but indicates that it is in some sense more powerful than simple courage, at least as that concept is understood by the Southern men who populate the entire novel--including a younger Bayard, who kills Grumby in accordance with the code of honor. Drusilla wears verbena because it is "the only scent you could smell above the smell of horses and courage and so it was the only one that was worth the wearing" (p. 220). The odor of verbena overpowers the swaggering swag·ger  
v. swag·gered, swag·ger·ing, swag·gers

v.intr.
1. To walk or conduct oneself with an insolent or arrogant air; strut.

2. To brag; boast.

v.tr.
 male courage of the battlefield and the duel,just as Drusilla proves more powerful than the wounded and damaged men she fights with by returning from war gloriously intact. Besides giving Faulkner's readers little credit (and perhaps overestimating Faulkner's concern for what his readers might or might not know), Witt's reading oversimplifies the mythology of verbena, robbing the flower of its full symbolic weight and underestimating the complexity of Faulkner's design.

In its European manifestation (which is also known as vervain vervain: see verbena.

vervain

indicates bewitching powers. [Flower Symbolism: Flora S ymbo lica, 178]

See : Enchantment
), verbena is associated with a string of apparent oppositions: it is enlisted in the service of both war and peace, love and death, politics and domesticity. Verbena was used in religious ceremonies dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war, but it also served as an emblem of peace, and its various functions reflect this duality. Legend has it that the early Romans declared war by launching a spear decorated with verbena into the enemy's territory. Roman couriers delivering messages of challenge or defiance wore wreaths of verbena, as did those sent to offer treaty. Verbena was worn onto the battlefield, where it was believed capable of warding off enemies, and into treaty negotiations, where it was thought, paradoxically, to bring about the reconciliation of even the fiercest rivals.

Verbena was also sacred to the Greek and Roman goddesses of love and beauty. Young women conferred wreaths of verbena on their lovers to ensure fidelity. Brides wore verbena on their wedding days to invoke the protection of the goddess and as a guarantee of domestic peace. The flower could also be used as a shield against enchantment.(7) In place of a simple one-to-one correspondence, the mythological symbolism of the flower invokes a complex calculus at the intersection of war and peace, household and battlefield, reflecting Bayard's own conflicted position as he fights his individual battle with the violent Old South code of gentlemanly honor.

The most famous line of "An Odor of Verbena" describes Drusilla as "the Greek amphora priestess of a succinct and formal violence" (p. 219); this line, I would argue, can be taken almost literally. In the context of mythological allusion, Drusilla can be seen as a priestess of the god of war, guardian of the martial spirit of the Old South--the last keeper of the faith. Indeed, like the mythical gods of war, she exhibits a monstrous disdain for human life and an abiding affinity for violence. The dream she and John Sartoris share for the South is worth any cost in human life:
   "But if it's a good dream, it's worth it. There are not many dreams in the
   world, but there are a lot of human lives. And one human life or two
   dozen.--"

      "Are not worth anything?"

      "No. Not anything.--" (pp. 223-224)


Amazon-like, she chops off her hair and rides astride a·stride  
adv.
1. With a leg on each side: riding astride.

2. With the legs wide apart.

prep.
1. On or over and with a leg on each side of.

2.
 to the battlefield, sleeping and fighting with the men. Upon realizing that Bayard does not intend to confront Redmond, she lapses into a state that Hinkle and McCoy, along with most other critics, read as insanity (p. 197), but which could also represent a kind of prophetic hysteria. Indeed, her recognition of Bayard's "cowardly" intent is eerily telepathic te·lep·a·thy  
n.
Communication through means other than the senses, as by the exercise of an occult power.



tel
, a kind of "clairvoyance clairvoyance (klâr'voi`əns), alleged power to perceive, as though visually, objects or persons not discernible through the ordinary sense channels. " that Bayard attributes to the mysteriously perceptive wisdom of women (p, 238), but to which Drusilla appears particularly susceptible.

