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'The Unvanquished': Faulkner's Nietzschean skirmish with the Civil War.

Yet we shall not die unregarded by the gods.

A third shall come to raise oiur cause, a son resolved

honouring his father's blood

A great oath, sealed in sight of gods, binds him to exact

Full penance for his father's corpse stretched dead in dust.

-Aeschylus, Agamemnon

A good war makes sacred almost any cause.


When readers who only know Faulkner's "master works" think of his treatment of the Civil War, the Sutpen saga of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) inevitably comes to mind, or perhaps Gail Hightower's pathetic yet stirring vision of his Confederate grandfather in Light in August (1932). Faulkner's interest in these narratives, however, hardly centers on the war itself, even in Absalom, set before, during, and after the war, virtually nothing is seen of combat, the ravaged countryside, or, except as their physical decline reflects the psychological distress of his central characters, the impoverished condition of civilians. One becomes more aware of the actual face of the war in one of Faulkner's more neglected works, The Unvanquished (I 938), which assembles a varied set of characters (all ages, all classes, both sexes, both races) and subjects them to the twin catastrophes of war and history.

With some rather notable exceptions, however (Cleanth Brooks leads the dissenters), most critics have found it a minor work, and virtually all of them view its treatment of the Civil War as a cop-out, a lapse on Faulkner's part into an easy defense of the Old Order, popularized in an earlier time by romantic and racist Plantation School writers like Thomas Nelson Page.(1) Page and his school, however, were more than romantic; in refighting the moral issues of the war in popular fiction, they sought "justice" for the South, a justice the region failed to achieve in battle.(2)

Nostalgic writing and cycles of revenge have something in common: they both grow out of death and remembrance. Stark Young's romantic best-seller about the Civil War and Reconstruction, So Red the Rose (1934), suggests this fact immediately; the first lines of its epigraph, taken from Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, read: "I sometimes think that never blows so red/The rose as where some buried Caesar bled."(3) Whether or not they had "unjustly slain" relatives to think of as "buried Caesars"--and both Faulkner and Young did--white Southerners everywhere, it seemed, had a story to tell about their experiences during the war. Indeed, Mark Twain remarked in Life on the Mississippi that in 1883, Northerners rarely discussed the Civil War; in the South, however, "every man you meet was in the war ... every lady you meet saw the war," and for both sexes it is "the chief topic of conversation, forming what A.D. is elsewhere; they date from it ... all day long you hear things |placed' as having happened since the waw; or du'in the waw; or be'fo' the waw; or right aftah the waw; or about two yeahs or five years befo' the waw or aftah the waw."(4) Amid Twain's humorous remarks, we find an awareness of the Southern habit of imaginatively interbraiding the war, tale-telling, self and history. But Twain also understood the stultifying influence of the war, which extended the sway of pretentious, romantic narrative and language over Southern letters, a tendency that had begun decades earlier with the vogue for Scott's novels: "Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character ... that he is in great measure responsible for the war ... the North had thrown out that old inflated style, whereas the Southern writer still clings to it ... the authors write for the past, not the present; they use obsolete forms and a dead language. But when a Southerner of genius writes modern English, his book goes upon crutches no longer, but upon wings ... (pp. 501-502).

But even those who eschewed flowery language in favor of vigorous modernism continued to write about the war. As Lewis Simpson has observed, the obligation of the Southern writer "to serve as a witness, not to the actual historical event, but to the remembrance of it, was a force in shaping the vocation of the writer in the South from Thomas Nelson Page to Ellen Glasgow to Faulkner, Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren, and Eudora Welty.(5)

Indeed, some of the best writing about the war occurred much later, when grandchildren of combatants looked back to the most stirring event in their family's history. This was certainly true for Stark Young, whose novel quickly transforms its lighthearted opening motif of veranda banter into a more serious formulation. A character remarks, 'I haven't forgotten what your father said to me when my husband died. That a sacred memory is the most valuable thing one may have, to live by through the years' (p. 76), a line that reverberates with the credo of the Lost Cause.(6) This cult of remembrance intruded repeatedly in everyday conversation, but was carried on more formally by many civic and religious organizations, and found its most permanent expression in the arts, particularly in literature, perversely illustrating Nietzsche's observation that we have art in order not to die of the truth.(7)

The opportunities and problems attendant upon such a cultural inheritance for a writer are best examined in the work of the South's greatest writer, Stark Young's good friend and fellow Mississippian, William Faulkner, who no doubt read So Red the Rose with great interest, both because it treated his own state and culture, and because its popular success pointed to an opportunity for Faulkner to mine his own family's Civil War lore. The book Faulkner then wrote, however, The Unvanquished, stands apart from the nostalgic tradition epitomized by So Red the Rose, which though beautifully written, was replete with all the cliches of the genre. Faulkner, even while using and exploiting that tradition by incorporating elements not only of Young's novel, but also earlier ones such as Thomas Nelson Page's Red Rock (1899), transcended it. This authorial traffic operates both ways, however; Young, a frequent visitor to Oxford, borrowed from Faulkner family myths to augment those of his own family; he had already based some of the characters in his 1928 novel, The Torches Flare, on Faulkner and his family, and had noted Faulkner's transformation of the Falkner family legends into fiction in the opening pages of Sartoris (1929). There, Bayard I is an aide-de-camp of Jeb Stuart, just as Young's character Duncan Bedford is in So Red the Rose.

Despite these cross-currents, the attitudes of the two authors toward their material could hardly be more different. Over two hundred pages pass by in Young's novel before the war actually intrudes, in the form of young Edward McGehee's coffin, which is brought home to Montrose after Shiloh. Before this rupture, Young leisurely demonstrates, through a careful amassing of quotidian detail, the textures of Southern plantation life. His domestic mode of narration quite resembles the exquisite embroidery of Eudora Welty in Delta Wedding, but also that of Michael Cimino in the first half of his film The Deerhunter, where an immigrant-American community is observed close-up at a wedding for almost an hour before the young men involved in the scene are transported to the hell of combat and captivity in Vietnam. Similarly, after Edward's death, So Red the Rose erupts with violence, death, and transformation. In each work, the author/director seems intent on employing a narrative strategy that best emphasizes what war displaces.

Faulkner, however, front-loads his narrative with gently mocking humor, as he presents Granny and the boys coping with the Yankee invasion of Mississippi, which opens the book. Gradually, however, the mood and tone of the novel darken as Granny and Ringo sink ever deeper into a cycle of deception and thievery, culminating in Granny's murder. The rest of the novel doubles this narrative line with the story of John Sartoris's corruption, fall, and death during Reconstruction, thereby intensifying the focus for Faulkner's real subjects, two intertwined questions: how does one view and interpret great historical events, particularly when one is involved in them, and secondly, what is justice? Both issues receive analysis through Faulkner's focus on the cycles of revenge.

As this suggests, The Unvanquished is a far more disturbing book than many readers realize. Far from being a costumed romp, it moves from comedy to tragedy in a probing examination of issues that also troubled Nietzsche: the will to power, the excesses of virtue, the relationship of justice and revenge, and the dangers involved in distorted perceptions of history. It was written at a central moment in Faulkner's career, as he worked simultaneously on his masterwork, Absalom, Absalom!. Writing the former helped him work out problems he had encountered in the first drafts of the latter book; it also began his exploration of the New South and what he would later present as advanced Snopesism on the one hand, and the corrosive racial and historical concerns of Go Down, Moses on the other. The Unvanquished was retrospective as well, in that it reached back into Faulkner's actual and fictional pasts to examine the origins of the lovingly embellished, nostalgic forms of antiquarian storytelling that are exemplified by an older Aunt Jenny and jovial Old Man Falls in Flags in the Dust, two characters who replicate relatives and friends of the Falkner family. Finally, the novel provides the necessary ground, albeit retrospectively, for the World War I edition of Bayard Sartoris, and moves Faulkner even closer to his equally haunted doubles, Quentin Compson, Gail Hightower, Isaac McCaslin, and us. Significantly, this backing and filling in of his "postage stamp of soil" contributed to Faulkner's growing effort to try to explain the present by understanding its past -- particularly its racial past, which is less emphasized than one might expect in The Unvanquished only because he was simultaneously foregrounding it in Absalom.(8) He was aware that this hermeneutic task had implications for the future too, and was correct; for the Civil War and the legacy of slavery haunt us yet.

