Kentucky, colloquially known as the bluegrass state, is situated in East Central America though it is often thought of as being southern. Sentimentally associated with a bucolic way of life — all mountain dew and hillside flowers — it shares Mississippi’s remoteness from Northern values.
Maingault and Mortemar refer to Spoade’s aristocratic bloodlines, signifying Norman and Old English ancestry respectively.
Though women were deemed constitutionally unsuited to driving by male authority which insisted upon them being weak, foolhardy and impractical, many exploited this new opportunity for freedom and independence. The first woman to obtain a driver’s license was Mrs John Howell Phillips of Chicago in 1899. Though cars were embraced enthusiastically by Americans – the 8,000 vehicles owned in 1900 had multiplied to around half a million in 1910 – they were still a relatively unusual asset.
Located to the north of this Midwestern state, South Bend is in the region of 600 miles away from the Compson’s home. It is the county seat of St Joseph County and was, at the time, a rapidly developing hub of industry.
The reference is to canto v.xii of Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion (1808). Beginning with the line, “O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west”, this section describes how Lochinvar charges into the hall where his beloved is to marry “a laggard in love, and a dastard in war”. Sweeping up the would-be bride and riding away with her, the young knight proves himself his rival’s superior, “so daring in love, and so dauntless in war”. Sydney Herbert Head is taunting Quentin over his failure to live up to this chivalric ideal.
This is rather ambiguous both in terms of who is speaking and what is being referred to. The most likely explanation is that Quentin is being mocked for his incestuous desire for Caddy (something he is apparently poor at concealing). Amongst the many scandalous affairs on which Lord Byron embarked was an alliance with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Controversy has long raged around the physicality of their relationship, but the current scholarly consensus is that it was consummated and that the poet is likely to have fathered Elizabeth Medora Leigh. This is evidently not the view of the speaker (Shreve or Sydney) who implies that if a notorious Lothario such as Byron failed to seduce his sister, Quentin stands no chance.
‘Epistle to Augusta’ (1816) testifies to Byron’s desire for his half-sister.
Camphor, which occurs naturally in the leaves of the camphor tree but is more commonly obtained from the alpha-pinene occurring in oil of turpentine, has a strong aromatic smell similar to menthol. Like menthol, it is used medicinally as an inhalant and diaphoretic.
French Lick, a tiny spa town in Orange County, Indiana, has been a popular resort since the mid-1800s. The reference to the salt lick indicates the naturally-occurring mineral deposit that lies nearby. Quentin’s associations with this place tie together his twin preoccupations with drowning and with his sister’s sexuality. In regard to the first, the town’s mineral springs, which were frequented for their purported health-giving benefits, are symbolically opposed to the death-dealing waters of which he dreams. With respect to the latter, it is here that Caddy meets Sydney Head, causing Quentin to speculate, rather covertly, about the nature of their encounter. Perhaps the suggestiveness of the place’s name, together with orgasm’s reputation as la petite mort, informs his image.
Superstition held that stepping on your own shadow would bring about your death. See note for page 75.
The notion that women are innately affiliated with evil is ancient and can be found in many myths of origins. In the biblical story, Eve's temptation by the serpent brings evil into the world and leads to the exile of the human race from Eden. In Greek mythology, Pandora, the first woman, is given a jar (commonly mistranslated as Pandora's box) which she is ordered not to open under any circumstances. Like Eve, she succumbs to curiousity — and brings about a similar catastrophe.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published in 1852. Though critics have, until recently, looked upon it with disdain, it has perhaps achieved greater practical ends than any other book ever written. Composed as an anti-slavery polemic, it was so successful in galvanizing the tide of public feeling that it is not an exaggeration to say it helped foment the Civil War. However, later readers coming to the book from the perspective of a changed society found it less progressive. Stowe had intended Uncle Tom, the novel’s protagonist, to be a noble hero, exciting as much admiration as compassion. For her contemporary audience he achieved these things, but for ensuing generations, he embodied a condescending racist stereotype of black passivity and endless tolerance for the whites who maltreated him.
The African American Vernacular English in which Deacon addresses the southern Quentin contrasts sharply with the standard American pronunciation he uses when speaking to Northerners. Though the precise roots of this dialect remain obscure, it has many similarities to Southern American English — unsurprising, given the strong historic ties between slavery and the South. In the pre-Civil Rights era, attempts to render it in literature are largely inextricable from the racist stereotype of African Americans as lowly and intellectually simple. Faulkner's intentions, however, are much more subtle and have to do with the way in which race was constructed and enacted. This is evinced not only in Deacon's opportunistic flipping between registers but also through the differences in how white characters hear black speech. It is notable, for instance, that Benjy perceives little difference between black and white language whilst in all other sections they are quite distinct.
This 1937 take on Uncle Tom's Cabin by Tex Avery presents a whole array of stereotyped black speech. It was banned in 1968 for its racist caricatures.
