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A Fable.

Like the works of many other writers of genius - Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce easily come to mind - Faulkner's texts need annotation in order to assist a reader in understanding obscure passages, difficult words and phrases, literary allusions, dialect, and historical events. Clearly, the need for such annotations varies enormously; French readers of Faulkner might need particular help in understanding colloquial phrases that Mississippians instinctively know; Mississippians, on the other hand, might profit from explanations of foreign words or allusions that French (or German or Italian) readers habitually recognize. And who of us has the breadth of knowledge or the mental recall to recognize recondite words and phrases that appear in little-known (or even well-known, for that matter) poems, plays, stories and novels? And as time moves on, and the South becomes increasingly homogenized, both American and foreign readers of Faulkner will be in need of as much assistance as they can obtain.

In this multivolume series of annotations, represented by these five books, the series editor and the advisory editor are responsible, among other things, for matching Faulkner novel with annotator, providing guiding principles and setting academic standards. Even though this series is not a team effort, there needs be a feeling on the part of the user of the series that the various annotators have approached their tasks knowing that they are aware of what the other annotators are doing. The final products should reflect this awareness and demonstrate a general, though certainly not slavish, conformity to format, methodology, and style. Above all, the felt needs and anticipated questions of Faulkner's readers must be kept in mind. Precision, yes; pedanticism, no.

These five volumes are attractively bound, though the camera-ready typed pages vary in readability from one book to another. Linda Elkins McDaniel, Dianne C. Luce, and David Paul Ragan, for example, have put the words and phrases that they annotate in bold face, which sets off the texts and makes them easy to find. The other two annotators have not done this, though Melinda McLeod Rousselle has put the words and phrases she annotates in quotation marks. In addition, the introductions vary considerably in format and intention. They range from Ragan's helpful analysis of critical works that relate various works of fiction to Absalom, Absalom! to Rousselle's rather unnuanced listing of the seven categories of annotations that she has focused on: geographical, cultural, linguistic, legal, scientific and technological, literary and historical allusions, and relationships with other works, especially The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August. It is critical, I believe, that each introduction contain some commentary on the various editions of the novel in question, whether they be hardback or paperback, plus some mention of whether or not the novel is included in the series published by the Library of America. Rousselle and Luce, for example, do not indicate the relationships of Sanctuary: The Corrected Text (Vintage, 1987) and As I Lay Dying.- The Corrected Text (Vintage, 1987; Vintage International, 1990), and these two novels in Faulkner's Novels 1930-1935 (Library of America, 1985), with notes by Joseph Blotner, to the editions of the novels they cite as their basic texts. Granted that the two Vintage corrected texts of As I Lay Dying are the same version, the published books are not identical in page length. It might have been better to postpone the annotation of As I Lay Dying until after the Vintage International edition was published, and correlate the page numbers of the annotations to this edition. While Ragan used the corrected version of Absalom, Absalom! he does not acknowledge the edition of Absalom, Absalom! in Faulkner's Novels 1936-1940 (Library of America, 1990). I do not believe all who use the Garland series will be as familiar with editions of Faulkner's novels as are the annotators, and some clarification, however elemental, is needed. If the Vintage corrected texts, the ones that college students in all likelihood will be using, are not included, whenever possible, in the process of annotation, then those who read these corrected texts, and want some help, will find the Garland series confusing, at best, and useless, at worst. Alas.

In her introduction to her work on Flags in the Dust, McDaniel traces the history of the text, noting, in particular, that while there exists a manuscript, a composite typescript, Sartoris, and the 1973 edition of Flags in the Dust, there is no definitive text. Thus her annotations refer to the 1973 edition and the 1974 Vintage paperback edition, though she does not explain to the uninitiate how the second differs from the first. Yet, such attention to textual history is most welcome in an introduction, and would have enhanced Ragan's, which I otherwise found to have approached the ideal the other annotators might have taken into account in writing their own. Unlike the other three annotators, neither Nancy and Keen Butterworth nor Ragan gives a separate glossary of regional and idiomatic words and phrases. Although each of the five introductions has strengths and weaknesses, the series as a whole could have been strengthened by having all of them follow a similar format that would explore in some detail important topics that relate to the Faulkner novel in question and the problems that face an annotator reading and commenting on that particular text. It is here that the series editor and advisory editor might have exercised a bit more influence.

Calvin Brown's 1976 A Glossary of Faulkner's South gloriously prevented an endless stream of notes and queries in sundry literary journals. The disadvantage with Brown's book is that he listed alphabetically his annotations of the Faulkner corpus, rather than sequentially book by book, as does each volume in the Garland series. Thus a reader of Brown's book has to flip about the pages of his text; for some, this process might be too exhausting and thus limit the value of this book. As in Brown's case, however, each Garland annotator initially faced two basic questions: 1) What words or phrases need comment? and 2) how detailed should the comment be? In asking and answering each question, a prudential judgment is called for, especially in light of the massive amount of Faulkner scholarship. One might nitpick about whether "zinnia" (p. 98 of McDaniel's text), "cicada" (p. 32 of the Butterworths' text), or "District Attorney" (p. 65 of Rousselle's text) needs to be annotated, until one thinks of a Japanese reader of Faulkner's works who might just find American words for certain flowers, insects, and political offices in need of some explanation. Or one might be put off on coming upon "beaver hat" (p. 75 of Ragan's text) and find that it is cross-referenced wrongly to the phrase "So at last civic virtue came to a boil" (the correct cross-reference is listed before this phrase). One could spend considerable time finding fault with the inappropriateness of certain words and phrases selected for annotation, or of the inaccurate cross-references that, in the long run, can be dealt with in one way or another. But that would be a waste of time since all the annotators (and if I had to single out any one, it would be the work of the Butterworths) have been most conscientious about their tasks.

The value of these volumes lies in the amount of detail that opens up Faulkner's works and allows us to appreciate even more the range and depth of his creative genius. As the bibliographies attest, each annotator spent considerable energy researching and verifying words and phrases. Particularly helpful are the comments on the titles of the five novels under consideration. These introductory annotations set a good tone and introduce the reader to the complexities he or she is likely to encounter. Luce, for example, traces As I Lay Dying from Book XI of the Odyssey through to Clytemnestra's plight as revealed in various ways in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis, Sophocles' Electra, Tennyson's "A Dream of Fair Women" and Robinson Jeffers' "The Tower Beyond Tragedy." In this regard, she also cites the importance of Joyce's Ulysses and Eliot's The Waste Land. She notes that "Faulkner's use of the title points to the theme of the domestic versus the quixotic - the irreconcilable values of woman, defender of home and children, whose goal in life is to insure its perpetuation from generation to generation, and man, quester for control and self-aggrandizement, whose goal in life is to achieve individual ideals and to define himself in terms of them." In much the same way, Rousselle cites Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Wilde's Salome, Conrad's Chance, Ezekiel 16, and Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. While some references are more plausible as sources, all show that common bonds exist among creative writers who normally do not fit any expected configuration.

I, for one, am most grateful to have the results of the investigative work that these five volumes represent. They will be helpful to untold readers of Faulkner, including translators, who find his texts impenetrable at times.
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Author:Samway, Patrick
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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