To accomplish these ambitious aims, The Unvanquished integrates the physical realities of the war with the ambiguous abstractions of historicity. The central focus of the book is the participant observer, Bayard Sartoris, whose changing moral attitudes toward the war, history, and tradition develop through three modes of historical consciousness, outlined by Nietzsche in The Use and Abuse of History (1873-1876). The first phase, the monumental, a preoccupation with the classical and the rare, is necessary for the person of action and power, who requires examples from the past for inspiration and instruction, examples unavailable among contemporaries. Monumentalism suggests continuity among heroic ages, but as Nietzsche points out, it "lives by false analogy," and like the other two modes, can be dangerous when taken to extremes.(9) A second mode, antiquarianism, functions well for the reverent conservator of the past. It endorses tradition and sanctions a "way of life." Unfortunately, it tends to be indiscriminate in equating the past and value, takes a narrow outlook, discourages innovation, and can eventually mummify life, rather than preserve it.

The third mode, the critical way, helps one to break up the past and utilize those elements worth saving in a new construct, while discarding others. But this method, too, has dangers; one can become too cynical or pessimistic to effect heroic action. All three modes can become insufferable, either through "abuse," to use Nietzsche's term, or by being taken too far. Abuse I understand as involving actual corruption, i.e. using the principle to pursue immoral acts. Obsessive extension of the program might not involve conscious malevolent intent, but could have equally dangerous results, including unconscious corruption. Ab Snopes and Grumby would be obvious "abusers" in this reading, while Granny, John, and Drusilla might be judged as taking concepts too far. Faulkner, however, makes his readers uncomfortable by making it increasingly difficult to make a distinction such as this among the book's various transgressors.

As Bayard Sartoris moves through these modes of historical consciousness, we find that other characters share these three stances, illustrating on the one hand that such attitudes toward history play useful functions in human affairs, but that each stance in turn, if abused, can wreak havoc. The stances also dictate certain paths for narrative technique; in dramatizing Nietzsche's tri-partite description of historical stances, Faulkner reveals his awareness of what Hayden White has demonstrated, namely, that these three modes in turn lead to specific forms of respective literary representation: the metonymic, the synecdochic, and the ironic (p. 351).

Faulkner may or may not have read Nietzsche, but he had certainly read writers who were strongly influenced by Nietzsche's thought, such as Swinburne, Mencken, H. G. Wells, Ludwig Lewisohn, and especially Willard Huntington Wright, author of The Creative Will (I 916). Nietzsche, like Faulkner, always understood the man of letters as the custodian of history, and clearly recognized the prophetic potential in such a function: Thus history is to be written by the man of experience and character. He who has not lived through something greater and nobler than others will not be able to explain anything great and noble in the past. The language of the past is always oracular: you will only understand it as builders of the future who know the present. We can explain the extraordinarily wide influence of Delphi only by the fact that the Delphic priests had an exact knowledge of the past; and, similarly, only he who is building up the future has a right to judge the past" (p. 41).

Similarly, Faulkner discounted the benefits "research" could have for a writer, instead emphasizing experience, observation, and imagination.(10) Finally, The Use and Abuse of History was written during the 1870's, when Germany was under the sway of Hegel's rationalist formulations of historicism. Nietzsche believed that Hegelianism was in danger of stifling any creative construction of a new future. Faulkner was dealing with a similar moment in Southern and American cultural development as he wrote The Unvanquished and Absalom, as a Depression-weary America sought surcease in a romantic construction of the past, especially the Southern past, which had now become a national metaphor for America's fall from the pastoral, prosperous golden age into the Dis of urban, economic and industrial chaos.


Born too late for the Civil War, too early for World War II, and cheated out of a combat assignment during World War I, Faulkner had to find something great and noble in the tasks he set himself as a writer. Thus, despite his claim for "experience" and "observation," "imagination" had to provide most of the impetus for The Unvanquished, and this was fuelled by the stories he heard over and over from "these old undefeated spinster aunts" (FIU, p. 249).

Initially, The Unvanquished concentrates on Bayard and Ringo's adolescent, monumental view of the war and their metonym for the South, Colonel Sartoris. Their perspective in many ways matches the naive faith Southerners had in their soldiers early in the war. In "Ambuscade," the boys create a miniature map of Vicksburg out of mud and chips, dreaming of victory and glory as they imagine the absent Colonel participating in such actions. Narrating above the scene, an older Bayard muses: "He was not big; it was ... the things he did ... in Virginia and Tennessee, that made him seem big to us." Astride his huge horse, jupiter, equipped with his sabre, Sartoris looms up like an equestrian monument. His very smell intoxicates Bayard: "that odor in his clothes and beard and flesh too which I believed was the smell of powder and glory, the elected victorious . . . "(11) Later, Bayard realizes that this masked something else, "the will to endure, a sardonic and even humorous declining of self-delusion," a quality John loses years later, when his will to power, already bloated by the excesses he committed during the War, intersects with the corroding currents of Reconstruction.

Heroic metonymy came naturally to a populace addicted to romantic fiction. Bayard notes the presence of novels by Cooper, Scott, and Dumas in the Colonel's library; John has lost one of these romances while in retreat, signifying the diminishment of these sustaining images in a war that increasingly differs from those described in books. Other volumes concern law, history, and codes of moral behavior: Coke, Littleton, Josephus, the Koran, Mississippi reports; Napoleon's Maxims, books of astrology, and works by Jeremy Taylor. Why did Faulkner include this list? Certainly, it suggests the novel's preoccupation with history, the possibility of heroic action, and the need for fighting against seemingly fixed fate, ("the stars"), while staying true to established principles and traditions in the face of changing circumstances. Taylor, the author of both Holy Living and Holy Dying, served as chaplain to King Charles I during the British Civil War, but emerged from the war "unvanquished." John Sartoris has much in common, in his short stature and in his biography, with Napoleon. Like him, he survives initial defeat to wage new campaigns, but ultimately suffers a final defeat. Both begin their careers dedicated to equality and noble ideals, but become increasingly despotic and non-democratic. The monumentalist glorification of Napoleon after his death parallels the mythology of the Lost Cause.(12)

Bayard and Ringo, bearing before them the heroic monumental model, avenge Granny's death during John Sartoris's absence. Her murder offers the most shocking moment in the book, partly because she too receives an ingeniously diminishing monumental presentation. Her "mules and silver" business begins as a comedy, and with the best of motives; after the Yankee commander's orderly mistakenly issues her 110 mules and ten chests of silver instead of the two mules Old Hundred and Tenney and the single chest of silver, she becomes a Robin Hood in Crinoline, stealing mules via forged orders, and reselling them to the Yankees, in order to help the poor country-people near Sartoris. Surely one of the most moving scenes in the book is the Sunday service where she and Brother Fortinbride distribute the illegal bounty to the gaunt, poorly clad hillfolk. Her obsession with endurance and charity, however, leads to the corruption of greed and power, to dealings with the sleazy Ab Snopes and diabolical Grumby, and ultimately to her death. Granny ironically dies because she wants to believe Grumby's claims that he fought on the Southern side during the war, which would make him a gentleman and thus worthy of a business deal. The irony doubles when one remembers she "believes" this on the basis of his tattered raiding commission from General Forrest. As Bayard tells us, "You couldn't tell if the original name [on the commission] was Grumby or not" (p. 171), so she likely places faith in a bogus document, just as her own victims in the Union Army have. The boys, however, are blind to this. To them, she is their beloved matriarch, represents the monumental image of the Southern lady, and must be avenged. Taking blood for blood, Bayard and Ringo nail Grumby's hide to the compress door and wire his severed hand to Granny's grave marker, causing Uncle Buck to attribute their success to their model: "Ain't I told you he is John Sartoris' boy?" (p. 213).

