Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: The Mansion

I'm sure all of you will be just as relieved as I am that this is my last post about Faulkner.  I recently finished The Mansion, for the Fifty Classics project. The Mansion, you may remember, is the third book in Faulkner's trilogy about the Snopes family of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the first two books being The Hamlet and The Town.

So.  The Mansion backtracks and retells part of the story from The Hamlet.  Which is good, because this was the part that I had so much difficulty understanding: the murder by Mink Snopes of Houston.  This time it's told from Mink's perspective.  Mink murdered Hudson because of a transaction over a cow.  Wow, I TOTALLY DID NOT GET THAT when reading The Hamlet.  So Mink goes to jail for murder--this happens while Flem Snopes is away on his honeymoon with Eula Varner--and Flem won't lift a finger to help him.

Twenty years pass and Mink is about to be released from prison early for good behavior and Flem Snopes tricks him into trying to escape (dressed in women's clothing) so that's twenty years of good behavior down the drain and another twenty years in prison for Mink.  I know you are wondering: how does one "trick" someone into escaping from prison?  Flem sets up another cousin to be arrested for running an illegal porn and moonshine business and sends him off to prison with a package of women's clothing and $10 for poor little Mink.  Mink's a right bastard, but I kind of like him despite the fact that in The Hamlet he's a mean little wife-abuser of the "shut up woman and fix me a biscuit" variety.

Then there's the Linda Snopes/Gavin Stevens story which is very hard to follow.  Linda is Flem's daughter, only not really because Eula Varner was already pregnant with her by another man before she married Flem.  Much of The Town is about Gavin's love for Eula, which is eventually transferred to Linda, who runs off with her lover to fight in the Spanish Civil War and returns to Mississippi deaf because her ear drums were blown out by a bomb. Gavin and Linda love each other but can't consummate their relationship for reasons I am incapable of extracting from Faulkner's tortured writing.

But here's the thing about Faulkner: you'll be slogging through the Gavin/Linda story and suddenly you're back to Mink who is drinking his first Coca-Cola after forty years in prison, and it's just wonderful.  The whole bit about Mink's first experiences in the outside world after being locked up for so long is beautiful writing and you can see why people go mad over Faulkner.  I'm not usually willing to make this much effort to read something, but sometimes it's worth it, and thinking back on all the William Faulkner novels I've read over the last year, I still sometimes laugh a little at the punchline from As I Lay Dying and I'll always remember Mink and the Coca-Cola.


  1. I just can't groove with Faulkner. I've given up. Maybe another decade.

  2. As my mother used to say, "Faulkner, ugh!"

  3. "Light in August" is the only Faulkner I've ever read. I would love to begin the Snopes saga. Tell me it's really worth is.

    1. I think it is worth it, Rainbow Motel. It's a lot of work, plowing through Faulkner's writing, but, corny as this sounds, I feel enriched by having read these novels.