Having grown up in Mississippi, and being a writer, I often feel it is my duty as a Mississippian to like Mississippi writers. Now that we live in Oxford, I feel doubly pressured regarding Mississippi writer William Faulkner.
Truth be told, though, I never really liked him. Well, I didn’t know him, but I never really liked his work–at least not what I was made to read in school. His sentences are so long that they are often hard to follow. I remember being so frustrated about that once in high school that I started paying attention to the sentence length only. I nearly fell over when I found a sentence–a single sentence–that was a page and a half long. A page and a half!
I dare you students to try that in your English classes today!
So, a lot of time as passed since high school and I’ve got a couple’a degrees and I’ve had to choose an area of specialty as time went on. My love for American History (and my near-History degree) led to a pretty easy decision of American Lit., especially Civil War era literature. Heck, my Master’s Thesis was even on Civil War lit. An extension of that finds that I enjoy reading Southern literature, among which Faulkner is considered one of the best.
So, as we prepared to make the move, I realized that even though I was well-read in American Civil War, I had not read Faulkner’s Civil War related stories.
I received The Unvanquished as a Christmas gift. I knew I needed to read it if I planned to attend school at Ole Miss and if I was going to promote myself as a Civil War Lit guy…but I wasn’t real anxious about it.
However, (you felt this coming, didn’t you?) I actually really liked it a lot!
One of the first things that really pulled me into it is that Faulkner isn’t that far removed from the War. He was born a little more than 30 years after the war, slightly longer than I am removed from WW2. He was able to grow up surrounded by Confederate Veterans, much in the way my life has been surrounded by Veterans of WW2.
The Unvanquished is a collection of short stories which trace the war time and post war experiences of the Satoris family, especially of the young son Bayard and his slave friend, Ringo. As I mentioned a while back regarding Twain and Huck Finn, this work is an incredible window into the past, and is incredibly telling about race relations. For instance, Bayard and Ringo (who is only a few months older than Bayard) share pretty much every experience, including being nursed by the same nursemaid.
The Unvanquished follows the Satoris family through the trials of the family during the war, and the hardships that follow during the military occupation that followed. As there are many “historians” today who suggest that “reconstruction” wasn’t that bad, and that Sherman didn’t burn that many houses (This is revisionist history, in case I wasn’t being tongue in cheek enough), and that it was mostly myth, Faulkner’s post-war North Mississippi area paints a picture as we know it to be true: a landscape dotted with piles of ashes where homes once stood, only chimneys remaining.
Yeah, Faulkner’s sentences are still pretty long in this work, but I found myself drawn in pretty easily and noticed less of them. I still had to back up a few times, but overall, this little known and little read Faulkner piece, is–in my opinion–among the best of his works.