And yet, as Bayard's troubled conscience ultimately teaches him, monumental history lessons, and especially those written by war, are misleading, for each catastrophe one must deal with is different; certainly, the brutal, cold, lonely and terrifying blood hunt and capture of Grumby proves a far cry from Bayard's image of his father's wartime heroics. The guilt it causes is unexpected, and is compounded by his growing understanding of Granny's corruption.

Nevertheless, the nobility of the boys and Uncle Buck's suffering during the pursuit, rather than the actual killing, move us, and parallel the endurance of the gaunt folk who crowd the church for Granny's handouts. Faulkner constantly compares these heroes of the quotidian with the "monumental" equestrian warriors of Confederate myth, both here and in Absalom; his interest in "the structures of everyday life"--especially evident in the scenes that focus on Judith, Clytie, and Rosa during the war in Absalom -- also privileges women and radically undercuts the monumental history then being taught in the schools. In cutting across racial and class lines as well, he expands the synecdoche that Young's characters would use only within their own class, and thus opens the parameters of antiquarian representation. As Nietzsche, Faulkner, and even Young knew, purely monumental history, of the type immortalized in Bancroft's History of the United States (1856-74), ultimately lies, since it strives for an impossible and deceptive synthesis by using false analogy.

We would do well to remember, however, that Faulkner learned more directly about the dangers of monumental concepts of history by studying and frequently honoring the myths and realities surrounding the history of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Falkner, whose fabled exploits as a Confederate warrior and later a frontier capitalist and duelist placed him squarely within Nietzsche's formulation of the hero. Moreover, many of Faulkner's casual remarks betray a predilection for monumental history. He once claimed "From '70 on to 1912-13, nothing happened to Americans to speak of." Thus John Sartoris II, Bayard's son and father of the twentieth-century twins, John and Bayard, is denied the possibilities of heroism: he lived "in that time when there was nothing that brought the issue to him to be brave and strong or dramatic - well, call it dramatic, not brave, but dramatic, nothing hap-opened to him. But he had to be there for the simple continuity of the family" (FIU, p. 251).(13) Interestingly, this description fits Faulkner's father, Murry, even better, as he never served in a way.

Finally, we remember at this point how passionately Faulkner wanted to participate in World War 1, the depth of his disappointment that he failed to do so, and the extent of his posturing, replete with an unauthorized uniform, after the war, as a wounded combat veteran, the man who has passed the hero's "test." His early works frequently glorified and romanticized war and soldiers, as in Soldiers' Pay (1926), Sartoris (1929), and the several short stories set during the Great War he never experienced; in all these military vignettes that preceded The Unvanquished, he frequently further heightened and empowered martial narrative through an overlay of sacral numina. This tendency would wind like a thread through Faulkner's entire life, as a letter to his stepson, regarding the latter's possible induction during World War II, indicates:

But it is the biggest thing that will happen in your lifetime. All your contemporaries

will be in it before it is over, and if you are not one of them, you will always regret

it. That's something in the meat and bone and blood from the old cave-time, right

enough. But it's there, and it's a strange thing how a man, no matter how intelligent,

will cling to the public proof of his masculinity: his courage and endurance,

his willingness to sacrifice himself for the land which shaped his ancestors. I dont

want to go either. No sane man likes war. But when I can, I am going too, maybe

only to prove to myself that I can do (within my physical limitations of age, of course)

as much as anyone else can to make secure the manner of living I prefer and that

suits my kin and kind.

He concludes by hoping his generation isn't going to be regarded as "another batch of decrepit old men looking stubbornly backward at a point 25 or 50 years in the past."(14) Amazingly, Faulkner sent a goodluck piece to his nephew James, about to go into battle in 1943, adding, "I would have liked for you to have had my dog-tag. R.A.F., but I lost it in Europe, in Germany. I think the Gestapo has it; I am very likely on their records right now as a dead British flying officer-spy" (Letters, p. 170).

These episodes and pronouncements, when set beside his fiction, form a pattern of ambivalence toward warfare, which, on the one hand, he sees as glorious, part of a masculine tradition with particular relevance for his family, and the ground for heroic action. On the other hand, throughout his work, and especially in A Fable, Faulkner deplores violence in every form, and understands how dangerous notions of romantic chivalry can be, when harnessed to the will to power. In many ways, this ambivalent attitude toward war and heroism squares with that of Nietzsche, who in The Use and Abuse of History, asks us to consider a man swayed and driven by strong passion, whether for a woman or a theory. "His world is quite altered. He is blind to everything ... though his perception were never so intimately felt in all their color, light and music ... All his judgments of value are changed for the worse ... And yet this condition, unhistorical and antihistorical throughout, is the cradle not only of unjust action, but of every just and justifiable action in the world" (p. 9). Late in The Unvanquished, Drusilla, speaking for herself and John, echoes this concept of origins in virtue: "Sometimes I think the finest thing that can happen to a man is to love something, a woman preferably, well, hard hard hard, then to die young because he believed what he could not help but believe and was what he could not (could not? would not) help but be" (p. 261). Unlike Nietzsche, however, Drusilla fails to see the trap inherent in such a position, and thus embraces what kills Granny, John, and by extension, the Old South. The pattern of corruption exemplified in Granny and John receives grandiloquent codification and justification in Drusilla.(15) She declares John's dream greater than Sutpen's, "which is just Sutpen"--John's, she insists, is for this "whole country which he is trying to raise by its bootstraps . . ." and yet he carelessly kills a poor man who once served in his troops, betrays his business associates, flaunts the community's laws, and neglects his family. As Goethe once remarked, we cannot help developing our faults at the same time as our virtues,(16) and this is the case with Granny, John, and Drusilla as well. They personify how the South, writing its martial and sacral narrative first in deeds and then words, exaggerated its valor, endurance, and courage, but with a mindset that came at the cost of rationality, tolerance, and a sense of true historicity.


Just as stultifying, if taken too far, or abused, is the antiquarian sense of history. Flags in the Dust, set in post-World War I Yoknapatawpha, gives us an older Aunt Jenny and her male counterpart, Old Man Falls, as antiquarian priests of the past. Their lovingly embellished retellings of Sartoris Civil War exploits seem useful to them, in that the stories preserve family legend and tradition and promote narration. This pair represents Faulkner's fond memories of his own aunts who similarly tended the shrine of the fallen. jenny retells the old legends, layering yet another coat of patina on them, demonstrating how language creates and sometimes misleads the process of historical Reconstruction: "as she grew older the tale itself [the story of the first Bayard Sartoris's death prior to the second battle of Manassas] grew richer and richer, taking on a mellow splendor like wine; until what had been a harebrained prank of two heedless and reckless boys wild with their own youth, was become a gallant and finely tragical focal-point to which the history of the race had been raised from out the old miasmic swamps of spiritual sloth by two angels valiantly and glamorously fallen and strayed, altering the course of human events and purging the souls of men."(17) And in fact, the South actually grew proud of its inebriation from such heady brew; in So Red the Rose, a New Jersey professor visiting the South claims, "The fact is it never existed, but Southerners are already busy creating a romantic Old South." Young's mouthpiece, Hugh McGehee, responds, "But the point does not turn on whether some old fool of a colonel -- or some scatter-brained old lady -- is what we think he is--or she is. No, no. The point turns on what we believe in and desire, and want to find embodied somewhere, even in them" (p. 384).

