About Recurring Events

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About Recurring Events

The story of Yoknapatawpha exists between as well as within the 68 fictions Faulkner wrote about it. Like its people and places, many of the events in its history appear in multiple texts. Capturing this rich intertextual weave was a major motivation behind our desire to re-present his imaginative world in virtual reality, where linkages between events can be given keywords and included among the hundreds of thousands of links in our databases. They can then be discovered by using the Events search engine and Aesthetics>Recurring events>[keyword]

Our definition of "recurring" does not include repeating - such as when, to cite the obvious example, Faulkner republishes short stories as chapters or episodes in novels. Faulkner seldom interpolates a short story into a longer text without any revisions, and in every case the novelistic context always alters the experience of the transplanted text. But our focus here is on the places where he returns to a particular event in the story of Yoknapatawpha, and re-imagines it to some degree in a new work. To cite an obvious example: in Faulkner's first Yoknapatawpha fiction, just about the first part of the county's past Faulkner narrates is Will Falls' Civil War story about the time the Yankee cavalry arrived at Sartoris looking for the Colonel (Flags in the Dust, 20). A few years later Faulkner re-tells this story from the perspective of the Colonel's son Bayard in "Retreat" (33) and again in The Unvanquished (72). The Unvanquished version repeats the "Retreat" text, but they revise the version in Flags. In that first text the Colonel sneaks away, unheroically, but in the last two he rides off in a blaze of glory. [Aesthetics>Recurring events>Sartoris escapes Yankees]

Faulkner's past is not just never dead; it's also constantly evolving. Such differences reflect Faulkner's career-long struggle to bring the past, and especially the Southern past, into focus. A more complex example involves an event that appears very differently in Flags (1929), in Light in August (1933) and in The Unvanquished (1938): Colonel Sartoris killing the two men who come to Jefferson during Reconstruction to organize the newly emancipated Negro men as voters. Again it is old man Falls who first tells this story, approvingly: the two men are unnamed, and after facing and shooting them single-handedly Sartoris apologizes to the landlady of the boarding house where they reside for "muss[ing] up yo' guest-room right considerable" - the dialect is Falls', but the act is that of a courtly aristocrat (Flags, 243). In the next account, however, the story is told by Joanna Burden, a native of Yoknapatawpha but a pariah on account of her ancestors, the men whom Sartoris kills - her grandfather and half-brother; her account of Sartoris shooting "an old onearmed man and a boy who had never even cast his first vote" takes all the shine off the event (Light, 249). The third time Faulkner tells this story, however, Sartoris is again a 'gentleman,' and the story gives us his own interpretation of his actions: to hear him tell it, driving black voters away from the ballot box at gunpoint and killing the (again unnamed) men who seek to protect their right to vote is "working for peace through law and order" (208). But that's not the last word: later in The Unvanquished Bayard and the Colonel's widow, Drusilla, discuss this event; Bayard is uncomfortable with the killing, but Drusilla denies that the Reconstruction agents are even "human beings" - they are "foreigners who had no business here" (223). All three versions and all five perspectives are imaginary - but behind them and these revisions is Faulkner's real moral struggle with issues like slavery, segregation and voter disenfranchisement, the ferment out of which so much of Yoknapatawpha comes. [Aesthetics>Recurring events>Negro voting]

Not all the recurring events differ in such thematically significant ways, but we have put this index together in the belief that there is always something to learn by studying the way Faulkner tells and then re-tells 'what happened' in his world. You'll find many occasions in the index to note Faulkner's inconsistencies. For example, Quentin Compson is still a child when Nancy confronts Stovall in "That Evening Sun" (291), but it must be two decades later when the same event (as described by Temple Drake) takes place in Requiem for a Nun (96). [Aesthetics>Recurring events>Nancy confronts white man]

Faulkner's carelessness about details is well-known, but it would be a mistake simply to dismiss these inconsistencies on that basis. Also in Requiem Temple recalls, as part of her ordeal with Popeye, that Gavin Stevens said "there is a corruption even in just looking at evil" (102). In 'fact,' however, Faulkner hadn't even introduced Gavin into his cast of Yoknapatawpha characters when he wrote Sanctuary, where it's Horace Benbow who says that "there's a corruption about even looking upon evil" (129). Recognizing that Faulkner chose to take the words out of Horace's mouth and put them into Gavin's made me realize how, over the course of his career, Faulkner mentioned Horace by name for the last time in Sanctuary just a few months before introducing Gavin for the first time in "Hair" (Februrary and May, 1931). Horace was the first major character who recurs in Faulkner's fictions (Flags and Sanctuary). While he then disappears, Gavin goes on to appear in 16 more texts. What role does each character play in his imagination? What led him to replace "Horace" with "Gavin"? [Aesthetics>Recurring events>Looking upon evil]