A more authentic recording, a 1941 interview with George Johnson, a former slave from Mississippi, can be heard here.
Like Harvard, Princeton University is an Ivy League institution of worldwide renown. Its clubs are private members-only organisations composed of alumni, faculty and students. Appearing initially in the 1870s, there are currently over 160 in existence across the world.
Abraham Lincoln became the 16th US President in 1861 and is considered by many to be the greatest leader the states have ever seen. He gained his platform by opposing the expansion of slavery. After the southern Confederate states seceded and the Civil War broke out, he succeeded against considerable odds in achieving reunification. On 1st January 1863, he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation which liberated all slaves in the Confederate states (though not those on the Union side who would remain enslaved until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865). His Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in history, was fundamental in outlining the principles of democracy. Lincoln died tragically and shocking in April 1865 during a visit to the theatre when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate spy enraged by the President’s promotion of black voting rights. Significantly, Lincoln had been wearing a Brooks suit when he died.
Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by Jeff Daniels.
Although during the late 19th and early 20th century, the majority of universities kept their doors closed to black applicants, gaining admission to Harvard was entirely possible. This had been the case since 1865, when the end of the Civil War ushered in the reversal of a 229-year-old policy. This decision represented a landmark in progress, though it would be some time before discrimination completely ebbed away. From the outset, the university attracted African Americans whose achievements would be felt until the present, such as W. E. B. Du Bois who in 1895 became the first black student to receive a Ph.D.
Since ‘wop’ is derogatory slang for an Italian, Quentin is referring to the parade for Columbus Day or Garibaldi’s birthday at which he last saw Deacon. See note for page 68.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, officially established in 1874, was the first mass movement for social reform carried out internationally by women. Referencing Xenophon, it promoted temperance in the form of “moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful”. Though they took up many causes they believed to have an adverse effect on the nation’s character of Christian purity, the chief focus of their campaigning was alcohol, which they believed — not without some justification — to be a major cause of social problems.
By 1910, the W.C.T.U. had amassed an impressive membership of 235,000 and had had a palpable hand in bringing in Prohibition.The respect they commanded, however, was far from universal, and Quentin is here mocking Deacon by implying that the company he kept in the street sweepers’ section of the parade was several rungs below the coterie of military heroes and fine ladies he lays claim to.
Watch a W.C.T.U.-sponsered film about the pernicious effects of alcohol.
Having been active since the early 1790s, the Democratic Party is the oldest continuously operative political party in the United States. Though Barack Obama made history when he was elected America’s first black president in 2009, the party’s relationship with African Americans has not always been so progressive. Indeed, it was in order to contest slavery that its opposition, the Republican Party, first formed. However, as the years passed and African Americans became increasingly disappointed by the numbers of their race appointed to office, allegiances began to shift.
The first Democratic President to attract significant black support was Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who bolstered his presidential campaign by promising “not more grudging justice but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling”. As a result, African Americans voted for him in record numbers at the 1912 election. Their sense of victory, however, was soon to turn to bitter disillusionment. Once in power Wilson proved more interested in decreasing friction for whites than in advancing black rights. Many existing black federal employees were dismissed and segregation was imposed across the civil service. It would not be until the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1929 that a Democratic leader would implement reforms for true racial advancement.
Psalms 8.2, in a rebuttal to cynical unbelievers, asserts that the glory of God can be felt from infancy: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” In proverbial use, the phrase has come to mean that infants may sometimes achieve an astute understanding that eludes their elders.
A suttee is a former Indian practice which involved a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. This was supposed to expiate the couple’s sins and ensure that they would be together in the afterlife, though it also reflected women's low social status. It was banned under British rule in 1829.
Though Faulkner refuses to limit Quentin’s suicide by tying it to any definite motivation, the idea of suttee suggests it is, to some extent, an attempt to regain Caddy and to sacrifice himself for the values she has destroyed.
Semiramis is an Assyrian queen who exists both as a historical figure and a mythological deity. The progeny of a fish-goddess and the god of wisdom, she was reared by doves after being abandoned at birth. Along with beauty and wisdom, she was famed for her prodigious lusts. Among her conquests was her own son, and she implemented a law decreeing that blood relatives should be free to marry as they pleased. An immensely powerful ruler, her martial abilities won her triumph in countless wars and she is credited with founding the city of Babylon. Upon her death, she assumed the shape of a dove and flew away, and was thereafter worshipped as a deity.
Despite the South’s reputation as the Bible Belt, Christian notions of sin were often sublimated to constructs of morality based on extrinsic factors such as reputation and social position. As a result, behavioural norms were predicated on honour and shame rather than virtue and guilt. This stemmed from Germanic ideals which held greater sway in the South; in the North, the influence of Puritanism meant that the reverse was the case.