Further, she greets Bayard not in traditional mourning, as a widow should, but in her yellow ball gown, amid the "festive glitter of the chandeliers" (p. 219). She is not dressed for a funeral but for a different kind of ceremony, the designation of a new acolyte of the code of the Old South. Her stylized movements, the odd configuration of her arms that leads Bayard to the figure of the vase--Hinkle and McCoy note four occurrences of the "amphora gesture" (pp. 178, 188, 195), once described as the "empty and formal gesture of all promise" (Unvanquished, p. 228)--add to the impression of ceremonial formality. She presents Bayard with the tools of that code and symbols of its power, the dueling pistols, and along with them, grants him divine power: "How beautiful: young, to be permitted to kill, to be permitted vengeance, to take into your bare hands the fire of heaven that cast down Lucifer. No; I. I gave it to you; I put it into your hands" (p. 238). The wearing of verbena then is not an idiosyncratic id·i·o·syn·cra·sy  
n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
1. A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

2. A physiological or temperamental peculiarity.

3.
 bit of feminine squeamishness squea·mish  
adj.
1.
a. Easily nauseated or sickened.

b. Nauseated.

2. Easily shocked or disgusted.

3. Excessively fastidious or scrupulous.
, a distaste for the strong male odors of the stable and the battlefield, but the mark of Drusilla's peculiar status; she is the keeper of the faith, guardian of the Old South. Joan M. Serafin notes that the herb was worn by "Roman priests serving as guardians of the public faith."(8) Similarly, Drusilla wears it as a marker of her power, even if she does not completely understand the full range of that power.

In some sense, Drusilla's status as arbiter of the code of the Old South is strictly in keeping with her position as a Southern lady. As a lady of the Old South, she could expect men to fight, perhaps even to die, to preserve her honor and their own. Aunt Louisa, demanding that John marry Drusilla since he has stolen her chance to attain "the highest destiny of a Southern woman--to be the bride-widow of a lost cause" (p. 191), would expect no less. But Drusilla has transcended that restrictive role, even to becoming a man. Bayard notes repeatedly that she is boyish, with a "boy-hard body" (p. 223), "not slender as a woman is but as a youth, a boy, is motionless" (p. 219) and runs "as boys run just as she rode like men ride" (p. 224). Even years after the end of the war, she disdains traditional femininity, keeping her hair shorn shorn  
v.
A past participle of shear.


shorn
Verb

a past participle of shear

Adj. 1.
, and "still would have worn pants all the time if Father had let her" (p. 221). She can even use blatantly sexual language in handing the pistols over to Bayard, something no true Southern lady could even have contemplated without a spell of faintness. At the same time, she is the mythical "woman of thirty," imperious im·pe·ri·ous  
adj.
1. Arrogantly domineering or overbearing. See Synonyms at dictatorial.

2. Urgent; pressing.

3. Obsolete Regal; imperial.
 temptress, "symbol of the ancient and eternal Snake" (p. 228).

In occupying all of the categories, Drusilla refuses any of them, retaining "the incorrigibly in·cor·ri·gi·ble  
adj.
1. Incapable of being corrected or reformed: an incorrigible criminal.

2. Firmly rooted; ineradicable: incorrigible faults.

3.
 individual woman" in stark contrast to the wounded and damaged men who fought with and for her:
   ... not like so many men who return from wars to live on Government
   reservations like so many steers, emasculate and empty of all save an
   identical experience which they cannot forget and dare not, else they would
   cease to live at that moment, almost interchangeable save for the old habit
   of answering to a given name. (p. 229)


Drusilla shared in the experience of the men, but she is empowered by the experience, infused with a divinity of violence. The contrast is marked by Drusilla's need to mask the scent of their courage. Bayard, too, has smelled that scent, when his father returns from battle in "Ambuscade," the first story in the novel:
   Then I began to smell it again, like each time he returned ... that odor in
   his clothes and beard and flesh too which I believed was the smell of
   powder and glory, the elected victorious but know better now: know now to
   have been only the will to endure, a sardonic and even humorous declining
   of self-delusion which is not even kin to that optimism which believes that
   that which is about to happen to us can possibly be the worst which we can
   suffer. (p. 10)