For Jenny's great-nephews Bayard and his twin, John, however, such tales offer a seductive but false image of the Great War they are drawn to, and after John's death in combat and Bayard's return to the South, the same tales provide a condemnatory measure of his failure either to find glory in the war, like John (in deeds and then death) or to bring his brother safely home. As Nietzsche noted, the antiquarian mode is useful only when it is necessary to preserve values; in better times, it only serves to undervalue present growth (p. 20), as it valorizes the past as a golden age, blindly democratizing random elements of that past in a general embrace of synecdoche -- for example, venerating each and every antique object or action simply because of age, rather than practicing a scale of value among antiquities. Such uncritical veneration found communal expression in the various commemorative organizations like the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, and the many genteel authors of the moonlight-and-magnolia school. It has its own trivial form today when antique collectors hang an old butter churn on their wall beside a Rembrandt Peale. More seriously, in Faulkner's time and ours, traditional practices of racial segregation have been venerated to forestall integration. Like Flags, The Unvanquished takes this form quite seriously as a potentially fatal force.

In So Red the Rose, too, antiquarianism has good and bad aspects. As Young lovingly recreates the multiple rituals of everyday life on the plantation, from the conventions of veranda conversation to the matter of table settings, the antebellum plantation clearly emerges as a pinnacle of civilization; all possible exceptions are dealt with through negative stereotyping or comic diminishment, or they are simply ignored. This proves particularly true with the black characters and the overall problem of slavery. The synecdochic approach of the novel is signalled early on when Agnes McGehee declares to a guest, "you may not get everybody straight ... but it's no matter, you can take it all as just one company. I always say to strangers in Natchez they would make a mistake trying to remember each separate person. Yes, I say, they must take it all as one" (p. 10). Accordingly, the war only brings out the best in the characters. The women, already virtuous and robust, become stoic priestesses, first of the homefront, then of the Lost Cause. The gentlemen, already valiant, prove their battlefield bravery, and then, during Reconstruction, their nobility and dignity, by refusing to consort with "trash" carpetbaggers, poor whites, and freed slaves.

Here, Faulkner's contrast with Young again proves instructive. Like many other antiquarian authors, Young falsified history in the service of a racist ideology; Mrs. McGehee's "all" refers only to well-born whites. The omniscient narrator exclaims, midway through the novel, "It was during the siege of Vicksburg that the first negroes were enlisted in the Federal Army. The agents did not spread the information that General Sherman had done this against his will and had declared that as soldiers the negroes were a joke . . . " (p. 229). In the most sensational scene in the book, drunken and cursing black soldiers break into Montrose plantation, invade the pregnant daughter Belle's bedroom, beat her mother, Agnes, torch the library, and deliberately destroy an oil portrait of Henry Clay. Plantation slaves join the looting while the house burns.(18) By contrast, although The Unvanquished deals with race only tangentially, for the most part, it treats African-Americans sympathetically, and shows them as diverse and fully human.

As this discussion suggests, however, both Young and Faulkner seem to agree with Lukacs that "What matters therefore in the historical novel is not the re-telling of great historical events, but the poetic awakening of the people who figured in those events. . . . [I]n order to bring out these social and human motives of behaviour, the outwardly insignificant events, the smaller ... relationships are better suited than the great monumental drama of world history."(19) The difference, of course, lies in the respective author's definition of "poetic," which enjoys a much fuller spectrum of representation and moral value in Faulkner, who has no interest in mere "Lost Cause" nostalgia, domestic detail, sacralization, and historical editing. We know he was intent on avoiding this from his comments in 1934 as he worked on Absalom, which would be tied together by Quentin Compson of The Sound and the Fury; having Quentin tell the tale made all the difference, for as Faulkner explained, the boy's "bitterness," which was projected on the South, "in the form of hatred of it and its people" would be useful in getting "more out of the story itself than a historical novel would. To keep the hoop skirts and plug hats out, you might say" (Letters, pp. 78-79).

Where did these hoop skirts and plug hats go? Obviously, many critics see them reappearing in The Unvanquished. Oscar Cargill, speaking for many, summed it up: "As he smooths the substance of The Unvanquished between his tongue and his palate, the average reader is little likely, so it would seem, to detect any sand in the chocolate cream. The romantic Faulkner has scored a touchdown on the realistic Faulkner."(20) Granny and Drusilla do wear hoop skirts, as do most of the women in the novel, for that is what women of this class wore then. Faulkner uses that skirt, however, to hide Bayard and Ringo after they shoot a Yankee's horse out from under him, thereby providing some rich humor.(21) But the real point of the scene is the unexpected humanity of the Yankee officer, who sees the bulge and says nothing, because, as he says, "I have three boys myself, you see. And I have not even had time to become a grandparent" (p. 38). Colonel Sartoris's plug hat appears, but on his servant Louvinia's head, illustrating the dislocation of a world turned upside down. Faulkner wickedly signifies here and elsewhere on the Plantation writers, whose literary progression into the twentieth century had already produced Young's work, and would culminate in the "hoop skirts/plug hats" synecdoche of Gone With the Wind.

Still, Faulkner and Nietzsche agree that one cannot totally dismiss collectively perceived history. Nietzsche observed the danger we risk by rejecting the stereotypes of antiquarians: "though we condemn the errors and think we have escaped them, we cannot escape the fact that we spring from them" (p. 21). The problem for the artist, who must transform history -- and in Faulkner's case, family history -- into art, is to preserve the figurative ground, while simultaneously stripping away its illusions. Let me put this another way: Ralph Ellison has stated that "Faulkner, perhaps more than any other white writer, started with the stereotype of the Negro minority, accepted it as containing some truth, and then sought out the human truth which it hides."(22) Ellison thus suggests that Faulkner is engaged in an artistic husking of stereotypes, and indeed this becomes his response, not only to racial history but to antiquarian narratives of war and history in general. In all his treatments of the Civil War, he endeavors to recast and reinterpret history, even as he attempts to preserve the still-sustaining elements of historical myth.

As a way of keeping the "hoop skirts and plug hats" from intruding in The Unvanquished, Faulkner employs what I shall call the rhetoric of absence. In the broadest sense, he simply refuses to provide readers with some of the staples of the antiquarian genre, such as long, loving descriptions of idyllic gardens and landscapes, decor, women's ethereal beauty of person and dress, or detailed enactments of Southern rituals such as meals, holidays, and the like. But there are always "traces" of all this, as in Granny's reading of the cookbook, Drusilla's yellow ballgown, or the description of the law professor's study. More importantly, Bayard suggests what has been lost or what part of the Southern dream has failed to materialize by citing its absence; he brings it up and immediately annuls it, thereby providing what resembles a palimpsest, a tablet on which previously erased texts are faintly visible -- or, to use a more contemporary term, he thereby creates the "trace" of a presence. For Gayatri Spivak, Derrida's concept of trace is the "mark of the absence of a presence, an always already absent present." As she points out, in this system of reference, language itself is a trace-structure, effacing itself even as it presents its legibility.(23) Faulkner practices this kind of erasure and deconstruction throughout The Unvanquished. A key metaphor for this process appears early in the novel, as Bayard and Ringo create their children's version of Vicksburg out of water, chips, and mud. Faulkner intends their childish fantasies to emblematize the romantic embroidering of the "Lost Cause" that began even before the war started with the South's grandiose claim for its extraordinary culture, its divinely sanctioned slavery, the beauty and refinement of its ladies and the gallantry of its cavaliers. Faulkner's own relatives were major practitioners of Southern mythology and devotees of the "Lost Cause," and his contemporaries carried the tradition on into Faulknees mature years. Repeatedly, as author he too builds up a house of romantic words, only to demolish it time after time, with modernist irony and skepticism. Like Loosh, the soon-to-be-freed slave who sweeps the chiptown down, saying "There's your Vicksburg!" (p. 5), Faulkner deconstructs readers' romantic notions about Southern history, saying, "There's your Lost Cause!" Again, this links Faulkner with Nietzsche. The philosopher thought that tragedy worked in a similar manner: "It shares with the Apollonian the strong delight in illusion and contemplation, and yet it denies that delight, finding an even higher satisfaction in the annihilation of concrete semblances."(24)

