Frenchman's Bend Church (Location Key)


A Frenchman's Bend church appears in seven-and-a-half different texts. The population of the Bend is probably big enough and at least nominally religious enough to fill more than one church on Sunday mornings, but the narrator of The Hamlet says "the church" in the description of the Bend, as if there is only one (31). On the other hand, The Mansion refers explicitly to the "Baptist church" in the Bend (334); we know that Clarence Snopes, who attends it, calls himself a Baptist, but the novel also mentions the local "revival leader" Wesley Snopes, and 'Wesley' is a very Methodist name. We can safely assume that however many churches might be in this part of Yoknapatawpha, they are all Protestant, and either Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian. And the larger textual pattern suggests that if Faulkner imagined a church in the Bend, he moved it around more than once. In The Hamlet, when Mrs. Armstid looks "up the road" from Varner's store, she sees (in this order) Mrs. Littlejohn's, the school, and then, the church (349). That location puts it on the road that leads to Jefferson. On the other hand, "Hand upon the Waters" puts the "white-painted and steepleless" church beside the graveyard where Lonnie Grinnup is buried on the dirt lane road that leads "back toward the hills" (75). On the whole it seems that the church mentioned in the Snopes trilogy and "By the People" is most likely a Baptist church that is located where Mrs. Armstid saw the church and the churchyard, with its "gleam of marble headstones" (349). The evidence suggests that this is the church that Mrs. Varner - the wife of the man who owns most of the Bend - treats as part of the Varner fiefdom, hiring the ministers herself and "firing them too when they didn't suit her" (The Town, 306). Again following the probabilities, the textual evidence suggests that the church where Grinnup is buried is also the church that Reverend Whitfield presides over in As I Lay Dying and "Shingles for the Lord." Addie Bundren begins her affair with Whitfield at a camp meeting, and although 'camp meetings' were held by other Protestant denominations, historically this form of worship was most associated with Methodism, which brings us back to Wesley Snopes and revivals. "Shingles" describes Whitfield's church in the most detail, as a physical and a spiritual structure. The young narrator of that story lists Armstids, Tulls, Bookwrights, Quicks, Snopeses and Griers as the families that "belonged to that church and used it to be born and marry and die from" (41). Materially, it is one-room and "old," built from wood "long dried out," and "full of old colored-picture charts that Whitfield had accumulated for more than fifty years" (40). It burns quickly. But there is also, the story's narrator decides, something about the church and the preacher and the small community's commitment to it that can be described with words like "indestructibility, endurability" (42). Although the naivete of the narrator certainly provides room for the possibility of irony, the destruction of this church gives rise to what may be the Yoknapatawpha fictions' highest tribute to institutional religion and the communal role it plays. Then there's the 'half' church in the Bend: that is, the "churchyard" where Ellie Pritchel Flint is buried in "An Error in Chemistry" (124). That story doesn't say anything at all about the church associated with this church-yard, hence the 'half': we know there must be a church there, but it's even harder than usual to say where. So rather than try to impose a definitive structure of our own upon these 8 references, we have created this one aggregate entry; it comes with the caveat that there may be several 'Frenchman's Bend Churches,' and that we can only say for sure that at least one of them is a Baptist church, though there is reason to assume a Methodist church is there too. It's important to note that, however many churches there might be in the Bend, the only time the fictions ever take us inside one is when the narrator of "Shingles," right after the church itself burns to the ground, remembers how "during church and Sunday school" he used to stare at "the old long nightshirt" Whitfield wore "to baptize in" as it hung on a special nail (40).

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