Jay Parini
One Matchless Time: The Life of William Faulkner
New York: HarperCollins, 2004.  xi + 492 pp.


In the history of criticism on William Faulkner, Jay Parini's One Matchless Time:  The Life of William Faulkner (2004) has become one of the predominant biographies on the matter following those of Blotner, Gray, Minter, Karl, and others.  This book discusses his life and works in plain and simple English.  Accordingly, it might be appropriate to regard the book not as a treatise for scholars, but as an outline of Faulkner, his life and his literary world for students and general readers in English-speaking countries.

The author of this biography, Jay Parini, is a poet and author who has a Ph.D., and has taught at colleges and universities.  Among his works, he has published biographies of John Steinbeck and Robert Frost.  In this, his latest book, he describes the life of Faulkner by accumulating facts that have been subsequently issued, and occasionally adding his own deductions.  In this respect, it might be best to categorize Parini as a biographer who occasionally fictionalizes his subjects lives as opposed to a scholarly biographer.  He has also interviewed significant people in Faulkner's life, such as his daughter Jill, and his ex-lover Joan Williams.  For example, from Jill he elicited the conflict between her grandfather Murry and her father William.  Specifically he explored the disregard that Murry had for his son William.  Moreover, he discovered how incompatible her father and her mother Estelle es personalities were. 

When interpreting each work of Faulkner's, Parini piles up facts (academic papers) with few of his own deductions.  This type of interpretation can be ineffective.  He might have done this in order to more simply introduce Faulkner to the readers. In each section in which a specific work is discussed, various scholars' opinions are frequently quoted.  In fact, one cannot help but feel as if previous works have simply been patched together.  For example, in Go Down, Moses, in the section "The Bear," the hypothesis by Richard Godden and Noel Polk is introduced, and in the conclusion reference only to Richard Gray is made.  In "Delta Autumn," John T. Matthews' and Arthur Mezner's views are adopted.  Although Matthews and Mezner are popular among Faulknerians, and deserve being mentioned, this book is not aimed toward being and integrated scholarly book, but rather a sort of literary guide.  It is obvious that Parini has not intended this book to be a unique, original and personal interpretation.

One characteristic of this biography is the existence of Parini the Biographer being presented directly and indirectly throughout the text.  The narrator, Parini, often appears through expressions like, "for a biographer" (150), "from a biographer's view" (228) or "I think" (237).  Throughout this book, readers pursue "a life of an artist" from the eyes of the biographer.

What Parini focuses particularly on from the narrator's point of view is Faulkner's addiction to alcohol, and his several love affairs.  Speaking of alcoholism first, it is no doubt that the biographer would like to insist that the drugs and alcohol, especially the alcohol, were not merely for numbing his persistent back pain, but were also used to ease his mental thirst, as well as for distracting him from the self anguish which he felt in his life. (240)  His fierce battle with alcoholism continued until the completion of The Mansion.  Although he was in and out of several hospitals, underwent electrical-shock therapy, and was diagnosed by specialists, it was only through his wife Estelle's regeneration and devotion that he was able to subdue his addiction to alcohol.  Parini explains the background and development of each of these processes considerately.

Moreover, Faulkner's history with his mistresses, which seems to be inextricably linked to his alcoholism is also written with great care.  Due to his marriage with Estelle practically falling apart, Parini concludes that the novelist's love affairs were a sort of compensatory behavior to help him maintain mental and physical stability.  He seems to sympathize with the novelist's consistency to his respective mistresses.  This is evidenced in his showing the link between Wild Palms and Meta Carpenter.  Particularly regarding Jean Stein, with whom Faulkner met in his late fifties, the biographer connects her with Linda in The Town, which the novelist would subsequently write, insisting that Faulkner played the part of her father or her sincere mentor. (382, 395-96)

The third factor that can be pointed out is Faulkner's enthusiasm for horseback riding.  When he was in his sixties, with his alcoholism in a comparative lull and his love affairs basically put to rest, he began devoting himself to riding and hunting with a greater fever than ever before.  He rode relentlessly.  No matter how many times he was thrown off, he would get right back on the horse.  In the end, Faulkner lost his life in a fall from a horse.  Parini interprets Faulkner's passion for horseback riding symbolically, and that this symbolism represented the way that stories and characters would come to Faulkner with a terrifying force that he "rode them like wild horses, tamed them, brought them to book" (429).  This biographer may well insist that horseback riding and hunting had the same meaning to Faulkner as writing.  They were necessary battles that he had to undertake in order to ascertain his own existence. 

In the "Conclusion," Parini wrote "[m]y Faulkner" (433).  This book discusses the life of Faulkner from the viewpoint of the biographer.  While reading this biography, the reader will realize that this book has been written like that of a book published in the nineteenth century, and will begin to follow the course the author, who plays the part of the narrator, has intended.  As the reader comes to the end of the book, they will discover that "One Matchless Time" is not just the period from the late 1920's to the early 40's as Faulkner referred to, but indicates the whole of Faulkner's life.   


<Supplementary comments>

In the copy of the text I purchased, I found some incorrect documentation, collating, and disorderly binding.  Here I would like to point out just one of them.

An obviously incorrect documentation is in the last paragraph of page 427.  According to the narrator, after his passing, Faulkner was laid to rest next to the Bama's tombstone in his family's lot.  However, he has been buried in a newly built grave in a different place than where his family rests.  There is a paperback edition of this book available now.  I hope that this and other errors and defects have been corrected in the new edition.


Copyright (c)2006 MORIOKA Takashi