Another remarkable aspect of The Unvanquished, its gradual stylistic shift from comedy to tragedy, has contributed to general critical revaluation of the novel. In 1930, Faulkner had dazzled the critics with his intermingling of grotesque humor and profound tragedy in As I Lay Dying, a self-described "tour-de-force." Paradoxically, Faulkner's switch to a traversal, rather than a scrambling of the generic spectrum in The Unvanquished has led some critics to dismiss the book. But we may appreciate more his method of gradually moving from jovial comedy to brooding tragedy if we consider Bakhtin's discussion of how epic, tragic, lyric, and philosophical works have inevitably become subjects of parodic mimicry. "It is as if such mimicry rips the word away from its object, disunifies the two, shows that a given straightforward generic word -- epic or tragic -- is one-sided, bounded, incapable of exhausting the object; the process of parodying forces us to experience those sides of the object that are not otherwise included in a given genre or a given style." However, he warns, "It was not, after all, the heroes who were parodied, nor the Trojan War and its participants; what was parodied was only its epic heroization; not Hercules and his exploits but their tragic heroization."(25) The South, frequently compared to Troy in its fall, had been churning out sentimental, elegiac narratives and poems about the war for decades when Faulkner began his Civil War novels. Miss Rosa's poetry (which Faulkner pointedly never quotes in Absalom) offers an example. By "ripping away" pious platitudes early on in The Unvanquished through gentle parody, Faulkner sets himself free to reset the pseudo-tragic genre as genuine tragedy.

But always remember the trace. Faulkner has no interest in what Nietzsche calls the practice of "Historical justice," or what we might call today "presentist" criticism. Nietzsche sees this as a "dreadful virtue" because if it has "no constructive impulse behind the historical one" and if one turns all into a matter of historical knowledge, one can destroy even a religion, for "a thing can live only through a pious illusion. For man is creative only through love and in the shadow of love's illusions, only through the unconditional belief in perfection and righteousness" (p. 42). Thus Faulkner's practice of erasure, rather than effacement, punctures false consciousness, but allows transcendent aura and true mythic presence to survive. For both Nietzsche and Faulkner desperately seek the reintroduction of what the former calls "astonishment" into our frame of reference.

Bayard Sartoris employs a language born of history out of romance, but erases it by negation. In a typical passage, the narrator, musing on the reflections of those left on the home front while the war wages, himself reflects:

So we knew a war existed; we had to believe that ... Yet we had no proof of it.

In fact, we had even less than no proof, we had had thrust into our faces the very

shabby and unavoidable obverse of proof, who had seen Father (and the other men

too) return home, afoot like tramps or on crowbait horses, in faded and patched

(and at times obviously stolen) clothing, preceded by no flags nor drums and followed

not even by two men to keep step with one another, in coats bearing no glitter

of golden braid and with scabbards in which no sword reposed, actually almost

sneaking home to spend two or three or seven days performing actions not only

without glory [plowing, etc.] ... Father's whole presence seemed ... to emanate

a kind of humility and apology, as if he were saying, "Believe me, boys; take my

word for it: there's more to it than this, no matter what it looks like. I can't prove

it, so you'll just have to believe me." (pp. 107-108) This type of erasure, which provides our imaginations glimpses of the traditional props of martial narrative but then promptly snatches them away, thus leaves the trace but also serves to underscore the hard truths of war, hidden beneath the glittering stereotypes.(26) Moreover, John's "believe me" summons up the concept of sheer faith, and the aura such faith always casts over its articles.

Bayard similarly retells the definitive action of the war, at least for his boyish imagination, the great locomotive chase that Drusilla narrates in "Raid." Although Faulkner never spells it out, this refers to the famous Confederate theft of a locomotive from Yankee-held Atlanta, and the pursuit Union troops made on a second train. "But they never caught it ... They tore the track up so we couldn't do it again" (p. 112). This thrilling tale also spins out through the language of absence, as it must, for it has to substitute for the no-show of the original dream: "to have it happen, where we could have been there to see it, and were not: and this no poste and riposte of sweat-reeking cavalry which all war-telling is full of, no galloping thunder of guns to wheel up and unlimber and crash and crash into the lurid grim-glare of their own demon-served inferno which even children would recognise, no ragged lines of gaunt and shrill-yelling infantry beneath a tattered flag which is a very part of that child's make-believe" (p. 108). What could be more revealing than the implications of these two passages? All the images of glory conjure up the romantic aspects of war, only to be defaced, erased, culminating in the emasculated image of the empty scabbard (erection/deflation) and the suggestion that it had all been child-like make-believe.

Similarly, Faulkner, by contrast, takes a modernist's pleasure in his brilliant display of war's disjunctions, blurring lines of gender, class, and race. All types of social boundaries topple as the characters struggle to adjust. A good example appears in "Riposte in Tertio," when Granny distributes the profits from her mule and silver operation to the poor hillfolk. Here a genteel Southern lady takes on a male role by leading a congregation of Methodists, Episcopalians, and others in a service of survival, accompanied by her "partner," a black slave. Every class of Southern society crowds into the church to share in illegal booty. Brother Fortinbride's homely eloquence underlines the empty rhetoric of the episcopal divine.

On other occasions, Faulkner's prose employs ingenious spatial trickery right out of Alice in Wonderland to suggest how topsy-turvy the world has become. Bayard has seen his father reduced in several dimensions -- the proud Colonel astride Jupiter becomes a tattered yeoman, sweating like a hog in the swamp to build a pen for his stock. But Faulkner goes much further than mere reduction. He employs a distinctly surreal, modernist mode of psychic perspective that mirrors the dislocations of war. While the first story, "Ambuscade," begins with a monumental, vastly expanded image of John Sartoris, Bayard, while watching the road from the cedar copse for Yankees, falls asleep and seems to watch as the entire plantation vanishes, leaving a space as "empty as the sideboard" (which has had its usual silver service taken away for hiding). A "drove of little tiny figures" appears on it, including "Father and Granny and Joby and Louvinia and Loosh and Philadelphy and Ringo and me." The reduction at play now instead of magnification occurs because of fear -- and Bayard wakes to see a Yankee on horseback, tellingly employed in looking at the house through a field glass. After Bayard thinks he has shot the Yankee, "the house didn't seem to get any nearer; it just hung there in front of us, floating and increasing slowly in size . . ." (p. 30). Other examples could be cited of this surreal mode, which Faulkner employs throughout the novel to suggest the dislocations in perspective forced by the ruptures of history.

Sometimes these disjunctures are terrifying, as when houses disappear; sometimes they entertain. The duelling locomotives, which have left their "trace" in the bizarrely twisted railroad tracks, are pressed into narrative service as warring knights, to make up for the loss of monumental flesh-and-blood heroes: it is "as if the gray generals themselves had sent the word, had told them, "You have suffered for three years; now we will give to you and your children a glimpse of that for which you have suffered and been denied" ( p. 111).

This scene employs one of many stratagems Faulkner devised for conveying a sense of history and great events without attempting to describe in detail the actual historical events themselves. He recognized the impossibility of conveying the scale of the war and Reconstruction in a short novel, so he has only suggestions of the mass movements of troops, of civilian dislocation, of battles; he shows more interest in conveying economic, philosophical, moral, and metaphysical aspects of the war. These concepts fuse brilliantly in the masses of slaves marching towards "Jordan"--lacking an economic base, they seek salvation in spiritual goals. Here and in actual skirmishes with the Yankees, Faulkner, like Scott, Cooper, and Tolstoy before him, selected episodes that represent the historical moment. As Lukacs stated, and Faulkner obviously knew, the historical novel does not replicate history but demonstrates through artistic means the meaning and effect of it (p. 43).


