De Spain Mansion (Location Key)


The De Spains, father and son, appear often enough in Faulkner's fictions and the history of Yoknapatawpha to make the family one of the county's more important ones. And the mansion that the father builds and in which his son lives until the end of The Town, when Flem Snopes moves in, is the mansion in the title of the last volume in the Snopes trilogy. But unlike the other big houses that Faulkner plots on his maps - the Sartorises, the Compsons, Sutpen's and so on - he moves the De Spain place around a lot. In some texts, like "Barn Burning" and The Hamlet, it's at the center of a plantation someplace in the county, but in others, like "Shall Not Perish" and The Mansion, it's pretty clearly inside the town of Jefferson. And the character of the house itself changes between texts. When Faulkner wants to emphasize the difference between the old aristocratic values of Major de Spain and the parvenu tastelessness of the Snopeses in The Mansion before Flem acquires it, the house was "jest a house: two storey, with a gallery [porch] for Major de Spain, Manfred's paw, to set on" (170). But when Flem takes it over, his desire to make it into a "physical symbol of . . . generations of respectability and aristocracy" overreaches itself: he hires a family member, Wat Snopes, turn it into a more stately mansion with "colyms to reach all the way from the ground up to the second storey roof" (171) and even "fireplaces" with "colonial molding and colyums and cornices too" (173), all inspired by a "picture in a magazine." Yet long before it falls into Flem's hands, Faulkner depicts the mansion as far more grand than that "two storey" house. Both Sarty Snopes (in "Barn Burning") and the young son of Mrs. Grier (in "Shall Not Perish") are in awe the first time they see it. Sarty associates its magnificence with "peace and dignity," and his hopes for a better world than the one his father Ab keeps dragging him around in (10). To the Grier boy, the mansion is "bigger than the courthouse," with a yard "bigger than the farms I had seen" (106). In the first of these stories, on the other hand, Ab interprets the splendor of the big house very differently, thinking of the human lives that have been exploited to provide the De Spains with their wealth: "Pretty and white, ain't it?" he says to Sarty; "That's sweat. Nigger sweat" (32). As an artist, Faulkner can hold each of these other 'two storeys' in his imagination, can appreciate the truth of Ab's proletarian critique of the Southern landed class and also believe that when Ab's son Flem takes possession of the mansion it is a usurpation.

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