The swagger of the battlefield, which makes John Sartoris larger than he is, is only a dogged drive to continue in spite of the inevitability of defeat because there simply is no obvious alternative. It is, in fact, the failure of belief, a loss of principles, a dimming of the dream. It is despair that drives men to continue fighting "for two years after they knew they were whipped" (p. 215). Emasculated in defeat, the men are compelled to relive that defeat as part of their identities as Southern men, Confederate veterans. They embody the defeated South, limping along under the burden of Reconstruction. Drusilla lives every bit as much in the past, but for her the war represents a release from the strictures of Confederate womanhood. Empowered by her war experience, she returns to the memory of it as a source of power rather than pain, and paradoxically draws from the memory the compulsion to rebuild the very society that confined her.

Drusilla's position as a warrior woman Warrior Woman (Freida Ratsel) was a fictional Nazi supervillain from Marvel Comics' first Invaders series. She was given a super-strength formula similar to the one used on Master Man, but Warrior Woman's version seemed to be more stable.  has been thoroughly critiqued. In a typical feminist reading, Diane Roberts sees The Unvanquished as "concerned with the question of a woman's--or a lady's--proper relation to violence and power, and the consequences of usurping `masculinity.'"(9) Both Granny and Drusilla transgress the boundaries of femininity and masculinity, and both are punished for it. Granny's downfall is the collision of masculine and feminine roles; she is murdered for claiming the protections due her gender while engaging in a brutally masculine business. Drusilla's transgression is more dangerously disruptive than Granny's, Roberts argues, because of its transsexual trans·sex·u·al
n.
A person who strongly identifies with the opposite gender and who chooses to live as a member of the opposite gender or to become one by surgery.

adj.
1. Of or relating to such a person.

2.
 element (p. 17). Granny may act in the masculine arena, but she does not become a man. Drusilla, denying both the feminine grief and the maternal function that should shape her life as a "bride-widow" of the Confederacy Confederacy, name commonly given to the Confederate States of America (1861–65), the government established by the Southern states of the United States after their secession from the Union. , very nearly does. In fact, as Roberts astutely points out, she is in some sense a reflection of Bayard, "the boy Bayard himself once was, prepared to kill to avenge the family's wrong" (p. 23). As she collapses the binaries of class and gender that structure the society of the Old South, going to war "in the garments not alone of a man, but of a common private soldier" (Unvanquished, p. 191), Drusilla critiques the Southern social order by evading it (Roberts, p. 18). Still, she cannot completely escape. Her mother forces her to marry and John Sartoris, as her husband, forces her back into skirts. Once again confined to the house, the proper realm of the Southern lady, she is barred from participation in the violence that invigorates and empowers her. She cannot kill Redmond herself, but must send Bayard as her surrogate. She is, for Roberts, "Mars in drag and a calculating Venus who can yet only experience the phallic phallic /phal·lic/ (-ik) pertaining to or resembling a phallus.

phal·lic
adj.
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a phallus.

2.
 frenzy of the guns vicariously" (p. 24). It is that conflict, together with the realization that Bayard will not serve as her surrogate, that sends her into insanity and finally banishes her from the plantation.

Similarly, Patricia Yaeger reads the "Greek amphora priestess" as "a vessel ritualizing and containing regional trauma."(10) The struggle to get Drusilla married, played out over the battle for the ballot box, makes the woman into a screen for the "derangements of local and national politics" that the text cannot articulate (p. 207). In this reading, Drusilla is banished from the plantation because she clings to the "banished" code of the Old South; rather than taking hold of the power inherent in her ungendered, or cross-gendered position, she cedes that power to Bayard. The passing of the verbena represents for Yaeger the casual male appropriation of feminine power (p. 209).

