The Unvanquished (Text Key 223)


The Unvanquished, Faulkner's tenth novel (and seventh to be set in Yoknapatawpha County) tells the earlier history of the Sartoris family during and immediately after the Civil War. This family, based closely on Faulkner's own real-life forebears, were key in Flags in the Dust, Faulkner's first Yoknapatawpha novel (and third overall), which was originally published in a severely cut version under the title Sartoris in 1929.

The Unvanquished was published on 15 February 1938, but its composition dates back to 1934, when Faulkner began writing a series of short stories while working on Absalom, Absalom!, another novel centered in large measure on the Civil War. Six of the seven chapters of the novel appeared first in magazines. The first three — "Ambuscade," "Retreat," and "Raid" — appeared in quick succession in The Saturday Evening Post in September, October, and November of 1934. Two of the stories initially had different titles: the story Faulkner originally called "Drusilla" was first published in Scribner's in April 1935 with the title "Skirmish at Sartoris," and the original title of "Riposte in Tertio" was "The Unvanquished" when it appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in November 1936. The last story to be published in a magazine was "Vendée," also in the Post, in December 1936. The seventh and final chapter in the novel, "An Odor of Verbena," was the only one that had not first been published elsewhere. Owing to their earlier magazine publication, all but this final story were included in the volume Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, and each of these six stories has also been analyzed individually by different groups of scholars in Digital Yoknapatawpha. In our examination of the novel, we have based many of our event, character, and location data on the work by these other scholars.

In collecting the stories into a unified novel, Faulkner made some notable revisions, particularly in the earlier chapters, to conform more closely to actual Civil War history. In "Ambuscade," for instance, he removed references in the original version to Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain, Civil War battles which did not take place until September and November 1863, well after the events depicted in the story. Faulkner also added more passages narrated by a clearly older and more mature Bayard thinking back on his early years as a child and young adult. These additions are most notable in the opening chapters: the novel's "Ambuscade" chapter is more than 3,300 words longer than the original magazine story, while "Retreat" and "Raid" in the book are each about 2,700 words longer than the earlier versions. The next three chapters, by comparison, are roughly the same length as the original stories; "Skirmish" in the novel, in fact, is actually somewhat shorter than the magazine version, since Faulkner cut some of the background information that readers of the novel would already know.

Most of the chapter titles allude, albeit ironically, to military tactics: "ambuscade" (an archaic term for "ambush"), "retreat," "raid," "skirmish." Two other chapter titles also allude, indirectly, to war or conflict: the fencing terms "riposte in tertio" suggest an attack contrary to the spirit and rules of the sport, and "Vendée" refers to a region in western France that had been the scene of several peasant uprisings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The martial flavor of the chapter titles befits a novel focusing so much on the Civil War; the war looms large in the book, but The Unvanquished is a Civil War novel that does not depict a single battle. By focusing instead on the women, children, and soon-to-be-emancipated blacks, Faulkner in this novel in some ways anticipated the attention future historians would pay to the importance of the home front during the war.

Dating the Story: We have mostly followed the lead established by James Hinkle and Robert McCoy in their book Reading Faulkner: The Unvanquished. Starting with the one date given in the novel (August 14, 1863, on the army requisition order in "Raid") and using other historical events and contextual clues, such as the narrator Bayard's frequent reference to his age and the fact that his and Ringo's birthdays are in September, Hinkle and McCoy have dated with reasonable precision each chapter in the novel. However, some events in the novel cannot be reconciled or accounted for consistently, and there are at least several outright contradictions that Faulkner apparently neglected to resolve when revising the stories for publication as a novel; for instance, in "Riposte," the narrator Bayard clearly suggests that Rosa Millard was still alive when he and Ringo "had just got back from Jefferson with the letter" from Aunt Louisa Hawk (149), but in "Skirmish," he says that Rosa was dead and that the letter arrived at a time that he and Ringo were chasing Grumby and had "doubled back past Jefferson and so . . . spent one night at home and found the letter when Mrs Compson had sent it out" (190).

Two moments in "Ambuscade" suggest that Faulkner may have imagined beginning the story in the summer of 1863, after the decisive Confederate losses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg made the defeat of the South inevitable. When the story's "captured musket" is first mentioned, it is referred to as having been brought home by John Sartoris "from Virginia two years ago" (15); 1861 is when the fighting in Virginia began. And although they aren't sure what it means or portends, both Bayard and Ringo hear the Colonel say "Vicksburg fell" (18); the surrender of this last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi occurred on July 4, 1863. But Vicksburg was already threatened by the summer of 1862, and the loss of Corinth, Mississippi, which is also referred to in the story as news, took place at the end of May, 1862 (5). Given these inconsistencies, dating the novel's first chapter in 1862 is plausible, and also the only way to make the rest of the novel's Civil War chapters fit chronologically. Beginning in 1863 would mean, for example, that "Vendee" takes place a year after the War ended. In general the novel's other references to actual history are accurate. One reference that pointedly is not, however, is Drusilla's story of a locomotive chase in "Raid," which appears to be based on the historical Andrews raid that took place on April 12, 1862, between Atlanta and Chattanooga (and presumably, nowhere near the fictional location of Hawkhurst in Alabama). However, the novel has no specific references to the actual "chase," and consequently it is unclear whether Drusilla is deliberately misrepresenting the historical event, if she does not know the true story, or if Faulkner is deliberately fictionalizing it for the novel.

Perhaps the hardest date to establish is when, exactly, Bayard, the narrator, is telling the story — that is, when he adopts an older, more mature persona in remembering or reflecting back upon the events of his childhood and early adulthood. The only real clue we discern in the novel is the reference in the final chapter to his learning parts of the story "not until years later" (212), which could be at any point from late 1876 (two years after October 1874, when "An Odor of Verbana" takes place) to December 1920, when Bayard dies in Flags in the Dust. In the absence of any textual clues to Bayard's age as he looks back on his earlier life, we have chosen a broad range to indicate the period when he is writing: 1900 to 1918.

First Publisher: 
Random House
First Publisher Location: 
New York
First Publisher Date: 
Page Start: 
Page Stop: 
Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
Edit Copy Publisher Date: 
Search DIsplay Order: 
Other Resources: 
Publication Date: 

How to cite this resource:
Joiner, Jennie J., John Padgett, and Dorette Sobolewski. "Faulkner's The Unvanquished." Added to the project: 2016.  Addional editing 2019-2021: Johannes H. Burgers and Theresa M. Towner.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,