Edmond L. Volpe
A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner: The Short Stories

Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004. xv + 315 pp.


     Forty years between Volpe's first critical work A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner in 1964 and his recent publication A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner: The Short Stories (2004) tell much about his continuous painstaking studies of Faulkner as well as about his long commitment to the academic administration. Volpe's first book has been one of the most helpful critical works in the mid-1960s along with Cleanth Brooks' William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963) and Michael Millgate's The Achievement of William Faulkner (1966) and others, which have undoubtedly contributed to Faulkner's critical scene.
     In these forty years Faulkner studies have undergone a variety of changes in critical approaches, but it is worth noting that the period over forty years has not changed Volpe's standard critical attitude to Faulkner's writing, because he has a strong belief that "morality is of central importance to Faulkner in his contemplation of human actions and human society and human history."(xi) Volpe admits that his new book is greatly indebted to the preceding critical works on short stories as well as of biographies and that the remarkable fluidity of literary theory over the past three decades has contributed to the Faulkner criticism, but he is convinced that it is "the only study yet published that offers critical discussions of individual stories, published and unpublished."(ix) He emphasizes that "Faulkner drew upon his own experience for his fiction. The fiction itself clearly reflected ... 'a spiritually and psychologically troubled life,' and when we learned more about the writer, we would be able to solve many of the puzzles of his fiction and see more clearly the overall pattern of his work."(x) We may realize that his insistence is in close accord with Faulkner's repeated strong creed of his writing that "If he (the writer) is writing with the responsibility of integrity about a universal truth which are the problems of man in conflict with himself, his base nature, his fellow man, or his surroundings, his environment. "(Lion in the Garden, 204) Indeed, "a change in critical theory does not necessarily negate previous interpretations."(xi)
     Volpe's conviction is also endorsed by his close and comprehensive reading of the text. He declares that "my critical approach is an eclectic offshoot of the New Criticism." (xi) He never hesitates to take advantage of any psychological, historical or cultural elements in the text for his discussions, putting great emphasis on "an esthetic entity whose effect upon the reader is the result of the narrative structure and techniques, of the theme, the tone, and the language."(xi) When necessary, he takes advantage of some of the available manuscripts and typescripts necessary for interpreting of the stories, retracing the process of their development and refinement. He also takes care to stress the evolutionary interrelationship between the two literary forms, short stories and novels, through some characters like Quentin Compson, Jason Compson, Gavin Stevens, Popeye, Gail Hightower and Flem Snopes.
     He takes up for his discussions 71 stories divided into three clusters according to the chronological dates of composition: 15 stories from 1919 through 1926, 31 stories from 1927 through 1931, and 25 stories from 1932 through 1954. The chronological order is reasonable and Volpe's close reading and appropriate use of supportive materials makes the understanding of each story persuasive enough. Indeed, the readers will get much out of those persuasive discussions and get a whole vision of the short stories as well as of the whole design of Faulkner's literary world, but they will be also curious about the short pieces that Volpe did not discuss: some pieces published in New Orleans, "Landing in Luck," "The Hill," "Nympholepsy," "And Now What To Do," "Sepulture South: Gaslight," or unpublished pieces like "The Letter." Likewise they will be curious about the omitted stories that were reshaped and incorporated into The Unvanquished, Go Down, Moses or the Snopes Trilogy. The writer makes comments about those omissions, but further discussions of the relationship between the short stories and those novels are vital to the understanding of Faulkner's literary world. Finally, the readers will find it difficult to find some references they want to make, because the key words listed in "Index" are so simplified.

Copyright (c)2005 KOYAMA Toshio