Bayard's own monumentalist and antiquarian veneration of the martial past works, although with diminishing returns, until his father's death forces him to shoulder the task of revenge once again. Importantly, throughout the novel, Bayard has been relatively untouched by the corruption going on around him. He tells us that the mule-stealing operations of Granny and Ringo are largely outside his domain, and during his father's increasingly corrupt activities during Reconstruction, Bayard sequesters himself in a genteel law professor's home. His one sin, killing Grumby, has been a crime of honor justified by his society, but one that has nevertheless sullied his own self-image; he also expresses dismay to Drusilla over John's killing of the Burdens: "They were men. Human beings" (p. 257). He is in danger, however, of being pulled into the vortex, for John tells him "I have not needed you in my affairs so far, but from now on I shall ... what will follow will be a matter of consolidation, of pettifogging and doubtless chicanery in which I would be a babe in arms but in which you, trained in the law, can hold your own -- our own" (p. 266). Furthermore, Bayard's comrade Ringo has likewise been corrupted, relishing the mule-scam operation and suggesting to Bayard that they bushwhack Redmond the way they did Grumby, failing to see the moral distinction between the two acts.

The final section of the book creates a philosophical skirmish for Bayard with Redmond, a man his father has goaded beyond endurance, an honorable man, and a lawyer -- and Bayard is studying law himself He is thus forced into yet another reassessment of his father's history. The solution Bayard works out (confronting Redmond unarmed) redefines the antiquarian impulse to honor the old code of the duel, itself a microcosm of the script of war. Bayard thus moves through and beyond the third mode of history, what Nietzsche called "the critical way": breaking up the past, salvaging its best traditions, and building a new future, which is what Bayard hopes to do, not only for himself, but for his society. The critical way has its own pitfalls, however; its form of literary expression, irony, can deepen into cynicism and pessimism, which can be just as paralyzing as monumentalism and antiquarianism. We find two good examples of this trap in Mr. Compson of The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, and John Sartoris just before his death. Here the thinker runs the risk of finding fault in everything, rejecting the ancestors (and therefore forfeiting the opportunity to learn from both their achievements and their failures), or trusting nothing, even oneself, thus in effect cancelling out the possibility of sustaining the better qualities of the modes of monumentalism and antiquarianism.

Nietzsche recognized this, and warned against an "excess of history" drawn from any or all three of the modes he listed. As an antidote, he championed "the man with the feeling and the strength for justice" (p. 34). This helps us see that Bayard, in seeking justice from Redmond, actually moves beyond the critical mode as well, synthesizing the best of all three modes, in an effort to wrest a positive future from an imperfect but still valuable past. He performs the necessary critical act, yet unlike his father, avoids cynicism; rather, he synthesizes the best of the past, the needs of the present, and a plan for the future, into his quest. As Nietzsche declared, "only he who is building up the future has a right to judge the past" (p. 41).

One must be struck here by the parallels of Nietzche's philosophical project and that of literary modernism after World War I. A tireless literary experimenter and disciple of modernist masters such as Eliot and Joyce, Faulkner obviously saw the connection of these modes of historical perception and the formal techniques of modernism, especially as practiced in The Waste Land. Remarkably, his own breakup and reconstitution of premodern literary conventions so marked in earlier books such as The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying have no equivalent forms here. Corollaries abound, however; Faulkner sets up and then violates generic expectations repeatedly, deconstructing genteel plantation narrative, the idea of the Southern hero and heroine, black/white modes of racial representation, and social hierarchy and tradition.(27) Faulkner's aesthetic objective thus echoes the moral one of his hero--to retrieve amid the ruins that which is best, and rebuild for the future, thereby following Aristotle's paradoxical dictum that all things must change over time if they are to remain the same.

Nietzsche recognized the problem revenge poses for humanity. His alter ego Zarathustra asserts that "man's deliverance from revenge is the bridge to the highest hope ... and a rainbow after long storms."(28) This may seem to contradict his better-known theories of the superman and the will to power, but what Nietzsche meant here was that revenge is driven by the feeling of being vanquished and injured--precisely the motivation of the South in Reconstruction. Revenge, however, is the curse of the South, for its endless repetitions have led to physical devastation, personal corruption, racial catastrophe, and breakdown of the law. Paradoxically, the superman can emerge only when he assigns primacy to life and creativity over violent methods of revenge.

In Nietzschean terms, then, Bayard moves into the critical mode of history and creates a new meaning for past traditions, while simultaneously re-instating the law; he does this by drawing a limited horizon around himself to ascertain his own deepest needs and those of his culture. This involves a forgetting of blindly followed formulas: not an erasure of the past but rather, again to use Nietzsche's terminology, an extraction of poison from the past, thereby achieving, finally, the superhistorical.

How is all this dramatized? Part of the reason for The Unvanquished's lack of prominence in Faulkner criticism stems from Bayard's failure to articulate the intricate thought processes that must accompany his actions. We have no analysis of the way Bayard feels as he goes to meet Redmond; instead, we see what he sees -- the men watching him on the porch of the Holston House, the scuff marks countrymen have made over the years climbing up Redmond's stairs, the small, neat sign announcing Redmond's profession. All of these may be semiotically interpreted, but represent meager fare compared to the banquet of commentary provided in Faulkner's other narratives by Quentin Compson, Darl Bundren, Shreve McCannon, Ike McCaslin, the garrulous Ratliff, or the ultimate gasbag, Gavin Stevens.

Bayard's moral achievement, however, overshadows theirs, and Faulkner does allow him to note in the concluding chapter, "I realized then the immitigable chasm between all life and all print--that those who can, do, those who cannot and suffer enough because they can't, write about it" (p. 262). We perhaps valorize the narrators of Absalom over Bayard partly because it is precisely their tell-all, extravagant rhetoric we desire, rather than his type of restraint. But his narrative techniques are perfectly in keeping with his character; as Gerard Genette has suggested, "Between the information of the hero and the omniscience of the novelist is the information of the narrator, who disposes of it according to his own lights and holds it back only when he sees a precise reason for doing so."(29) Perhaps Bayard, as narrator, believes that only silence can "erase" the extravagances of the monumental and antiquarian modes of history, which lead, as demonstrated, to an excess of metonymy and synecdoche that chokes out vitality.

And in fact, stoic silence and heroic suffering operate throughout The Unvanquished to say what language never can. The woman Grumby's men rape merely moves her bloody mouth to cry, "Kill them"; Granny, Bayard and Ringo, watching their mansion burn, can only endlessly repeat, "The Bastuds." The Unvanquished has been accused of being indulgent and romantic but, in fact, at least in its rhetoric, seems relatively spare, restrained, somewhat Doric, when compared to the Corinthian extravagance of Absalom, which was being written contemporaneously.

Bayard also keeps silent for another reason: his actions, not his words, must speak to the communal representatives, assembled in the square outside, watching. As custodian of community mores, the heir of the outstanding community figure and elected leader in time of martial law, and, after John's death, its acknowledged leader when law as they know it collapses, Bayard knows his role. But he also understands that his father's integrity collapsed under these pressures; in a liminal time, Bayard must set the standard for the intermediate codes. He sees the need to build on the principles of the past, but also knows that the old standards led to the war and ultimately, on a more personal level, to the corruption and death of John and Granny, his actual father and surrogate mother--and these old standards were always crystallized through floods of rhetoric.

Ursula Brumm has suggested that for Faulkner history is a preoccupation, a responsibility, and a burden on the mind, so much so that it required the development of a new technique of narrative structure, a central intelligence, "a character with a highly refined consciousness and conscience, whose main preoccupation was the scrutiny and evaluation of history in its meaning for the present." She also suggests that The Unvanquished is inferior to Absalom because the latter is constructed as the "learning process of a historical consciousness," while the former book is a "historical tale in the straight traditional way ... but experience and recollection ... are not internalized."(30) Brumm's description is quite accurate as to Absalom, but surely Faulkner's route there doesn't invalidate the alternative posed in The Unvanquished; spareness is not inherently inferior to excessive rhetoric, but many critics have shared Brumm's view that The Unvanquished must be given relatively low marks in assessing Faulkner's canon because it can't compare to the rhetorical magnificence of Absalom. Perhaps an awareness of the narrative techniques Faulkner employed for Bayard, which I have sketched above, can help us avoid this impasse in the future.

