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The Mansion Mass Market Paperback – July 12, 1965
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From the Inside Flap
This completes the great trilogy of the Snopes family in Yoknapatawpha and traces the downfall of this indomitable post-bellum family.
About the Author
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His family was rooted in local history: his great-grandfather, a Confederate colonel and state politician, was assassinated by a former partner in 1889, and his grandfather was a wealth lawyer who owned a railroad. When Faulkner was five his parents moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he received a desultory education in local schools, dropping out of high school in 1915. Rejected for pilot training in the U.S. Army, he passed himself off as British and joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1918, but the war ended before he saw any service. After the war, he took some classes at the University of Mississippi and worked for a time at the university post office. Mostly, however, he educated himself by reading promiscuously.
Faulkner had begun writing poems when he was a schoolboy, and in 1924 he published a poetry collection, The Marble Faun, at his own expense. His literary aspirations were fueled by his close friendship with Sherwood Anderson, whom he met during a stay in New Orleans. Faulkner's first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was published in 1926, followed a year later by Mosquitoes, a literary satire. His next book, Flags in the Dust, was heavily cut and rearranged at the publisher’s insistence and appeared finally as Sartoris in 1929. In the meantime he had completed The Sound and the Fury, and when it appeared at the end of 1929 he had finished Sanctuary and was ready to begin writing As I Lay Dying. That same year he married Estelle Oldham, whom he had courted a decade earlier.
Although Faulkner gained literary acclaim from these and subsequent novels—Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses (1942)—and continued to publish stories regularly in magazines, he was unable to support himself solely by writing fiction. he worked as a screenwriter for MGM, Twentieth Century-Fox, and Warner Brothers, forming a close relationship with director Howard Hawks, with whom he worked on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Land of the Pharaohs, among other films. In 1944 all but one of Faulkner's novels were out of print, and his personal life was at low ebb due in part to his chronic heavy drinking. During the war he had been discovered by Sartre and Camus and others in the French literary world. In the postwar period his reputation rebounded, as Malcolm Cowley's anthology The Portable Faulkner brought him fresh attention in America, and the immense esteem in which he was held in Europe consolidated his worldwide stature.
Faulkner wrote seventeen books set in the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, home of the Compson family in The Sound and the Fury. “No land in all fiction lives more vividly in its physical presence than this county of Faulkner’s imagination,” Robert Penn Warren wrote in an essay on Cowley’s anthology. “The descendants of the old families, the descendants of bushwhackers and carpetbaggers, the swamp rats, the Negro cooks and farm hands, the bootleggers and gangsters, tenant farmers, college boys, county-seat lawyers, country storekeepers, peddlers—all are here in their fullness of life and their complicated interrelations.” In 1950, Faulkner traveled to Sweden to accept the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. In later books—Intruder in the Dust (1948), Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962)—he continued to explore what he had called “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself,” but did so in the context of Yoknapatawpha’s increasing connection with the modern world. He died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962.
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Nevertheless, I think this a very worthwhile book because - as another reviewer has stated - it deals with the human condition, more particularly with the fallen state of man. Also, I had well-nigh forgotten how addictive Faulkner's prose style becomes after one adjusts to it. He seems to have never met an adverbial phrase he didn't like, nor a restating of matters with a slightly different nuance which he couldn't resist putting to paper. But the more one reads, the more acutely one becomes aware of how accurately this mimics life itself, in which we constantly relive the past in our minds and in which we dwell in a constantly changing state of uncertainty regarding the motives of those closest to us and even of ourselves.
I think it more than a bit of an over-simplification to say that this trilogy and that this novel are merely about the rise and fall of the vile, money-grubbing Snopes clan - though, on one level, it's certainly the plot line. But, as ever with Faulkner, the book is about far more than mere plot. There are so many themes here that I can't do justice to them all. I certainly can't do justice to the knight-errant psychology of Gavin Stevens. So, let me just advert to one question he poses: "If mankind matched his dreams too, where would his dreams be?" This question is the most concise explanation of his fear of consummation and all his other actions. He values his dream life. But the main character of the book, as far as overarching import is concerned, in the beginning of the book and the end, is the aforementioned unlettered tenant farmer and twice murderer Mink Snopes, who serves as an avenging angel of Fate, or of our fallen nature, or call it what you will here, to whose death Faulkner devotes the final words of the book:
"...himself among them, equal to any, good as any, brave as any, being inextricable from, anonymous with all of them: the beautiful, the splendid, the proud and the brave, right up to the very top itself among the shining phantoms and dreams which are the milestones of the long human recording - Helen and the bishops, the kings and the unhomed angels, the scornful and graceless seraphim."
I could go on, but this is an Amazon review, not a dissertation. Suffice it to say that in Faulkner's mansion are many themes, all of them deep and well-worth exploring.
The two central characters are those who bring about Flem's death: Mink Snopes, the convicted murderer first introduced in The Hamlet, who leaves prison after 39 years still intent on revenge against his cousin Flem for abandoning him during his trial; and Linda Snopes Kohl, the supposed daughter of Flem, who arranges for Mink's release for reasons of her own.
Faulkner's continued used of multiple narrators is particularly effective in this novel, allowing the reader to understand and empathize with both the simple minded Mink and the lawyer Gavin Stevens, the high-minded "knight" whose obsession is to "save" both Linda and, previously, Eula Verner Snopes, her mother. Interestingly, the reader is never allowed to see into the minds of Flem and Linda, so that their thoughts and motivations are always subject to the interpretations of other narrators.
The Mansion, both as a single novel and as the third of a trilogy, excels and enthralls as to plot and the grandeur of the language, but the story has added significance and symbolism that can be thought about long afterward. I'm still thinking about it.