The Town (Text Key 229)


The origins of The Town, Faulkner's seventeenth novel, can be traced to an unfinished novel early in his career called "Father Abraham" (1926-27). That story finds Flem Snopes a banker in Jefferson, having left the rural enclave of Frenchman's Bend. For the rest of his career, Faulkner thought about Snopeses. He had the idea for a trilogy about the family by the fall of 1938, when he described the project in a letter to his editor Robert Haas. However, he did not produce the first volume until 1940 (The Hamlet), and it wasn't until fifteen years later that he took up work on The Town, publishing it on 1 May 1957. His working title for the novel was "Rus in Urbe," Latin for "country in the city," which underscores the apparently ceaseless "influx" of Snopeses into Jefferson. He made an early decision to include the episodes from two previously published short stories, "Centaur in Brass" (1932) and "Mule in the Yard" (1934), revising them according to the new thematic demands of the novel. One of those demands was the representation of the reactions of "the town" to Snopeses in their midst. Faulkner lodged those reactions mainly in his three first-person narrators: young Chick Mallison; his maternal uncle, Gavin Stevens; and the sewing machine salesman V.K. Ratliff. In addition to monitoring individual Snopeses, these narrators act as repositories for the stories of people who interact with Flem Snopes and his family. Noel Polk issued the corrected text of The Town in 1999 (Library of America), and Vintage International issued that version in paperback in September 2011; our representation of the novel is based on that edition.

Dating the Story: Dates in this novel are both exactly rendered and frustratingly vague. For example, Eula's gravestone records her life span as 1889-1927, and it's clear that she dies not too long before Linda's nineteenth birthday on 12 April. It is equally clear that Chick claims that he was "just twelve" when Eula died (353), but other events put Chick's birthday in 1913, during the year after the scandalous Cotillion Club ball at Christmas 1912. In determining the chronology for our representation, we kept to a plan that is occasionally at odds with textual details but allows us to create a chronological sequence that adheres to the vast majority of the novel's references to time and is itself consistent. Something like Chick's claim to have been "just twelve" in 1927 is therefore plausible as just that, a claim rather than narrative fact. Another problematic element in Chick's narration specifically is the fact that he narrates many episodes that he either didn't witness because he wasn't born yet (as in the novel's first sentence, for example) or didn't understand fully at the time. The references that he makes to the times that he was "old enough" to understand certain things - like the affair between Manfred de Spain and Eula Varner Snopes (318) - we have dated as 1930-1932, when Chick would have been seventeen to nineteen instead of "just twelve."

First Publisher: 
Random House
First Publisher Location: 
New York
First Publisher Date: 
1 May 1957
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Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Towner, Theresa M., James B. Carothers, Jennie J. Joiner and Lorie Watkins. "Faulkner's The Town." Added to the project: 2018. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,