The Reivers (Text Key 231)


Faulkner's last novel was written in 1961, and published 4 June 1962 - just a month before his death. His original title for it was "The Horse Stealers"; this was shortened to "The Stealers," then changed to "The Reavers" - an archaic English word for "robbers" - before he settled on The Reivers, which uses an even more archaic Scottish spelling of the word. One thing that remained unchanged throughout its composition is the subtitle: "A Reminiscence." An essentially comic picaresque coming-of-age story featuring the misadventures of Lucius Priest, an 11-year-old boy, with two lower class men, one white and one black, the novel has often been compared to Huck Finn. But while Lucius' journey takes him among prostitutes, gamblers and other kinds of outcasts, as a member of Yoknapatawpha's aristocracy he enjoys a much more secure place in the social order than Huck could ever imagine.

The book's narrative structure is surprisingly complex. Its first two words - "Grandfather said" - are written by the protagonist's grandson, also named Lucius. The remainder of the book is spoken by the older Lucius, a man in his late sixties reminiscing about what happened some fifty-six years earlier. Although most of this story takes place outside Yoknapatawpha, it seems safe to assume that both Luciuses are somewhere in the county when it is told and retold; in any case, we have located the events that take place in 1961, whenever grandfather Lucius interrupts his narrative to speak directly to his grandson, in "Courthouse Square," the project's default site for events that canot be more precisely located in Jefferson or Yoknapatawpha.

The idea for the novel first occurred to Faulkner in 1940, but the book he wrote two decades later can be read as a kind of indulgent valedictory to his career, especially in the way it deploys or alludes to so many characters and locations from earlier Yoknapatawpha fictions. It has the happiest ending and is the most popularly accessible of all Faulkner's novels. While some contemporary critics complained it was too nostalgic or sentimental, it was generally well-received, and chosen for both the Book-of-the-Month Club and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. Our representation of it is based on Noel Polk's "corrected text," as published by Vintage International in 2011.

Mapping the Story: Curiously, most of Faulkner's last 'Yoknapatawpha fiction' takes place out of Yoknapatawpha: in Memphis, Tennessee, which has already served as a location in almost half of his texts, and in Partham, Tennessee - a fictional small town that had not previously appeared in any text. Faulkner's 'Memphis' is located exactly where the real city is, so there's no problem putting it on a map. There is some question, however, about how the three "reivers" get from Jefferson to Memphis in this novel. Many of the commentators who know the actual sites of places like Bedenbaugh's store (the likely origin for the novel's Ballenbaugh's) and the Iron Bridge (referred to in the novel as "THE Iron Bridge," 71) put the first leg of the journey on the road that heads northwest out of town (called "the Memphis highway" in "Knight's Gambit"). That route may be the one Faulkner had in mind, but our decision to locate the journey on the road that leads directly north from Jefferson is based on several specific references in the text, especially the narrator's mention during the trip of "the road to McCaslin [that] forks away from the Memphis road" (67, 68). The McCaslin place in this novel, as in 8 earlier texts, is in the northeast corner of Yoknapatawpha, and the road to it "forks away" from the road that runs north-south through the middle of the county. The hamlet of "Partham" is the place "where the railroad comes up from Jefferson and crosses the Memphis one where you changes [railroad] cars" (116). In Faulkner's earlier fictions, the town where travelers on the northbound train from Yoknapatawpha change for the westbound train to Memphis is usually called "Memphis Junction," as it's labeled on Faulkner's 1936 map, though in Sanctuary he calls it Holly Springs, the real Mississippi town where the northbound tracks from Oxford crossed the westbound tracks to Memphis. Parsham, though, is explicitly located in "Tennessee" (215), and it seems more likely that if Faulkner based it on a real place, that place is Grand Junction, Tennessee, where the annual National Championship for bird dogs was held at the time of the story. As an imaginary place, it probably should be located inside a nostalgia for an earlier (and also essentially imaginary) South, where the plantations were organized around the gentlemanly sports of hunting and horse-racing rather than making money from the sweat of other people's brows.

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Random House
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New York
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Denton, Ren, Steven Knepper, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's The Reivers." Added to the project: 2015.  Additional editing, 2019: Johannes H. Burgers, Theresa M. Towner.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,