Cleanth Brooks Cleanth Brooks (October 16, 1906 - May 10, 1994) was an influential American literary critic and professor. He is best known for his contributions to New Criticism in the mid-twentieth century and for revolutionizing the teaching of poetry in American higher education. , writing earlier, is less equivocal EQUIVOCAL. What has a double sense.
     2. In the construction of contracts, it is a general rule that when an expression may be taken in two senses, that shall be preferred which gives it effect. Vide Ambiguity; Construction; Interpretation; and Dig.
 about Drusilla's character. She is, he says:
   perverted: she is dauntless, but in her worship of honor and courage, she
   has forgotten pity, compassion, and even her womanhood. She is willing to
   send her stepson to his probable ... death because she is utterly
   fascinated by some abstract conception of masculine honor.(11)


What Brooks doesn't seem to see is that Drusilla worships not just honor and courage but an entire lost civilization. She has not forgotten her womanhood; she has renounced it in favor of a greater cause, the dream of a South--the Old South--rebuilt on the ashes of the demoralized, defeated Confederacy. "A dream is not a very safe thing to be near," she tells Bayard. "I know; I had one once" (p. 223). For Drusilla, the war has not ended, and the verbena represents her commitment to continue it, her consecration to the service of Mars. If "the house was the aura of Father's dream just as a bride's trousseau and veil is the aura of hers" (p. 220), verbena, with all of its mythical odor, is the aura of Drusilla's martial dream of violence (Hinkle and McCoy, p. 180).

Drusilla unveils the full extent of that dream to Bayard in the garden scenes, asserting the superior value of belief in a dream over human life: "There are worse things than killing men, Bayard. There are worse things than being killed" (p. 227). The kiss that follows this declaration has been intensely troubling to critics, most of whom have seen it as a seduction scene or as incest. The incest reading may be partially supported by Drusilla's name; in Roman history, Drusilla is the daughter of Germanicus and Agrippina, who committed incest with her brother, Caligula. It is difficult, however, to connect such a reading to the rest of the novel, or even to the rest of the story. Similarly, as a seduction scene, the garden kiss seems out of place. Faulkner himself denied any romantic interest between Drusilla and Bayard.(12) Why, then, does Drusilla seduce Bayard?

Witt asserts, correctly I think, that the kiss is a test of Bayard's courage (p. 76); it is also a test of his commitment to her dream and to the Southern code. Drusilla's command follows Bayard's promise to George Wyatt to talk to his father about Redmond, and his own expression of self-disgust over his murder of Grumby. Drusilla replies that "You never will [forget Grumby]. I wouldn't let you" (p. 227). Bayard should feel no regret for Grumby, since he murdered according to the code, and Drusilla reads his remorse as weakness. For her, belief, any belief, is worth killing and dying for, and the value of human life pales by comparison. As she speaks, "the scent of the verbena in her hair seemed to have increased a hundred times, to have got a hundred times stronger, to be everywhere in the dusk" (p. 227). She uses the same tone to command Bayard to kiss her that she will later use to command him to take the pistols (p. 237), and she assumes the same amphoric posture in both scenes. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, in the garden as in the drawing room, Drusilla is functioning as a priestess of the Old South. The kiss is undeniably seductive, but it is, as Witt points out, an archetypal ar·che·type  
n.
1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: "'Frankenstein' . . . 'Dracula' . . . 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' . . .
 seduction (p. 76); Bayard thinks of "the woman of thirty, the symbol of the ancient and eternal Snake" (p. 228). In her role as a priestess, marked by the burgeoning odor of verbena, Drusilla symbolizes the seductive power of violence, of the code. In this moment, Drusilla offers the amphora, "the empty and formal gesture of all promise" (p. 228). As when she kisses Bayard's hand (p. 238), her kiss in the garden serves as a seal, consecrating him to the sacred task of upholding the code.

