According to the narrator of Light in August (1932), the Stevens family is "old in Jefferson." In Intruder in the Dust (1948), Chick Mallison, whose mother is a Stevens, sees the landscape of Yoknapatawpha as "the dirt, the earth which had bred his bones and those of his fathers for six generations." Actually, if we count from the first Stevens to be born in Mississippi, Chick belongs to the fourth or at most the fifth generation, but in the short story "Hand Upon the Waters" (1939) Faulkner revises his usual account of Yoknapatawpha's settlement to include a Stevens along with a Holston and a Grenier as one of the county's first three founding fathers. On the other hand, the Stevens family emerges in the fictions a bit later than than the Sartorises, the Snopeses, the Compsons, or the Benbows. They emerge, in fact, as a revision of sorts of the Benbow family: like the Benbows, they are lawyers and judges rather than planters or soldiers.

The first Stevens in Yoknapatawpha is only mentioned that one time, but the first Stevens in the Yoknapatawpha fictions appears early, in "A Rose for Emily," as "Judge Stevens," the 80-year-old mayor of Jefferson in the 1880s (122). Some scholars (Brooks, Dasher, Kirk) assume this is the same "Judge Stevens" who is Gavin Stevens' father in more than half a dozen texts, but given his age, we (like Edmond Volpe) identify him as Gavin's grandfather, who is also mentioned in Light in August as having "owned slaves" before the Civil War (444).  Gavin is by far the most important member of the family. He appears in seventeen different texts (in six of which he is the only Stevens present in the narrative). From his first brief appearance in "Hair" (1931) through the major books of the Forties and Fifties, the place he occupies in Faulkner's imagination steadily grows. He can be seen as a more effectual version of Horace Benbow; as Yoknapatawpha's county attorney, for example, he solves the six stories of crime and detection gathered in Knight's Gambit (1949). The dynamics of the Stevens family raise issues that a different point in his career Faulkner might have wanted to explore: another echo of the Benbows is the fact that the unmarried middle-aged Gavin still lives in the house he grew up in with his married sister and her son, and his relationships with them both seem to usurp the place of Charles Mallison, the husband and father. (Note how this displacement also occurs in Chick's reference to his "fathers.") But none of the twenty texts show any interest in delving into those kinds of mysteries.

Display Name: 
Stevens Family
Sort Name: 
Stevens Family Biography