We can better see how Faulkner works these issues to a final synthesis by attending to the specifics of the final chapter, "An Odor of Verbena." Bayard has been studying law over the past three years, during a time when his father is becoming more remote, despotic, and preoccupied. One of the books previously ensconced in John's library among the romances was Coke on Littleton, and it is precisely this book--a commentary on law--that Bayard is reading as we regreet him, now a man of twenty-four, living in the home of his law professor, Wilkins, who, Faulkner tells us, will later become a judge. This man has gradually become a kind of surrogate father for Bayard, and thus supplements the surrogate mother role played by Aunt Jenny. Faulkner underlines this when Wilkins atypically and violently flings open the door to announce John's death: "Bayard, Bayard, my son, my dear son." Later that evening, at Sartoris, Aunt Jenny will say, "Goodnight, son" (p. 277). These "parents" replace John and Granny, and their modes of vengeance; they are primarily concerned about Bayard, rather than John's sacred memory, but the community expects exact loyalty to blood. George Wyatt, representing the men of the town, bridles when suspecting Bayard's cowardice: "Who are you? Is your name Sartoris? By God, if you don't kill him, I'm going to." After Bayard reassures him ("I'm tending to this. You stay out of it. I don't need any help"), Wyatt too says, "You'll have to excuse me, son" (p. 284). Such authorial maneuvers help Faulkner set Bayard up not only as THE Sartoris, but THE son, who, in an ironic and intended inversion of the Scriptures, may not be allowed to let this brimming cup of vengeance pass from his lips.

Such Christian thematics emphasize Bayard's attempt to replace the Chthonian values of the community with the only others he knows--those of Christianity and civil law. What were Faulkner's concerns here? One had to be the Chthonian nature of vigilante justice (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Faulkner was obviously thinking of the racist and illegal operations of the Klan when he wrote this book, but he prefers to problematize the issue by confining it to situations where the perpetrators have a just complaint, but no public means of redress. Their code of conduct, however, is literally "an eye for an eye," so he and Bayard tread a thin line here, for like the other men in their families and the people of the South after the war, Faulkner and Bayard are supremely conscious of the need for redeeming honor and dignity -- something that at first seems out of reach for a Christian humanist, who might be expected to turn the other cheek.

And indeed, Aunt Jenny has formulated a variant of this formula for Bayard: she tells him not to be influenced by the hysterical Drusilla, his dead father, or the revenge-bent soldiers of his father's old troop; jenny knows he isn't afraid, and says that she will still think well of him, "Even if you spend the day hidden in the stable loft . . ." (p. 280). The identification of the hiding place with the infancy of Christ surely clinches the act of nonviolence with an extremely passive concept of Christianity, the type exemplified by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, who is beaten to death and sainthood without offering any resistance. The problem Bayard faces -- and it is the problem of the South as a whole during Reconstruction -- is the problem of all Christians/humanists in a secular world. Melville, dealing with similar issues in Moby Dick, compares images of God the Father and Christ that have appeared in Italian painting: "When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings."(31) Bayard does indeed replace the primitive concept of Justice with a Christian model, but the image of Christ here is muscular Christianity, a code of strength and courage, whose image would be that brawny, confident Christ of the same Michelangelo's Last Judgment. We must also note, however, that Bayard nevertheless has discarded values he once held, values that led him not only to murder but to mutilation and dismemberment of a dead body. Further, his approach works only because Redmond is a moral man. Otherwise, Bayard would be duplicating Granny's error in meeting Grumby.

Bayard is unarmed, with no weapon either to initiate an attack or respond to one; Redmond has a gun, but realizing immediately Bayard's shift to a new code, is unable to use it except in a parody of its purpose: he deliberately misses the target. This silent exchange between Bayard and Redmond takes place above the gunfire and offers a dialogic for healing and restoration of the law. This is appropriate, for in typological terms, Bayard's mission is to restore the covenant of the higher law, a law that had been disrupted by the Yankee's cruel new concept of taking the war--total war--to the population as well as to the opposing army. Once loosed, this daemon took other forms after the conflict in the terrors inflicted by marauders such as Grumby and his son. Consequently, Bayard and the South must learn to come to grips with history and the endless cycles of revenge by rejecting the past embrace of memento mori in favor of memento vivere. Bayard before Redmond revises the early, hopeful spirit of John Sartoris, the man who created, not the destroyer, and takes it into the realm of "higher law" John never practiced.

In terms of narrative, the creation of a non-duel operates along the lines of presence-by-absence and erasure that we discussed earlier. But the scene also pulls all the strands of the pre-existing levels of the narrative together in a powerful climax, and thus represents a classic pattern in the novel, the testing of the hero. We might add that Bayard is testing himself here as well. The scene thus offers a form of repetition, in that it repeats the testing of the hero that occurred in the search for and killing of Grumby. But Bayard, in thinking through that action and its consequences, now seeks a higher level of conduct, and thus a more difficult test, what Kierkegaard calls a true repetition rather than a mere recollection.

For Nietzsche, revenge forms an insuperable barrier to becoming whole, yet. the antidote is a muscular form of Christianity, which Nietzsche professed to hate; but such an approach of course also recreates what Nietzsche described in a more secular manner: "You will find the virtuous man will always rise against the blind force of facts, the tyranny of the actual, and submit himself to laws that are not the fickle laws of history. He ever swims against the waves of history, either by fighting his passions, as the nearest brute facts of his existence, or by training himself to honesty amid the glittering nets spun round him by falsehood... history also keeps alive for us the memory of the great fighters against history'" (p. 54). Bayard becomes just such a figure in "An Odor of Verbena," as he challenges the desiccated codes of behavior that have until now been central to his family, the Mississippi frontier, and Southern and American culture in general.