With the kiss, she reminds Bayard of his duty under the code, and then challenges him to talk to his father: "Tell John. Tell him tonight" (p. 229). Hinkle and McCoy point out that everyone seems to have assumed that she is commanding him to tell his father about the kiss (p. 190). In this case, Wyatt's message to John Sartoris, and Bayard's dilemma regarding it, is lost, and the seduction scene is oddly unconnected to the rest of the story. This also doesn't make sense in the context of Faulkner's assertion that Bayard "had never felt of her [Drusilla] romantically I am quite sure because his father had stamped the whole tone of that household with his, the father's, importance, that nobody would have dared tamper with his wife, for instance" (Gwynn and Blotner, p. 256).John Sartoris's nonchalant response to Bayard's declaration would certainly be at odds with this statement. Assuming instead, as Hinkle and McCoy do, that Bayard goes to convey Wyatt's message, the scene makes more sense. Wyatt's request triggers Bayard's growing discomfort with his father's behavior and his own past, a doubt Drusilla hears in his grim assertion that he will never be able to forget Grumby. She responds to his refusal to kiss her on the grounds that she is his father's wife with a string of irrelevancies:
      "Kiss me, Bayard."

      "No. You are Father's wife."

      "And eight years older than you are. And your fourth cousin too. And I
      have black hair. Kiss me, Bayard." (pp. 227-228)


Drusilla's reply could be read as flirtatious, but it also classifies Bayard's objection as irrelevant, which it is, because Drusilla's intent is not sexual. Instead, she wants to remind Bayard of the power of the codes of the Old South, and of her dream of their revival.

Bayard rejects that martial dream, but he has nothing with which to replace it. It provides the only example of manly courage he can look to. He has come of age in the aftermath of the Civil War, watching those crippled men respond automatically according to an outmoded idea of honor, reliving the emasculating experience of war in the endless continuation of violence. With that image before him, he can conceive of Verb 1. conceive of - form a mental image of something that is not present or that is not the case; "Can you conceive of him as the president?"
envisage, ideate, imagine
 no other kind of courage, no other behavior that could be called manly or honorable. Indeed, he has himself acted violently, brutally, killing Grumby and defiling his body, impelled by the demands of the Southern code--driven, indeed, by the death of Granny, the other defiant woman in the book.

Even so, he intuitively knows that the pattern of violence must be broken, knows it so deeply that "it went further than just having been learned" (p. 217), so forcefully that he can consider denying all of the "blood and raising and background" that tell him otherwise. The New South cannot be simply a continuation of the Old. Forced by his father's death to act on the principles he has been developing, he still cannot reconcile the conflict between what the South has taught him and what he knows intuitively. Planning to defend his principles by breaking the code and avoiding the expected confrontation, he concedes the cowardice Cowardice
See also Boastfulness, Timidity.

Acres, Bob

a swaggerer lacking in courage. [Br. Lit.: The Rivals]

Bobadill, Captain

vainglorious braggart, vaunts achievements while rationalizing faintheartedness. [Br. Lit.
 of his scheme. Only a young man, he says, can be expected to defy the Southern code of honor so blatantly, "one still young enough to have his youth supplied him gratis GRATIS. Without reward or consideration.
     2. When a bailee undertakes to perform some act or work gratis, he is answerable for his gross negligence, if any loss should be sustained in consequence of it; but a distinction exists between non-feasance and
 as a reason (not an excuse) for cowardice" (p. 217). He does not have the courage of his convictions, only the firm belief that cowardice is the moral choice. The conflict between morality and honor is unresolvable; he can see no way to preserve both. Either choice will require the power of verbena, the courage either to go into battle or to seek peace.

