Robert W. Hamblin and Charles A. Peek, eds.
A William Faulkner Encyclopedia

West Port, CT: Greenwood P, 1999. 499pp.

NAMIKI Nobuaki

    For students of Faulkner, it is more than common understanding that Faulkner's text is very difficult. Long sentences, which often extend as much as one page or two pages in length, have been perplexing readers of his novels since their original publications. Faulkner's rare poetic diction, predilection for particular words, mysterious characterizations, events represented by disconnected time sequence, and over all difficulties in finding out what really happens in his discourse, are excellent reasons to have the many handbooks, introductory books and pamphlets concerning Faulkner's writings published so far.
    The 1960s, especially after Faulkner's death in 1962, saw a flood of writings about Faulkner and his literary works, and a corresponding flood of publications of handbooks and glossaries, to help readers to understand Faulkner's fiction and his fictional kingdom, Yoknapatawpha County. Some representatives among them are as follows:
1. Robert W. Kirk's (with Marvin Klotz) Faulkner's People: A Complete Guide and Index to the Characters in the Fiction of William Faulkner (1963)--the first comprehensive guide to Faulkner's characters.
2. Margaret Patricia Ford and Suzanne Kincaid's Who's Who in Faulkner (1963)--a small guide to the characters.
3. Cleanth Brooks's William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963)--the first study and still one of the best comprehensive studies of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha country with a useful index to characters.
4. Edmond L. Volpe's A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner (1964)--a helpful introduction to Faulkner's fiction.
5. Harry Runyan's A Faulkner Glossary (1964)--a guide to all the titles, characters, and fictional places in Faulkner's writings.
6. Walter K. Everett's Faulkner's Art and Characters (1969)--a small book of commentaries on Faulkner's novels and short stories, and a dictionary of characters.
    It is true that the primary aim of such handbooks was to provide for readers "standard" approaches to Faulkner's works which had been distortedly interpreted by ideological or moralistic criticism in the 1930s, as well as to help in understanding Faulkner's intricate fictional world. But the publication and study of biographical and literary materials and sources of/about William Faulkner for over the last thirty years have made these handbooks and introductory books of the 1960s to seem somehow obsolete. Thus, Robert W. Hamblin and Charles A. Peek's A William Faulkner Encyclopedia would seem to be just what is needed now. However, it is quite different from the older handbooks and glossaries and it does not construct a system of knowledge about Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha saga as its predecessors did. For example, if you want to thoroughly examine all the characters in a novel such as Light in August in detail, you will be disappointed, as there are only a few entries for its many characters. If you want to know current information about facts, events, people, and places in Mississippi from which the Yoknapatawpha saga must have been created, you will also be disappointed.
    The Encyclopedia does, however, take into full consideration significant changes in political and cultural discourse and context from the mid-1980s on, and attempts to try to deconstruct the "traditional" understanding of Faulkner's fiction based on its Southern background and the creation of the Yoknapatawpha saga. The criticism and studies of Faulkner's literary works have tremendously developed and "evolved" for half a century. The new trends of Faulkner studies can be classified into five genres as follows: first, biographical research based on newly discovered facts and materials about Faulkner's life and the people who knew him, which have resulted in the revision of earlier biographical studies and the production of new biographical approaches; second, textual studies based on the discovery and publication of unpublished stories, poems, typescripts and galley proofs after the writer's death; third, new critical research such as post-modernism, new historicism, and cultural studies dealing with ideologies of race, class, and gender; fourth, the globalization of Faulkner studies; fifth, new critical approaches based not on the ideology of the ante-bellum South but on the current social context of the "New South," which has been developing since the 1970s.
    By accommodating new topics and themes about Faulkner's work from the first four of these new types of criticism, the Encyclopedia allots much less descriptive space to entries for families and characters in the Yoknapatawpha saga than its predecessors did. For example, while there is no individual entry for "Quentin Compson," only one for "the Compsons," which is given only 33 lines (one page consists of 44 lines), topics such as "slavery," "Indian," and "Freud" are explained in as much as 130 lines, or about three pages each.
    Contrastingly, descriptions of Faulkner's literary works, which occupy approximately 30 % of the book in marked contrast to only the 6.5 % allotted to characters, are instructive and helpful, especially interesting for their relationship to later works are those of unpublished poems, stories, and manuscripts such as: "Elmer," the manuscript of an early uncompleted novel and "Helen: A Courtship," a handmade poetry book dedicated to Faulkner's girlfriend, Helen Baird. Recent reevaluation of Faulkner's canons seems to have influenced the allotment of space given to entries of his literary works, especially of stories, collections of stories, and novels. The average number of lines for entries for Faulkner's novels is approximately 100 and the largest number, about 130 lines, are allotted to Light in August and Sanctuary while, surprisingly enough, the allotment to the collections of stories by the author is larger than the one to novels: Collected Stories of William Faulkner is given 165 lines, Go, Down, Moses 150 lines, which is classified neither as a novel nor a collection of stories, and These 13, 109 lines. On the other hand, The Portable Faulkner (the editor of which, Malcolm Cowley, who was proud of his discovery of William Faulkner, an underestimated writer at that time), The Faulkner Reader and Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner are only given 30 or 40 % of the lines allotted to the average novel, most likely owing to the fact that they are edited by persons other than Faulkner.
