The Mansion (Text Key 230)


With The Mansion Faulkner brings the saga of Flem Snopes to a close - thirty years after he began writing it. His very first Yoknapatawpha manuscript, "Father Abraham," was intended to recount the "gradual eating-up of Jefferson by Snopes." He put that manuscript aside after writing about 18,000 words, but his imaginative preoccupation with Flem, and with the modern Southern phenomenon he labeled "Snopesism," persisted. By 1938 he had decided to tell the story in "three books," perhaps even "three separate volumes," with the third book to be titled "ILIUM FALLING" - a classical allusion that aligns the story with other Modernist representations of the anti-heroic present, like Joyce's Ulysses. By 1939, he had decided to call the trilogy's final volume "The Mansion" instead, but although he published the first volume, The Hamlet, in 1940, it was not until the mid-1950s that he resumed work on the trilogy. The middle volume, The Town, came out in 1957. By then Faulkner was already working steadily on volume three. "Mink Snopes," excerpted from the first chapter, appeared in the December 1959 issue of Esquire magazine, and immediately afterward the novel was published.

Chapter 13 of the novel is a revision of the short story "By the People," published by Mademoiselle in 1955. Throughout the novel Faulkner makes frequent references to or retells other parts of the Snopes story that been described in The Hamlet and The Town. Not surprisingly, given the length of time between the beginning and end of this long gestation, while writing The Mansion Faulkner introduced a number of inconsistencies into the story. His new editor at Random House, Albert Erksine, was troubled by these chronological and narrative discrepancies, and tried conscientiously before the novel was published and again for some years afterward to bring the three parts of the trilogy into alignment. Faulkner himself was a good deal less bothered by the problem, but in the months leading up to the novel's publication in 1959 did work closely with Erskine to try to solve it. For more on this, see the letters and tables in the "Manuscripts Etc." display. Our representation of the novel is based on the "corrected text" established by Noel Polk in 1994, as published by Vintage International in 2011.

The first volume in the trilogy, The Hamlet, is told by a third-person narrator, while in the second, The Town, Faulkner deploys 3 first-person narrators - Charles Mallison, Gavin Stevens and V.K. Ratliff - who take turns recounting the events. This third volume uses a mix of both narrative techniques. 8 of its 18 chapters are written in the first-person, by Ratliff (3 chapters), by Charles (3), by Gavin (1), and surprisingly by Montgomery Ward Snopes (1). Then there are the ambiguously sourced events of Chapters 13 and 14. Although the text does not set much of the narration here inside quotation marks, both chapters contain a number of references to "Uncle Gavin said" or "Charles's uncle said," or "(this is Charles)" and so on, as if the account is a kind of third-person paraphrase of a first-person tale. Our data field for "Narrative Status" requires us to identify an Event as either "Narrated" or "Told"; throughout the project we use "Told" when we can identify a rhetorical situation that involves both a teller and an audience. Faulkner may want us to construct such a situation for these chapters. For example, Chapter 14 notes that after September, 1945, Charles has come back from his experience in World War II and "saw the rest of it himself" (376), so we may infer that up till this point, all the "Charles's uncle said" and "his - Charles's - uncle told him" and so on refer to a particular conversation or a series of talks in which Gavin, with occasional input from Ratliff, fills his nephew in on what's been happening in Yoknapatawpha while he was in Europe. The chapters themselves, however, remain in the third-person, i.e. "Narrated" rather than "Told." But users as well as readers should be aware of this ambiguity in the text, which has many interpretive implications. For example, when describing Clarence Snopes' membership in the Ku Klux Klan, the narrative says he became "an officer in the Klavern or whatever they called it" (331). This equivocation creates a distance, which is as much moral as epistemological, between the novel and the KKK, but do we attribute the lack of knowledge about the Klan to Gavin? or to the novel itself - that is, in some sense, to Faulkner? Because the question of the source of the narrative matters, a number of our summaries note how the text raises this uncertainty. (Less is at stake in the way Chapter 1, although narrated by Charles, relies on his cousin Gowan Stevens as the source of the narrative, but this needs to be noted here too; for more on this too, see the "Manuscripts Etc." display.)

SOURCE: Joseph Blotner, ed., Selected Letters of William Faulkner.

First Publisher: 
Random House
First Publisher Location: 
New York
First Publisher Date: 
13 November 1959
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Burgers, Johannes H., John Corrigan and Ben Robbins. "Faulkner's The Mansion." Added to the project: 2018. Additional editing 2021: Stephen Railton. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,

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