Lukacs has claimed that the successful historical novel must depend "upon a rich and graded interaction between different levels of response to any major disturbance of life. It must disclose artistically the connection between the spontaneous reaction of the masses and the historical consciousness of the leading personalities" (p. 44). When one passes Faulkner's text through the filter of Nietzsche's historical prism, it becomes clear that The Unvanquished passes Lukacs' test in triumphant fashion. In his courageous deconstruction of pious histories and narratives, Faulkner locates the pitfalls and possibilities of historical memory and narrative, providing both blueprint and instructions for using the past to rebuild the social and cultural realm we all inhabit. (1) For representative favorable and unfavorable readings of the novel, consult Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner. The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), pp. 75-99, and Michael Millgate, The Achievement of William Faulkner (1963; rpt. University of Nebraska Press, 1978), pp. 165-170, respectively. The general dismissal of the novel began when the book appeared, largely because the proletariat-based critics of the thirties and forties were understandably impatient with works that seemed to deal with romantic formulas and vanished economic elites. Curiously, while contemporary critics will challenge their literary elders quite readily on a "big book" like Absalom or Go Down, Moses, they tend to accept prior negative readings of agreed-upon "minor" works of major authors. This is regrettable, since The Unvanquished could be a central text for some interesting Faulkner critics, such as Carolyn Porter and Eric Sundquist. Porter's Seeing and Being. The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner (Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1981), examines participant observers in the Yoknapatawpha sagas, but ignores Bayard Sartoris. Sundquist's Faulkner: The House Divided (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) discusses Faulkner and the Civil War but doesn't discuss The Unvanquished. Sundquist relegates much of Faulkner's fiction, in terms that would include The Unvanquished, to a shelf of books that are of interest "only because he wrote [them] (p. xi)." (2) The role of popular fiction in shaping the memory of the war and binding up the nation's psychic wounds has recently been traced by Kathleen Diffley's Where My Heart Is Turning Ever (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992). (3) Stark Young, So Red the Rose (New York: Scribner's, 1934), n.p, (4) Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883; rpt. in Mark Twain, Mississippi Writing [New York: Library of America, 1982], p. 491). (5) Lewis Simpson, "On William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!" in Classics of Civil War Fiction, ed. David Madden and Peggy Bach (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991), p. 152. (6) For two very thorough but contrasting views of the Lost Cause and its partisans, consult Charles Reagan Wilson's Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), and Gaines Foster's Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). (7) Cited in Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination of Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), p. 339. (8) John Sartoris's corruption becomes complete only in the final story, "An Odor of Verbena," which was written some time after the first six stories for the final rounding out of the novel. Faulkner's stories "Ambuscade," "Retreat," and "Raid" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on September 29, October 31, and November 3, 1934. A hiatus ensued while Faulkner worked in Hollywood. "Skirmish at Sartoris," which would be the sixth chapter in the novel, was published in Scribner's Magazine in April 1935. After holding "Riposte in Tertio" and "Vendee," the fourth and fifth stories for two years, the Post published them in November and December, respectively, 1936. In 1937 Bennett Cerf decided to publish the series if Faulkner would provide a concluding story and more continuity. Accordingly, Faulkner rewrote the already published stories and added "An Odor of Verbena." Details may be found in John Pilkington, "Strange Times in Yoknapatawpha," in Fifty Years of Yoknapatawpha, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986), pp. 71-89. There are indications that Faulkner also intended Colonel John to be revealed as less than admirable. In his short story "There Was a Queen" (1932) an omniscient narrator reveals that Elnora, a mulatto servant, is Bayard's half sister. Faulkner seems to have barred himself from dramatic use of this information in The Unvanquished by adding that it was likely that neither she nor Bayard knew this. This information suggests that Faulkner might have toyed with the idea of making Bayard and Ringo brothers, but instead worked out that concept in Absalom, for Elnora is Ringo's sister. His parents are Euphony and Simon, the latter being John Sartoris's body servant and companion during the war. John's betrayal of Simon further suggests the sexual triangle of Zack Edmonds and Molly and Lucas Beauchamp in Go Down, Moses. For a detailed chart of Sartoris genealogy, white and black, consult Edmond L. Volpe, A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner (New York: Noonday Press, 1964), p. 67. (9) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, trans. Adrian Collins (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Me 1949), p. 41. (10) Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, eds., Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958 (New York: Vintage, 1965), p. 251. (11) William Faulkner, The Unvanquished (1938; rpt. New York: Vintage, 1966), pp. 10-11. Perhaps to bolster heroic images such as this, Faulkner made a number of changes in the Sartoris story published in 1929. John Sartoris's two daughters are nowhere to be found in The Unvanquished; indeed, one could multiply these sorts of omissions rather easily - where, for example, is the dashing Bayard I, brother of Colonel John? Sartoris tells us of his glorious but foolish death while raiding General Pope's camp in search of anchovies. He is missing here, possibly because Faulkner streamlined his Sartoris material for short-story settings, and then decided not to restore them when he combined the stories into The Unvanquished. Twinning John would have undercut his tragic, dashing presence, especially since Bayard I's death operates in the sentimental, comic mode. Much of the overdone, sometimes silly comedy Faulkner had woven about the original Sartoris tories published in magazines is deliberately pared away too; although the comic central story of Granny and the mules is retained, it changes in character as it unfolds and ends in tragedy. (12) Bayard equates himself, Ringo, Joby and Loosh with Napoleon's troops in their admiration of the similarly small hero, John Sartoris (p. 14), and, in fact, a string of references to Napoleon appears throughout the novel, demonstrating that Bayard's sense of monumental history doesn't come solely from romantic novels; the little general's Maxims are in the Sartoris library, and his monumental history has obviously been appreciated, for Ringo's full name is Marengo. This Italian town was the site of Napoleon's miraculous victory in 1800 over the Austrians under Melas. Desaix arrived with fresh troops to save the French, but was killed during the battle. Napoleon's ability to 'rise again' obviously would make him a figure of added resonance after the war, but he in any case offers a stirring example of monumental history. (13) This statement about the non-heroic John Sartoris II would seem to be one of those instances where Faulkner forgot the details of his prior characterizations. In Sartoris we are told that Old Bayard's son John succumbs in 1901 to yellow fever and "an old Spanish bullet-wound" (p. 90), so he must have participated in the Spanish-American war. (14) Joseph Blotner, Selected Letters of William Faulkner (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 166. (15) Drusilla seems to be modelled on the heroines of the Old Colonel's works about the Mexican War, The Spanish Heroine, a novel The Siege of Monterrey, a poem; both poems feature a heroine who dons a man's uniform and fights on the battlefield. Siege's frontispiece featured a woodcut of Isabel, a Joan of Arc in the field. She begs her lover not to go into battle, offers her body as a bribe, and scoffs at honor (for a full discussion of the Old Colonel and his works, see Donald Duclos, "Son of Sorrow: The Life, Works, and Influence of Colonel William C. Falkner, 1825-1889," Diss., University of Michigan, 1962). Drusilla, by contrast, inverts all three of these goals but offers the same kind of physical bribe to Bayard. But Drusilla becomes transformed by the war and hardened. She becomes a kind of avenging Fury long before John Sartoris dies, helping steal the ballot boxes on her wedding day, then egging her husband on in his ruthless campaign against first the carpetbaggers, which culminates in the murder of the Burdens, and then in his campaign for personal and capitalist power, which in turn culminates in his murdering one of his former soldiers. Finally, when John himself is killed, Drusilla, bordering on madness, becomes a kind of Lady Macbeth, offering Bayard not a dagger, but pistols; to him she is 'the Greek amphora priestess of a succinct and formal violence' (p. 252). She is a monumenalist historian with a vengeance. (16) Cited in Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of history, p. 4. (17) William Faulkner, Flags in the Dust (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 12. (18) In these scenes, the rampant blacks, rather than the Yankees, are the epitome of evil; in the ashes, later, the family finds one "chocolate cup of Dresden, the roses on it still fresh" (p. 345), a talisman of "white culture" unvanquished by the blacks; it is also an eerie Prefiguration of Kurt Vonnegut's metaphor in Slaughterhouse Five (1969), when an American prisoner finds a perfect figurine in the ashes of devastated Dresden. (19) Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (1963; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), p. 42. (20) Oscar Cargill, Intellectual America: Ideas on the March (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 382. (21) Faulkner likely drew his inspiration for this scene from Young's So Red the Rose; there, Miss Mary Cherry, an incorrigible spinster of sixty who visits both plantation homes in the novel, turns out to be adept at smuggling goods in and out of the Yankee lines, putting boots, shoes, and quinine under her skirts. There, the device is played mainly for laughs; Mrs. Bedford tells her ailing husband the stories to cheer him up: ". . . the pickets let her pass," to which he replies, "Now that shows one of two things; either their lack of courage or her lack of fascination" (p. 235). (22) Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (New York: Vintage, 1964), p. 43. (23) Gayatri Spivak, "Translator's Preface," Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. xvii. (24) Friedrich, Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), p. 142. (25) Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dial" Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 55. (26) I spoke earlier of Faulkner's erasures; one reason, perhaps, he was successful in keeping the "plug hats?" and "hoop skirts" out of the book was that Edward Shenton's pictures put them back in. The seven illustrations Shenton did for the book (a frontispiece depicting John Sartoris holding a Confederate flag in one hand and a drawn sabre in another, plus illustrations for each of the seven chapters), with one exception, all include weapons. The other is the portrait of Granny, clad in hoop-skirt and bonnet and holding a parasol (her weapon), walking bravely into the woods to meet Grumby at the start of "Riposte in Tertio." (27) Along these lines, Susan Donaldson, in "Dismantling the Saturday Evening Post Reader: The Unvanquished and Changing |Horizons of Expectations'," in Faulkner and Popular Culture, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990), pp. 179-195, has offered an ingenious reading of the way Faulkner sets up and then explodes conventional readers' expectations, particularly in the final form the novel took after he revised the original Saturday Evening Post stories. (28) Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Thomas Common (New York: Modern Library, 1917), p. 107. (29) Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1980), p. 206. (30) Ursula Von Brumm, "Forms and Functions of History in the Novels of William Faulkner," Archiv, 209 (1971/72), 53-54. (31) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851; rpt. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), p. 293.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: William Faulkner
Author:Lowe, John
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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