Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin, eds.
A Companion to Faulkner Studies
Westport: Greenwood, 2004. xiv+417 pp.

SUZUKI Akiyoshi

     A minimum duty required in a literary study is said to grasp the point of the discussions at least over the past decade.  But am I the only one who thinks that saying and doing are two different things in the study of William Faulkner?  Essays about him are produced in large quantities and at the second fastest pace just after those about William Shakespeare.  It is hard just to keep the pace and take a comprehensive and panoramic view of Faulkner studies since it requires to organize an enormous volume of them and keep them in head in the circumstances that various critical approaches are presented and interrelated with each other.  Is not there a work that "rehearse(s) how critics have read Faulkner over the years, digest the major critical approaches that have been brought to bear on his work, and apply some of those approaches, either as sample readings or as continuations of work already done" (ix)?  In response to such a voice, A Companion to Faulkner Studies was given to the world.

     This book consists of thirteen chapters. Ordered by chapter they are Mythic and Archetypal Criticism, Historical Criticism, Formalist Criticism, Biographical Criticism, Modernist Criticism, Postmodernist Criticism, Cultural-Studies Criticism, Psychological Criticism, Feminist and Gender Criticism, Rhetorical and Reader-Response Criticism, Popular-Culture Criticism, Textual Criticism, and Thematic Criticism.  Each chapter has parameters as follows, (1) presentation of a definition of their particular approach and the terms relevant to it, (2) consideration, from their given perspective, of as much as is relevant from the whole body of Faulkner's literary works, speeches and letters, (3) an overview of the significant extant scholarship written from this approach, (4) in-depth referencing of the critical works most important to their perspective, (5) an accounting of what this approach has yield for Faulkner's studies, (6) citation of bibliographical entries of extant criticism, and (7) personal views and original ideas concerning the approach and its usefulness (x).  This book also has substantial glossary and thorough cross-referencing index that distinguish from the others.  This book is more reader-friendly than a previously-published companion books such as The Cambridge Companion.

     Let us glance over chapter one, Mythic and Archetypal Criticism.  The first chapter starts by explaining T. S. Eliot's Mythical Method and Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious.  After then, the author, Robert W. Hamblin, points out Faulkner's international reputation as a Nobel laureate and Faulkner's book, A Fable, during 1950s was an impetus to mythic approaches.  Hamblin then goes to the introduction of major mythic critics, such as Richard P. Adams, Walter Brylowski, and David Noble. Hamblin takes us to the downward phase of the mythic and archetypal criticism in 1970s, when new interests--feminist, multicultural, race/class/gender, postmodern, New Historical and postcolonial--emerged.  The last half of the chapter is sample readings that enable readers to examine The Sound and the Fury, A Fable, and the myth of Yoknapatawpha through the mythic approach.

     The particulars, like style, are successfully itemized in the course of the history of the criticism and explained with the review of the reference books and the presentation of sample reading.  The Formalist Criticism section, for example, begins with the explanation in comparison with New Criticism, and moves on to "Structuralism," "Deconstruction and Poststructuralism," "Narratology," and "Bakhtin and Dialogics."  The sections on modernism and postmodernism, which are generally defined with difficulty, are also organized with success.  Debrah Raschke, the author of the former section, focuses on modernism as "an experience of loss, particularly an epistemological loss, which subsequently affects the construction of the self and that self's relation to others and to the communal" (100) and deals with various themes of loss in Faulkner's texts in relation to his literary techniques.  Terrell L. Tebbetts, the author of Postmodernist Criticism, picks up the post modernistic features in Faulkner's works, after his introduction of following five intellectual assumptions that constitute postmodern worldview, (1) Language cannot represent reality. (2) All truth is contingent rather than final.  (3) All authorities and hierarchies are suspect.  (4) Transgression is a positive act.  And (5) Human identity is relational rather than essential.

     This jargon-free, readable "companion" is worth reading, but we should keep it in mind that each chapter bears on the personal stamps of their authors.  In Modernist Criticism, the author Raschke has a tone with Donald M Kartiganer and Daniel Singal.  In Biographical Criticism, Kevin Railey emphasizes the achievements of Carvel Collins, who focuses the relationship between Faulkner and Helen Baird, and sets much store on William Faulkner. The Journey to Self-Discovery by H. Edward Richardson as a pioneering research on psychological, biographical approach.  Charles A. Peek, the author of Thematic Criticism, who treats various themes referred in Faulkner's literary works, divides into five periods from a standpoint that a criticism is an interface between intellectual and political history---(1) 1924-1946 (from the beginning to the end of the world wars), (2) 1946-1952 (a transition period from Malcolm Cowley's The Portable Faulkner through the Novel Prize), (3) 1952-1976 (the next two decades roughly through the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Viet Nam and the foundation of the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference), (4) 1976-1981 (a transition through the post-Nixson/pre-Regan era), and (5) 1981-present (from that time to a transition beginning fin de siecle) (309).  This section, incidentally, sums up themes scattered in the previous pages, which are chaptered on each critical approach and it is appropriate for the closing chapter.

     If I must find something defective to say about this book, it would be the cross reference is a little inadequate.  For instance, Sanctuary is referred to as "Faulkner's most feminist novel" (142) in Postmodernist Criticism section, but the Feminist and Gender Criticism section devotes much spaces to Absalom, Absalom!, instead of Sanctuary.  It is claimed by the writers, Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin, that no substantive changes were made in any chapter without the author's express permission.  However, they could have paid more attention to the accuracy of the cross reference.  In addition, there is almost nothing in reference to some of famous approaches such as Environmentalism.  I am not saying that this book should have covered a latest approach as Disability Literature, or an old and infrequent one as phonetic approach.  But it is hard not to feel that the writers needed more careful consideration for entries.

     The writers, Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin, edited A William Faulkner Encyclopedia in 1999.  With the success of Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press asked them to undertake its planning of A Companion to Faulkner Studies and completion.  This book, consequently, could become most effective to be read with Encyclopedia.


Copyright (c)2006 SUZUKI Akiyoshi