Book Review: The Unvanquished
Posted February 7, 2013on:
The Unvanquished by William Faulkner, Vintage Books, Vintage Books, 1934 (Vintage International Edition 1991), 262 pp.
William Faulkner is one of those authors to whom I return over and over again. Every few years, I just want to go back to Yoknapatawpha County and crazy, ugly, beautiful people Faulkner has created there. The Unvanquished delivered, as Faulkner always does.
The Unvanquished centers on the Sartoris family. The main trajectory of the story is the intertwining transformation of the South from the heart of the Civil War into Reconstruction, and the growing up of Bayard Sartoris and Ringo. These two young boys, one white and free, one black and enslaved, possibly also half-brothers, grow from boys into men. To do so, they must learn to navigate the changing rules of Southern manhood, race, revenge and violence together. Bayard is our narrator, and his perspective grows wiser as the novel progresses.
He starts with a boy’s awe for his father, Colonel John Sartoris, commander of a Confederate brigade. After the war, when he is older, he begins to see his father’s flaws, and even shows subtle resentment and anger. Then, as he matures, he reconciles his father’s life, taking account of all his strengths and weaknesses, mistakes made and moments of triumph. His relationship with Ringo changes throughout the story too–they begin as peers, with Ringo being slightly more clever than Bayard. As they age, their friendship strains and Bayard begins to take command–not unkindly, but with the privilege, status and force of his race. As the title implies, the story unfolds a long pattern of vengeance and retribution, with Faulkner’s typical insightful critique.
The Unvanquished contains two of my favorite characters in Yoknapatawpha County–Granny Sartoris and Drusilla. Granny conforms to gender role prescriptions for Southern women, with her prim demeanor and parasol, but proves to be a fierce businesswoman, entrepreneur, swindler and radical philanthropist. Drusilla resists the life of Southern womanhood with every fiber of her being, preferring to live a soldier’s life. Yet the gender norms defeat her in the end. I love both of these characters—their fierceness, their stubbornness, their struggle.
Next up, I’m reading the Snopes trilogy. Ab Snopes makes his first appearance in The Unvanquished, and I’m ready for more. I’ve read The Hamlet before, but haven’t read the other two previously.
If you’ve never read William Faulkner, you’re missing out on a wonderful world. Join me in Yoknapatawphna County.