OXFORD, Miss. Nobel laureate William
Faulkners fabled home, Rowan Oak, may be closed
for renovations, but perhaps youd still like to visit Oxford, stroll
the grounds or find it a good time to read or re-read some of
Although Faulkners prose is notorious
for being difficult to comprehend on the first try, at least there
are ways to make reading Faulkner more enjoyable, according to Drs. Joseph Urgo
and Donald Kartiganer, University of Mississippi English professors and Faulkner
There is more than one way to read, just
as there is more than one way to eat, says Urgo, who chairs the Department
of English. Just as one snacks on potato chips with a set of expectations
different from when dining on a gourmet meal, there is more than one way to
have written words act on one's mind.
Urgo suggests that modern styles of journalism
and pulp fiction have misled many of todays readers into thinking that
all reading should produce immediate factual comprehension. He offers the following
approaches for pleasurably digesting the words of Faulkner:
Dont worry too much about comprehension. For example, when you pick
up a book like Faulkners The Sound and the Fury and you read:
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them
hitting... it will be hundreds of pages and hours of reading before
you fully comprehend the meaning of the line, Urgo says. Faulkners writing
asks us to suspend our need to understand and to surrender ourselves to the
Dont worry about feeling confused. Sometimes being off-balance is
where Faulkners prose wants to put you. Dont be surprised if you
sense a need to read the piece again to know it well. This is something we
are able to return to again and again, always getting more or different experiences.
Focus on the history of the Yoknapatawpha saga. Many of the characters who
inhabit Faulkners fictitious county appear in more than one book. Read
the novels in the order of the histories they tell rather than in the order
in which the books were written, says Kartiganer. Start with The Unvanquished,
then move to Flags in the Dust for the story of the Sartoris family.
Turn to The Sound and the Fury, followed by Absalom, Absalom!
for the tale of the Compson family. Go Down Moses offers the McCaslin
history in one volume.
Be aware that Faulkner is a vertical writer. One way of describing
his narrative style is to say that it is not horizontal but vertical. Faulkner
doesnt sweep the reader forward with a rapid, page-turning flow but
rather asks the reader to dive downward into the multi-significant and detailed
ramifications of action.
Reading Faulkner is definitely worth the time,
says Urgo. Faulkner is the greatest American writer of the 20th century
not because the world needed to know about northern Mississippi but because
of his use of the English language. The marriage of Faulknerian prose and prosaic
Mississippi resulted in a writer to whom subsequent writing in English will
be indebted forever.
Rowan Oak, which is administered by the University,
is expected to reopen for tours in July. The surrounding grounds remain open
to the public from dawn to dusk daily.