"Appendix: Compson" (Text Key 233)

short story

Although Faulkner published The Sound and the Fury in 1929, his "Compson Appendix" was not written until 1945, for inclusion in The Portable Faulkner volume that Malcolm Cowley was editing for Viking. Since The Sound and the Fury proved difficult to excerpt for Cowley's project, Faulkner suggested that he write a Compson genealogy to reframe the novel. In less than 6,000 words, Faulkner radically reconceives the material of his early novel, sketching a multi-generational family saga through three centuries of British and American history, including Native American, African-American, and Scottish bloodlines. Faulkner once called the "Appendix" a "key to the whole book," though it is perhaps better read not as the definitive version of the Compson family story but as one of his most original experimental fictions, well worth considering in its own right. It is, as Faulkner observed, "really pretty good, to stand as it is."

Faulkner told Cowley that the narrative perspective of the "Appendix" was that of a "bloodless bibliophile's point of view." Rather than an omniscient narrator, Faulkner opted for one who "knew only what the town could have told him." Although that may not account for all of the text's narrative complexities, such deliberate limitations on the narrator may help to explain why the "Appendix" contains numerous discrepancies with other Faulkner texts. In The Sound and the Fury, Caddy's daughter Quentin climbs down a pear tree to escape the Compson house. In the "Appendix," however, Faulkner repeatedly refers to Quentin climbing down a "rainpipe." The precise amount and location of Jason Compson IV's nest egg also vary between the two texts. Faulkner admitted to Cowley that he wrote the "Appendix" without rereading the novel; he claimed he didn't even have a copy of it at hand. But he also asserted that any discrepancies were not merely accidental: "The inconsistencies in the appendix prove that to me the book is still alive after 15 years, and being still alive is growing, changing."

Viking printed the "Appendix" in The Portable Faulkner under the title "1699-1945 The Compsons." Faulkner also gave clear instructions to his own publisher: "Be sure and print the appendix first" in all new editions of the novel, and it was printed that way in the dual edition of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying that Random House published in 1946. In subsequent decades, however, it was relegated to the back of most new editions of the novel, and omitted entirely from some. Noel Polk did not include the "Appendix" in the corrected text of the 1984 Random House edition, or in the Vintage publication of the same text three years later. But David Minter reinstated the "Appendix" in the Norton Critical Editions of The Sound and the Fury (1987, 1994), albeit in the "Backgrounds and Contexts" section. Polk left the "Appendix" out of the 1990 Vintage International edition of The Sound and the Fury, but included it at the end of the 1992 Modern Library volume. The most recent Vintage International edition the novel - the authoritative text for our project - includes it under the title, "Appendix Compson 1699-1945."

SOURCES: Joseph Blotner, ed., Selected Letters of William Faulkner; Cowley, The Faulkner-Cowley File.

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Viking Press
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New York
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Vintage International
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How to cite this resource:
Penner, Erin Kay, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Appendix Compson: 1699-1945." Added to the project:2018. Additional editing 2020: John Padgett, Stephen Railton; 2022: Ben Robbins. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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