The recurring episodes prompt many such questions. But together they also indicate a fundamental truth about Faulkner's art, one with particular relevance for our revisionist moment. In Absalom, Absalom! the story of Thomas Sutpen is told and interpreted by a number of different narrators. Their differing accounts about who Sutpen or Bon was and what these characters mean tell us something about Sutpen and Bon, but probably more about each narrator and his or her preconceptions and desires, and also a lot about the larger human longing to create a narrative about 'the past' as a way of locating ourselves in the world. Just as readers should consider each narrator's account in Absalom! in the context of the others', so we can consider the 68 Yoknapatawpha fictions as 'chapters' in the ongoing story of Yoknapatawpha and its past that Faulkner keeps returning to and re-imagining. The first time Faulkner describes the scene in which a black slave, Ringo, whips a white man, Ab Snopes, it's in the patrician voice of Bayard Sartoris ("Vendee" and The Unvanquished, 109 and 175). The next time Ab's whipping is described (in The Hamlet 32, a few years later in Faulkner's career) it's in the vernacular idiom of V.K. Ratliff, and Ringo's agency as well as his name have been erased. Do either Bayard or Ratliff speak 'for' Faulkner? Does Faulkner's fiction subvert a stereotype by empowering a black character? or (especially considering the racist term that Ratliff uses instead of Ringo's name) does it perpetuate white supremacy? Does it do both? His 'past' is never finished: the world he creates and re-creates is his always ongoing effort to define himself. Appreciating how his art explores the human struggle to find or make the world a place we can call home is part of the challenge of reading Faulkner, and a great reminder of why we read him. [Aesthetics>Recurring events>Ringo whips Ab]

Our index lists the texts, event by event, in the order of the texts' publications. Looked at that way, the list itself suggests another aspect of Faulkner's career: while at first the stories he told and re-told tended to be focused narrowly on his own central characters (Sartorises, Compsons, and so on), by the end his interest in Yoknapatawpha's history was broadening to include the county's first settlers and first motor cars. However, I have not found a single narrative arc that adequately characterizes the way Faulkner's 'past' changes. As far as I can tell, it doesn't move steadily toward or away from any particular perspective, nor could I feel confidence in any prediction about what - if Faulkner had ever lived to write it - another account of Sartoris' killing those men whom Will Falls calls "cyarpet-baggers" and Joanna calls family and Drusilla calls "pirates" and Bayard calls "human beings" might had said. All things considered, in particular the way in which his cumulative Yoknapatawpha fictions resist imposing any monolithic narrative on his own past, I think this lack of 'consistency' is a great strength.

There's another category of recurrence that our index does not include - what we can call rhyming events. By that I mean, for example, the symbiotic relationship between the critique of the Old South that he's writing in Absalom! at the same time that he's composing an essentially nostalgic account of that past in The Unvanquished. At the start of Absalom! a man who represents a threat to the status quo is shot at the gate of a slave plantation. At the start of The Unvanquished a man who represents a threat to the status quo is shot at the gate of a slave plantation. In one case it's the bi-racial half-brother of the man who kills him. In the other it's a Yankee cavalryman whose horse is killed. There are a number of such doubled with a difference events in these two novels, and this category of 'rhyming' events has many similar instances across the canon. To me the most powerful instance: in that first Yoknapatawpha fiction Bayard goes at night into the attic of the Sartoris mansion to open a trunk that contains the elegant relics of the planter aristocracy he descends from (Flags, 86-90); a dozen years later (in the chronology of Faulkner's career) another descendant of the old plantation culture, Ike McCaslin, goes at night out to the commissary on his family's estate and in the cold materialist record of the plantation ledgers discovers the terrible injustices of slavery. Trunk full of family Bible, crinoline ball gown, Toledo rapier; account book full of dollar amounts, bought and sold slaves, miscegenation and incest. Plantation as aristocratic dream; plantation as racist and capitalist nightmare. Each of these events gains meaning in the context of the other and as part of the story of the story that Faulkner is telling in the fictions as a whole. These rhyming events deserve their own index, but I haven't figured out how to codify them consistently.

Finally: I'm sure there are a great many recurring events, even by our restricted definition, that we haven't identified and indexed. Virtual reality (like Yoknapatawpha's history!) is revisable, so if you know of others that we should include, please let us know and we'll add them.

    Citing this source:
Stephen Railton, "About Recurring Events." Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, https://faulkner.drupal.shanti.virginia.edu/content/aboutrecurringevents (Date added to project: 2021)