Bayard's indecision is reflected in the stagnancy of the weather that will not break, "the hot thick dusty darkness quick and strained for the overdue equinox like a laboring delayed woman" (p. 214). The South is poised at the equinox, the moment of the season's turning, unable to make the final change. Bayard's decision--to continue the cycle of violence or defy the Southern code--will determine whether the corner is turned, whether the South can enter into a new era. The reference to the equinox places Bayard and Drusilla within a framework of ancient ritual, suggesting the necessity of some kind of sacrifice to release the laboring earth and bring on the delayed change of season.

Drusilla and Bayard stand at opposite poles of the equinox. Drusilla, the priestess of the Old South, demands an actual blood sacrifice, whether it be Redmond's or Bayard's. For her, change means only continuity; literally, new blood. Still effectively living in the last years of the war, she cannot envision a New South that is substantially different from the Old, a path to honor that is not paved with violence and cemented with blood. Accordingly, she seeks to midwife the equinox by giving the son the tools to wreak the father's vengeance. Garbed in the ceremonial regalia of the Southern lady, she brings the pistols to Bayard and bestows her verbena on him, investing him with his spiritual inheritance. Unaware of his decision, she renounces verbena for herself: "I have smelled it above the odor of courage; that was all I wanted" (p. 238).

Bayard accepts the verbena but not in the spirit in which Drusilla offers it. She has abjured verbena; he has abjured killing. The choice of word here is significant; abjuration carries undertones of religious renunciation The Abandonment of a right; repudiation; rejection.

The renunciation of a right, power, or privilege involves a total divestment thereof; the right, power, or privilege cannot be transferred to anyone else.
, as in the recanting of a formerly held belief. Though she does not renounce her belief in the cult of violence, Drusilla does renounce her place in that cult, ceding it to Bayard--whose cowardly plan, in her eyes, renders him unworthy. As Witt says, "He is becoming the priest of the new South as Drusilla has been the priestess of the old South" (p. 80). But Drusilla believes she is handing him a talisman of war, continuing her own faith in violence. She intends to anoint a·noint  
tr.v. a·noint·ed, a·noint·ing, a·noints
1. To apply oil, ointment, or a similar substance to.

2. To put oil on during a religious ceremony as a sign of sanctification or consecration.

3.
 a new priest, but, confronted with the realization of his intended cowardice, believes she has instead designated a sacrificial victim, whose weakness marks the end of her dream. Her wearing of verbena--once used as an herb for easing childbirth--is ironic here and her passing of it to Bayard pointedly symbolic; given the choice, she would delay the laboring of the equinox and the delivery of the new season Bayard's defiance will usher in Verb 1. usher in - be a precursor of; "The fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in the post-Cold War period"
inaugurate, introduce

commence, lead off, start, begin - set in motion, cause to start; "The U.S.
.

Bayard, contemplating his intuitive aversion to the violence of the Southern code, first thinks to deliver the new season by breaking completely with the old. His defiance of the code means turning his back on all he has been taught, completely reimagining his place in the world. However, he realizes that, while he will not kill, neither can he abandon his family's honor. He will face Redmond, as the code requires, but he will go unarmed; finally, he wins the physical courage of his principles. In the end, he does not deny the sacrifice, nor offer himself as sacrifice, but ritualizes the literal sacrifice Drusilla's code would demand.(13) Facing Redmond unarmed, he enacts the form of the duel, retains the ceremony, but refuses the violence. This decision retains the form of the Southern code but shifts its symbolic weight, mutates it.

In fact, Bayard's mutation of the code is perhaps a more pure representation of it than Drusilla's strictly violent interpretation. Drusilla's distress springs from her knowledge that Bayard will not try to kill Redmond; justification, for her, results only from violence. Bayard's formulation emphasizes instead the sheer courage required by confrontation, the moral necessity of preserving both principles and honor.

