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This review is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

MUDDY DRAWERS Frederick R. Karl, William Faulkner: American Writer A Biography (Faber & Faber) £25.00

A one thousand page study of William Faulkner's life, coming ten years after Joseph Blotner's two thousand page biography, needs to define its objective with care. Karl's contribution, he asserts, will be to use 'the materials of Faulkner's work as biographical data in ways which Professor Blotner did not attempt', a task requiring, one would think, some considerable tact. But Karl is ebullient rather than subtle: 'The baby who would grow up to be Quentin Compson, Thomas Sutpen, Joe Christmas, Gavin Stephens, and not a little Snopes [sic], was christened William Cuthbert Faulkner'. This assertion, muted only by stylistic clumsiness of a sort with which the reader becomes wearisomely familiar, could in fact be amplified: Darl Bundren is another alter ego, apparently, and even Jason Compson's credentials bear examination: 'We must attempt to determine how much of Jason's attitude Faulkner himself felt as eldest son'.

Karl does qualify his feverish cross-referencing, but his qualifications, like so much else in this book, are of a peculiar kind, not structural but sprinkled upon the surface of the text like seasoning. Though/nevertheless is a typical strategy, as when Karl is discussing the hostility between Darl and Jewel in As I Lay Dying: 'Faulkner seems to be playing out his own differences from his brothers - although to what extent this parallelism is valid we cannot be certain. Nevertheless, like Faulkner and his three brothers, Darl and Jewel...' Temple Drake (in Sanctuary) 'cannot but remind us of Estelle Franklin [shortly to ...


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