The reference is to Psalms 23.4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The valley, representing the trials and tests of faith through which only a true Christian can pass, is described in detail in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A nightmarish place, it is peopled by satyrs, hobgoblins and dragons; snares and pitfalls imperil the way and demons whisper blasphemies in one’s ear. The praise which Christian raises to God after his safe passage contrasts markedly with Mrs Compson’s ungenerous meditations on the suffering others have caused her.
From Psalms 51.10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
The Confederacy comprised the eleven southern states that seceded from the Union between 1861 and 1865. The move to establish a separate government was quickened by a network of tensions that polarized the North and South. The most prominent issue, though, was that of slavery. Lincoln’s stand against the spread of this ‘peculiar institution’ in his presidential campaign had caused outrage in the Southern slave states. When he secured the presidency, they declared that the Constitution represented an agreement which individual states were free to leave at any time. The U.S. government, or what became known as the Union, pronounced secession illegal. The ensuing struggles between the two factions escalated until, on April 12th 1861, the Civil War broke out. Battle raged for four years until Confederate forces, hard hit by a series of painful defeats, were left with no option but to surrender.
In the wake of its defeat, the South underwent a seismic change. The war had wreaked destruction on homes and businesses, leaving many in poverty; slavery, on which plantation life was founded, was made illegal; the triumphant Unionists were able to impose Reconstruction measures and economic policies on a population who felt them to be a direct attack. The aftershocks of this humiliation, which continued to be felt for many decades, ripple ceaselessly beneath the surface of The Sound and the Fury.
Havana, the capital city of Cuba, is a major commercial centre and gained much of its wealth from trading tobacco products, particularly cigars. Cuban cigars are still known today as the world’s finest.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, founded in 1908, is a student-run organization that brings together performing arts across the campus. Alternatively, Herbert could be referring to Hasty Pudding Theatricals, a Harvard society which, being formed in 1795, is the oldest of American collegiate dramatic clubs. Though many notable actors and playwrights have been involved in The Pudding’s productions, it is better known for burlesque musicals than serious acting.
Sir Galahad, the illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine, is one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. According to legend, his spiritual purity is so great that he outstrips even his father, destining him to achieve the Holy Grail. The values he embodies — courage, courtesy and chivalry — are also the ideals of the Old South which Quentin still holds dear. Also significant is that he is known as the knight of chastity: Tennyson, in his 1842 poem ‘Sir Galahad’, has him declare “I never felt the kiss of love, Nor maiden's hand in mine.”
Comic strips, colloquially known as ‘the funnies’, began to appear in American newspapers during the late nineteenth century. Popular contemporary strips featured the Yellow Kid, the Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan and Little Nemo. Though the parting phrase ‘see you in the funny paper’ was popular during the early decades of the last century and did not generally imply malice, it nonetheless suggests that there is something ridiculous about the person to whom it is said.
In March 1907, the combined effects of snowmelt and heavy rain caused three of Pennsylvania’s major rivers to burst their banks, resulting in record floods in Pittsburgh. The rising waters caused millions of dollars’ worth of destruction and rendered thousands homeless. Despite Louis’ claims, however, there was no major overflow of the Mississippi at this time.
This universal truth is reflected in the proverbs of diverse cultures, ancient and modern. The Bible states “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17.28). The Germans maintain that “speech is silver; silence is golden”; the Japanese that “silence surpasses speech”. At the heart of these expressions is the assumption that silence is a space of reflection in which true enlightenment can be attained. Faulkner ironically juxtaposes this with Quentin’s sense that he has been betrayed by language; that he has been hoodwinked into believing the standards of honour and propriety to which it has given substance accurately represent the real world. The revelation that this is far from being the case impels him to articulate his pain by embracing the ultimate silence.
Bigelow Carpet Mill, built in 1847, still stands today on the corner of Union Street and Main Street in Clinton, Massachusetts. Nearby is Wachusett Reservoir, which was then the largest body of water in the state. With its stock of fish including Atlantic Salmon, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass and Yellow Perch, it is a popular fishing haunt.
Eddy Pond is a natural lake in the south of Worcester County, Massachusetts. Species to be found in its waters include Largemouth Bass, Brown Bullhead and Sunfish.
That Quentin has been travelling alongside the Charles River and that there’s a bridge and a Unitarian steeple at the spot where he alights provides clues which make it tempting to try to determine where he is. A likely candidate is Waltham, which was easily accessible by steam and electric railway in 1910 and had had a Unitarian parish church since 1839.
Minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment from the 1830s up until the early 20th century. Music, dance and comic skits were typically performed by a white actor in blackface, and much of the humour derived from the promulgation of offensive stereotypes that depicted blacks as lazy, dim-witted buffoons. Minstrel show performers would also ape AAVE which had many similarities to Southern American English (see note for page 81). The comparison highlights the fact that Quentin’s anxieties over the shifting status of African Americans are rooted in fear over the lack of fixity in his own racial identity.
Watch a 1950s blackface performance by Glenn Vernon and Edward Ryan.