Thus, in the transfer, verbena becomes a transitional talisman, symbolizing both peace and the enormous price of that peace. Bayard will preserve the house of Sartoris, but likely at the cost of his own lifeblood. "I must live with myself, you see," he tells Aunt Jenny Aunt Jenny was an advertising character created for Spry Vegetable Shortening. Primarily portrayed by Edith Spencer, Aunt Jenny was best known as host and narrator of the long-lived radio show, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories  (p. 240). The statement is ironic, since he is unlikely to live long if his confrontation with Redmond proceeds as a Southern duel of honor should.

As Bayard moves toward the final confrontation, the verbena undergoes another symbolic transformation, becoming the protective token of the battlefield. The odor of the verbena becomes overpowering as he crosses to Redmond's office, so that he moves "in a cloud of verbena" (p. 246), finally becoming "enclosed in the now fierce odor of the verbena sprig" as he enters the building (p. 247). That enclosure protects him as much from men like George Wyatt, who has "that same rapport for violence which Drusilla had" (p. 250) as from Redmond. As Aunt Jenny recognizes, the real danger to Bayard is that he will be pressured into abandoning the principles he has formulated for himself and become a reincarnation of his father--that he will finally become The Sartoris. Brooks cautions against misreading this story "by underestimating the claim of the community on Bayard's loyalty or by regarding this claim as simply a baleful and degrading inertia."(14) Bayard's battle is as much with this community, which expects him to kill or be killed with a gun in his hand, as it is with his own sense of honor and moral right. Better even that he should "spend the day hidden in the stable loft" (p. 243) than that he should succumb to mistaken, outdated notions of heroism and courage, that he should preserve the family honor at the cost of his own.

By the time Bayard returns, victorious, to Sartoris, the scent of the verbena has faded so that the funeral flowers almost overpower o·ver·pow·er  
tr.v. o·ver·pow·ered, o·ver·pow·er·ing, o·ver·pow·ers
1. To overcome or vanquish by superior force; subdue.

2. To affect so strongly as to make helpless or ineffective; overwhelm.

3.
 it. Death has finally overtaken the martial spirit of the Old South. The odor of verbena lingers, though, in Bayard's room, where Drusilla has left a sprig before departing for Montgomery. If, as Faulkner once said in an interview, the sprig signifies "that she [Drusilla] realized that [facing Redmond unarmed] took courage too and maybe more moral courage than to have drawn blood, or to have taken another step in an endless feud of an eye for an eye" (Gwynn and Blotner, p. 42), it also signifies an irrevocable changing of the guard. By leaving the verbena, Drusilla reasserts her renunciation of her role as a priestess of violence. Passing on her last sprig of verbena, Drusilla finally relinquishes her role as guardian of the dream of the Old South. Along with his moral courage, she recognizes the power of Bayard's new dream. Like George Wyatt, who says to Bayard after Redmond flees, "You aint done anything to be ashamed of. I wouldn't have done it that way, myself.... Maybe you're right, maybe there has been enough killing in your family ..." (pp. 250-251), she can appreciate his courage--she can even acknowledge that his way might be the right choice--but she cannot see a place for herself in this new dream. She is, as Faulkner himself says, "too old, ... still too involved in it to accept that morally" (Gwynn and Blotner, p. 42).

In a certain sense, too, the sprig of verbena left behind can be seen as a kind of bridal gift as well, a blessing on the newly re-founded house of Sartoris. "[F]illing the room, the dusk, the evening" with its distinctive odor (p. 254), the verbena becomes a kind of benediction benediction [Lat.,=blessing], solemn blessing usually administered in the name of God by a priest or a minister. The temple worship at Jerusalem had fixed forms of benedictions, and Christians have always given them an important place in ceremony, especially at the  on the house. The battlefield recedes before the peace of the evening; the need to mask the scent of courage, the desperate will to endure embodied in John Sartoris, has died with him. Bayard's courage, springing from hope rather than despair, needs no such mask. Granted peace by the talisman of verbena, Bayard can move onward to the construction of a New South, haunted, perhaps, but no longer paralyzed by its violent past.

