The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War

Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781631491702. $29.95. LIT
In this meticulous work spanning literary criticism and history, Gorra (Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language & Literature, Smith Coll.; Portrait of a Novel) explores the thoughts and beliefs of the Nobel Prize–winning author of such prominent novels as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). All three of these books take place in the fictional Southern U.S. county of Yoknapatawpha and deal with themes indirectly addressing the Civil War and its aftermath. As Gorra demonstrates, writing allowed Faulkner (1897–1962) to clarify his thinking and create characters who were often a reflection of himself, in many ways depicting the people of the South as unable to move on from the past. Biographical portions of the narrative show how the author’s own life mirrored these behaviors and sentiments, especially revealing is Gorra’s examination of Faulkner’s later career in Hollywood.
VERDICT Faulkner once famously said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past,” and this exceptional study by Gorra lends credence to these words. A worthy addition to Faulkner studies, and for larger Southern literature and Civil War collections.
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