The author Don Doyle is a professor of history, especially the American South, at Vanderbilt University, so this book is not really a literary criticism of Faulkner's works but a historical study of Lafayette County, Mississippi, which makes a brilliant contribution to Faulkner scholarship by his minute documentation of the strong connection between the real Lafayette historical background and Faulkner's fictional legend of Yoknapatawpha. Among many Faulkner studies by historians is Faulkner and Southern History (1993) by Joel Williamson, but Doyle's achievement, full of specific and significant data on Lafayette County, is superior in historical width and depth.
Realizing that Lafayette County presents "a typical, even ordinary, portrait of the southern past," and "the freshest expression of a dynamic southern society," Doyle proves how well this "small postage stamp of native soil" Faulkner chooses stands as a microcosm of the Deep South.
As Cleanth Brooks warns in his Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (348), we should be circumspect in discussing the connection between literature and history, but some literary works, like Faulkner's, can shed light on the way ordinary people, including women and blacks, live in historical events, such as work, family, sexuality, and religion, the objects historians mostly do not handle. Doyle admires Faulkner as a historian, saying: "It is Faulkner's intuitive knowledge of his subject not his factual accuracy, that offers the historian insights not accessible through conventional research. It is when Faulkner goes inside the minds of his characters and imagines dialogues and thoughts that he reveals layers of historical experience historians can never document." Such a high admiration by a professional historian delights Faulkner scholars, who may vaguely think that literature can sometimes go beyond historical facts and create fictional events w! hich are historically inaccurate.
Doyle goes back to the early Chickasaws, before the first entry of Europeans into the northern Mississippi in 1540, and up to the modern civil rights movement in 1962, the year of Faulkner's death. This book consists of ten chapters, and reveals how the people of Lafayette County have lived in each period and how remarkably the small region represents the turbulent Deep South.
The first chapter, entitled "Yoknapatawpha," opens with the history of the Chickasaws and explains how white people expelled them and invaded their territory in 1836. Here Doyle, by presenting many detailed data, interestingly documents the cultural encroachment of the Indians, which Faulkner describes in "Red Leaves." This region was called "Yoknapatawpha," an Indian word meaning "a land divided." This naming is, Doyle thinks, "a prophecy," for "the land would see its new inhabitants divided and torn by war and racial conflict." The second chapter "Genesis" explores how this region developed itself into the Cotton Kingdom by the massive emigration of slaves. In the third chapter "Communities," the detailed data show how towns were established by building railroads, schools and the state university, and then church. Doyle demonstrates this region in those days was highly "mobile and restless" for the great migration, and that this space was not so cl! osed or stagnant, as, in 1869, for example, "Mississippi-born residents constituted a mere 5 percent of the white population." The fourth chapter "The Slaves" informs us that "Lafayette County was a slave society.... because nearly half the white families owned one or more slaves," and half of those families owned more than 20 slaves. The white population was mostly masculine and the surplus of white men without women caused the rapid increase in the number of mulattoes. These facts, reflected in many of Faulkner's stories, are of great importance to the deeper understanding of his fictional world.
The fifth chapter "Revolution" discusses how the South chose to separate itself from the Union in order to support slavery, and the next "War" demonstrates how closely related the Civil War is with women and families: it is true that the War started with the economic and political "cause," but gradually "women sanctified the cause and transformed the meaning of the war from a defense of slavery and political rights into a war to defend women, home, and family." This transformation is important to the discussion on female roles in the Civil War stories by Faulkner. In the seventh chapter "The Vanquished," Doyle admires Faulkner's insight into the people surviving the postwar period and The Unvanquished stands as "one of his discerning interpretations of history": "William Faulkner viewed the war through the eye of the women and children, free and slave," whereas historians are interested in the battlefields and military leaders. Faulkner's war s! tories are often criticized as too romantic, but Doyle adds that they are "closer to the actual history of the war." The eighth chapter "Another war" asserts that "a genuine civil war" started after the Civil War, "a race between whites and blacks, a political struggle between Democrats and Republicans, and a labor struggle between landlord and tenant."
The ninth chapter "Rednecks" explores the rise of rednecks in the late 19th century, taking Faulkner's Snopes trilogy for example, and the tenth chapter "The Town" traces the development of the town from "an older, traditional society to the dynamic, modern environment." Doyle, thinking this transition is one of Faulkner's major themes, documents the fictional events by many factual data. Analyzing Faulkner's psychological situation after the Nobel Prize, Doyle observes Faulkner, in spite of his will, was suddenly "thrust into the limelight as a spokesman for democracy and peace," stepping onto the world stage.
As shown above, Doyle demonstrates how well Faulkner's fictional setting meshes with the history of his source in each period through a close analysis of countless data and documents on Lafayette County, which Faulkner scholars have long wanted to know. However, Doyle's portrait of the 20th century is not so rich and detailed as the one of the former periods. The Chickasaws and the Civil War are historically fascinating topics to discuss, but Doyle's interest is somewhat biased. He deals little with the period after the 1920s, especially the decade of the Great Depression, during which Faulkner's major novels are published, and he closely examines the first organization of KKK in the Reconstruction era, but does not refer to its resurgence in the 1920s. The modern culture of the 1920, the Great Depression and the New Deal, and the second KKK's rampage---all clearly exert a great influence on the Lafayette County, as described in many of Faulkner's w! orks. It is furthermore regrettable that Doyle does not mention the influence of World War II on the South, a topic in which a recent analysis of his letters and film scripts shows his strong interest. Doyle's thorough examination of those topics would give the book more dynamic development and synthesis.
Still, Doyle, regarding Lafayette County as a microcosm of the South, provides a great deal of restricted data on the region. His achievement makes a significant contribution to the deeper understanding of the background of Faulkner's setting. The reader of the book is not only drawn to Doyle's professional examination of the factual documents and gossips, but is also fascinated by his superb technique of story-telling. This book, filled with quotations from Faulkner's works, will surely make Faulkner scholars more familiar and charmed with the history of the South. It is, no doubt, one of the highly accomplished interdisciplinary studies which connects Faulkner's literary world and the history of the South.
Copyright (c)2003 Hayase Hironori