(1) William Faulkner, The Unvanquished (1938; rpt. NewYork: Vintage International, 1991), p. 218.

(2) Winifred L. Frazer, "Faulkner and Womankind--`No Bloody Moon'," in Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi The University Press of Mississippi, founded in 1970, is a publisher that is sponsored by the eight state universities in Mississippi:
  • Alcorn State University
  • Delta State University
  • Jackson State University
  • Mississippi State University
, 1986), p. 179, n10.

(3) Jane Isbell Haynes, "Faulkner's Verbena," Mississippi Quarterly, 33 (Summer 1980), 356.

(4) James Hinkle and Robert McCoy, Reading Faulkner: The Unvanquished, Reading Faulkner Series, ed. Noel Polk (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995), p. 7.

(5) Thomas L. McHaney, William Faulkner's The Wild Palms: A Study (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1975), p.20.

(6) Robert W. Witt, "On Faulkner and Verbena," Southern Literary Journal, 27 (Fall 1994), 74, emphasis in original.

(7) Some useful sources of flower lore include Katherine M. Beals, Flower Lore and Legend (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Henry Holt & Co., 1917); Rev. Hilderic Friend, Flowers and Flower Lore (New York: John Alden John Alden (1599?–September 22 1687) was one of the Pilgrims who emigrated to America in 1620 on the Mayflower and founded the Plymouth Colony. He was originally hired by William Bradford and others to be their cooper.  Publishers, 1889); Ernst and Johanna Lehner, Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants, and Trees (New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1960), and Ippolito Pizzetti and Henry Cocker, Flowers: A Guide for Your Garden (NewYork: Harry N. Abrams, 1975). Besides the sources cited in this paper, William Walker William Walker may refer to:
  • William Aiken Walker (1839-1921), an American artist
  • William Walker (soldier) (1824–1860), U.S. soldier and filibuster who tried to conquer Central America; briefly ruled Nicaragua
 also briefly discusses the mythological uses of verbena in his "The Unvanquished--The Restoration of Tradition," in Reality and Myth: Essays in American Literature in Memory of Richmond Croom Beatty, ed. William E. Walker and Robert L. Welker (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press Vanderbilt University Press, founded in 1940, is a university press that is part of Vanderbilt University. External link
  • Vanderbilt University Press
, 1964), pp. 292-293.

(8) Joan M. Serafin, Faulkner's Uses of the Classics (Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, city (1990 pop. 109,592), seat of Washtenaw co., S Mich., on the Huron River; inc. 1851. It is a research and educational center, with a large number of government and industrial research and development firms, many in high-technology fields such as : UMI UMI University Microfilms International
UMI United States Minor Outlying Islands (ISO Country code)
UMI University of Miami
UMI Universal Management Infrastructure (IBM) 
 Research Press, 1983), p. 145.

(9) Diane Roberts, Faulkner and Southern Womanhood (Athens: University of Georgia Press The University of Georgia Press or UGA Press is a publishing house and is a member of the Association of American University Presses.

Founded in 1938, the UGA Press is a division of the University of Georgia and is located on the campus in Athens, Georgia, USA.
, 1994), p. 15.

(10) Patricia Yaeger, "Faulkner's `Greek Amphora Priestess': Verbena and Violence in The Unvanquished," in Faulkner and Gender: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1994, ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996), p. 206.

(11) Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many : Yale University Yale University, at New Haven, Conn.; coeducational. Chartered as a collegiate school for men in 1701 largely as a result of the efforts of James Pierpont, it opened at Killingworth (now Clinton) in 1702, moved (1707) to Saybrook (now Old Saybrook), and in 1716 was  Press, 1978), p. 335.

(12) Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner Faulkner in the University (1959; rpt. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 256.

(13) I am grateful to Professor Thomas L. McHaney for his comments on this section, which helped clarify my thinking.

(14) Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), p. 88.
MARYANNE M. GOBBLE
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Author:GOBBLE, MARYANNE M.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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