Gavin Stevens

Character Key Number: 
Display Name: 
Gavin Stevens
Sort Name: 
Stevens, Gavin
Parent Character Key: 
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 

Gavin Stevens appears altogether in seventeen fictions, making him one of Faulkner's most frequently recurring characters. Details about his past vary from text to text between "Hair" (1931) and The Mansion (1960) - "Hand Upon the Waters" describes him as the last remaining descendant of the original settlers of Yoknapatawpha; "Knight's Gambit" and The Mansion are the only texts to describe his service as a non-combatant in World War I. And in those two later texts he abruptly marries a former sweetheart, though elsewhere he appears to be a confirmed bachelor. But one part of his biography remains consistent: he is the best educated inhabitant of Yoknapatawpha. "Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard; Ph.D., Heidelberg," as the narrator of Go Down, Moses sums it up (353). Despite his experience of the larger world, Gavin returns to acquire a law degree at the University of Mississippi before he comes home to serve Yoknapatawpha as County Attorney in many of the texts, as Faulkner's version of Sherlock Holmes in the six detective fictions published together in Knight's Gambit, and in general as "the designated paladin of justice and truth" (Moses, 364). He defends the people of the county (whose vernacular he knows how to speak) from criminals, the town of Jefferson and even Flem's wife and daughter from Snopesism, and in Intruder in the Dust the white South from the "outlanders" - the people "North and East and West" who seek to "force" civil rights legislation on the region (199). Faulkner doesn't hesitate to undercut Gavin's character at times. The scene between Eula Snopes as seducer and Gavin as affrighted virgin in Chapter 5 of The Town is a particularly comic instance of this. But Faulkner allows Gavin's voice to fill up a lot of pages in the fiction from the second half of his career, not just as one of the narrators of The Town but as someone who loves to hear himself explaining the world to other people. Scholars disagree about whether we should read Gavin as a raissoneur, someone who speaks for Faulkner, but for Charles Mallison, biologically his nephew, psychologically his surrogate son, and the other character who has to listen to Gavin more than anyone else, Gavin's voice seems to articulate "everything which as he himself became more and more a man he had found to be true" (Intruder, 190). It is actually Gavin Stevens who, in Requiem for a Nun, speaks those famous words about the past being "never dead" that are invariably attributed to Faulkner (73).