    It is also noteworthy that there are 26 references to films (films based on Faulkner's works, films whose scripts Faulkner helped to write, and film treatments he offered to the film companies), for research into films associated with Faulkner may reveal the developmental phases of his fiction, through the viewpoint of visual art, which has been heretofore overlooked.
    Biographical references are quite interesting because they are founded on studies and materials discovered and published since the 1970s. The lives and relationships to the writer of almost all the members of the Falkner family, both on his mother's side and on his father's side, the most central of which is the entry of William Clark Falkner, his legendry great-grandfather, are described in varying lengths according to their importance to the writer. Studies of his personal life are applied not only to the women with whom William Faulkner had an affair, such as Meta Doherty Carpenter and Joan Williams, but also to seemingly general topics such as "alcoholism" and "aviation." The first tells us that although the writer's alcoholism provided him with some material for writing about the underground bootlegging syndicate, it shortened his life through continuous drinking, even if it was to solve his family problems as well as those of his work. The second informs us that his boyhood admiration of aviation lead to his application to join the RAF in 1918 and his obtainment of a pilot's license and his own aircraft in 1933, and that in his work aircraft represent his adventurous and reckless spirit and symbolize the great changes of the modern civilization caused by machinery.
    In spite of the influence of cultural studies, most contributors to the Encyclopedia seem also to defend Faulkner and his writings about the issues of race and women. The writer of "African American" contrasts Faulkner's attempts to overcome the sufferings in his life through his writing about the South with that of the severe critiques of his works by African American and feminist critics in the 1980s and 90s. The writer of "race" displays Faulkner's idea of black people represented in/out of his literary text against the background of the 1950s in which the racial problems were markedly foregrounded. Being aware of the well-known theory that Faulkner is a misogynist, "feminist approaches" portrays his private efforts to avoid traditional images of women in spite of conservative roles and stereotypes of them described in the text, which just reflected the male-centered morality and ideology of his times. On the other hand, "women" focuses on the significance of feminine characters such as Caddy, Addie, Temple, and Lena Grove, the kind of women who "will continue to live within the twentieth-century literary canon", putting emphasis on the variety in Faulkner's feminine characterizations.
    This encyclopedia of William Faulkner is not useful for making frequent references to characters, places, and other things in the Yoknapatawpha cycles, but rather for browsing through topics and entries that happen to attract the interest of those who want to know more about recent methodologies for criticism. The sections entitled "Jung" and "Psychological Approaches" tell how recent psychoanalytical research can be applied to literary criticism and "Modernism" and "Stream of Consciousness" offer opportunities to reconsider issues of modernism and modernity in the twentieth century, "Sport" shows us the various meanings of sport, especially outdoor sports and sportsmanship, and "Law" describes to us how the jurisprudence system and lawsuits in the United States are concerned with reasoning and assessment of crime in Faulkner's fiction.
    The globalization of Faulkner studies and intertextual research in countries other than the United States are very important trends in the recent criticism of Faulkner with which the Encyclopedia appropriately treats. "France," a country that found and evaluated the significance of Faulkner's novels much earlier than the United States, provides a history of the good relationship between itself and the writer who admired its literature so much that he wrote poems with French titles such as "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune" in his literary apprenticeship. "British Influence and Reception," on the other hand, explains why British people do not like Faulkner's novels in spite of the outstanding influence on him by Shakespeare and the Holy Bible. According to "Latin America," interestingly, novelists in the southern part of the New World found Faulkner to be their savior, revealing a solution to their gropings for new relationships among humanity, society, nature and industry in the New World. The writer of "Russia," however, puts overemphasis on the influences on Faulkner of Russian literature, to the extent that it is not Joyce but Dostoevsky who taught the "stream-of-consciousness" technique to Faulkner and made him his follower. "Nagano" and "Japan," written by Fujihira Ikuko, editor of the William Faulkner Journal of Japan, describes Faulkner's stay in Japan in the summer of 1955 as a special lecturer of the Nagano seminar, and his significant influence on Japanese novelists, in addition to outlining the history of Faulkner studies in Japan.
    It is true that A William Faulkner Encyclopedia is valuable to scholars and students who are curious to know about the current trends in criticism and studies on Faulkner. But readers who need a more constant companion to help with Faulkner's fiction may need another kind of handbook. I should like to add that another encyclopedia that the William Faulkner Society of Japan has been preparing since the fall of 1999 is intended to be useful to readers as well as students of Faulkner.

Copyright (c)2001 Namiki Nobuaki